Apple iMac 27-inch (2020) review: new webcam, new screen option, same iMac

Apple’s new 2020 version of the 27-inch iMac looks exactly like it has for eight years now. The updates are all on the inside, adding improvements that bring it up to the specifications you would expect in a 2020 computer, with 10th Generation Intel processors and SSDs standard instead of spinning disk drives. It starts at $1,799 for the base Core i5 model, but of course you can price it out much higher.

One very expensive option is a $500 nano texture finish on the glass, which Apple says is a big improvement over traditional matte displays. But there is one specification bump that is wildly out of character for Apple, even in this pandemic year: the quality of the webcam has finally been improved. If you are videoconferencing a lot, the new 1080p webcam is likely going to be the thing that improves your day-to-day the most.

You really do look more professional to your colleagues when your camera is just a little sharper. After using a unit for a little over a week, it is easy to recommend to anybody who needs a new desktop Mac right now. It is fast, capable, and reliable. It is just your basic iMac, and beyond a tired design, there is little wrong with that. But if you do not need a new desktop Mac right now, you might consider waiting.

This iMac may very well be the last Mac ever made with an Intel processor instead of Apple’s own silicon inside it.

Apple has publicly said its transition to its own chips will take about two years, so that is a fairly good estimate for when the next iMac refresh may come. That does not mean getting an Intel-based Mac is a mistake, it will last and be supported for many years, but it does mean that you will have more options if you do not need to spend the money right now. The webcam is no longer vaguely embarrassing like most of Apple’s other webcams.

The webcam is not just better because it has more pixels, it is also better because Apple is finally applying some modern image processing to the video stream. The iMac has a T2 chip, which is used to control lots of the components in the Mac. It is able to do tone mapping, exposure control, and face detection. The face detection is for prioritizing keeping your face well-lit with accurate skin tones.

You can move your face around in the frame and see it adjusting the exposure in real time, ensuring that your face is never too dark or blown-out. It feels very much like what the iPhone does with faces. It works really well, and luckily, it does not just work in Apple’s own apps. Since these fixes are coming via the T2 chip, the improved performance is just the webcam video stream that any videoconferencing app will get.

One thing that does not feel modern at all with the 2020 iMac is logging in.

Unless you have an Apple Watch and use it to unlock your computer, the only way to get in is to type out your password. Apple’s T2 chip controls Touch ID fingerprint login on Mac laptops, but Apple opted not to add a fingerprint sensor to the keyboard or a Face ID array in this iMac. It is annoying, but it is also Apple’s decision to not change anything about the design of this iMac.

It has the same Thano-esque chin, the same screen, and the same ports as before. There are some upgrades in those areas, though. The screen is identical, but that T2 chip means that you can turn on True Tone to match it to the color balance in your room. It is fast. It is 30 percent faster. With the nano texture screen option and a 1TB SSD, the machine would retail for around $4,500.

But really, the performance on an iMac should not be an X-factor. How these machines operate, even under heavy thermal loads, is pretty much a known quantity. The good news is that, so far, the new 10th Gen Intel chips fare just fine inside this very familiar chassis. That is because Apple is finally providing SSDs as the standard option instead of Fusion Drives.

If you need more storage and do not want to pay for the SSD upgrade, you can swap over to Fusion Drives on some models for no extra charge.

You can spend $100 and upgrade to a 10 Gigabit Ethernet port, but otherwise, the IO is all the same as before. There are two Thunderbolt ports, four USB-A ports, an SD card slot, and a headphone jack. The other big upgrade is that nano texture option. Instead of just putting a matte coating on top of the glass, Apple is literally etching the glass at a nanometer scale.

That process gives the nano texture finish a leg up on traditional matte screens in that images will not look fuzzy. On matte screens, the light from the pixels gets scattered out. Apple’s finish, mainly diffuses the light that hits from the outside and does not scatter the light from the pixels as much. It is a very fancy, very expensive solution to the problem.

It is very Apple. Over time, using something too abrasive could mess up that finish. Unlike other screens, there is really no coating on top of the nano finish. It is just etched, bare glass. It works great. It fully eliminates glare. It also does not affect the sharpness of images or text on the screen much at all. But if you truly squint up close, you can see a little fuzziness.

There really are no surprises with the 2020 27-inch iMac.

It looks and operates like a very fast iMac, which is exactly what it is. The standard SSDs turn out to be the best quality of life improvement. There is one more variable in the decision process of buying this iMac. At some point in the next two years, it will be replaced by another model that uses Apple’s own ARM processors instead of Intel’s. Presumably, that iMac will finally get a refresh that does away with the honking chin and inability to log in biometrically.

But whether ARM Macs are a good buy is impossible to say today. Apple has given every indication that it will fully support Intel-based Macs for a long time. If you need a 27-inch iMac, this is a good iMac, and you should buy it.

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