When Apple announced a new iMac last week, I wondered how such a machine could be improved – a common thought with many of today’s technology products – not least Apple devices. As it turns out, like many upgrades, the iMac is improved not in its physical appearance and design, but in what it is capable of. The 27 iMac with Retina 5K is something to behold.
I’m not going to spend a moment “benchmarking” this device. It’s faster, if you order it with clear specifications it can be the Intel Core i7, 32GB Ram, all the bells and whistles. None of this is new to iMac owners or potential buyers.
The real question here is – what’s different between the “standard iMac 27 inch” and the Retina 5K iMac. The answer. The most stunning display I’ve ever seen on a computer. Simple.
I still get impressed by the Retina screens on iPads, because at our house we only have iPad 1s and 2s. So as a daily user of a 27 inch iMac the realisation that what I had before me was something stunning was immediate.
As one of the product gurus at Apple began showing me the device, I had already noticed the clarity of the text in the top bar across the screen. The time, the WiFi symbol – these were so sharp, then down the bottom in the dock the icons were what I would normally expect to see on an iPad when it comes to quality.
Without question, the screen resolution is something to behold.
In everyday use, it does become second nature. Browsing websites is at first magnificent but then becomes just another task to do. It’s really only when you revert back to a screen without this resolution – be that a PC or another Mac – that you are reminded of the stark quality available with Retina 4K.
Just why you need this is a question many people will ask themselves. I use my iMac for editing audio, writing stories, cropping photographs – honestly, I don’t “need” a 5K resolution display.
However, for “prosumers”, those who use their machine for detailed photo editing or enhancements, or for print preparation and layout and of course for video editing – there is a clear solution to a problem you probably didn’t know existed; the quality of your screen.
With print preparation if you’re viewing the final submission on a 5K screen, even the most basic compromises in photo resolution will show up to your trained eye. While in photography you can have more of the picture on the screen in much more detail because of the staggering pixel count of the Retina 5K display.
For video editing, perhaps the most startling thing about the Retina 5K is that you could be editing not only a 1080p full HD video, but a 4K video and still have room for your clips and timeline. That’s staggering to me.
Where do you notice the Retina 5K?
Glad you asked. Interestingly as you approach your iMac from a distance it’s just another (amazingly well designed) iMac. As soon as you sit to sign-in or move your mouse the Retina is obvious. The mouse cursor looks better for crying out loud.
But in reality, the most common area of improvement is text. In a document, on a webpage, fonts are clear and crisp. The curved edge on any letter is the tell-tale go-to place for Retina beauty. There’s not a pixel in sight despite many of them making up a blocked and staggered curved line. There are simply so many pixels you can’t see them.
In photos, and you really must be using photos of an excellent clarity, the same applies. From the hair on the legs of an animal to the curved wrinkles on the skin in a photo.
Once again, I stress, that this becomes the norm. So returning to, or using any other computer will feel like going from 1024×768 screen resolution to 640×480.
What’s the cost?
Here’s where it gets interesting. The entry price of $2999 seems high.
But it’s not. Here’s what you get:
- 3.5GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
- 8GB (two 4GB) memory
- 1TB Fusion Drive1
- AMD Radeon R9 M290X with 2GB video memory
If you get those same (or as close to same) specs in the “standard” 27 inch iMac:
- 3.4GHz Quad-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz
- 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 2X4GB
- 1TB Fusion Drive
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 775M 2GB GDDR5
That’s going to set you back $2,689. That’s essential a $310 premium for the 5K screen. You’ll struggle to get a Full HD 27 inch monitor for $310.
At the highest spec end the difference could be as little as $200 or perhaps around the $500 mark depending on what you get inside it.
This to me puts the whole thing in perspective.
Worth the price?
Hell yeah. Even though I’ve no clear need for the 5K screen, if I was buying a new 27inch iMac today, there is no question I would get the Retina 5K display. When you’re spending in excess of $3,000 for a computer, a couple of hundred extra is not going to worry you too much – and if it is, I’d suggest you might be over-stretching yourself in the first place.
This is a stunning display offering the best screen experience for photographers and videographers at a price which is hard to even comprehend. The premium is so small I can’t imagine the iMac line retaining a non-retina version long into the future.
Trev is a Technology Commentator, Dad, Speaker and Rev Head.
He produces and hosts two popular podcasts, EFTM and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He also appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the resident Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show each day and appears regularly on A Current Affair.
Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.