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Thoughts on the 5K iMac

Thoughts on the 5K iMac

I’ve been a Mac user since 2007. My first mac was a white polycarbonate MacBook, with a lowly 1GB of Ram and 120GB hard drive. It was a simple machine, but at the time I was just an A-Level student, with simple needs. Even for that, my MacBook was an extravagant purchase.

Yes, the white Macbook was a simple machine, but I loved it nonetheless. It was my first venture in to the world of Apple, other than the iPod of course. I fell instantly in love. I found OS X Leopard absolutely gorgeous (at the time, I looked at it recently and don’t remember it looking so dated) and finding your way around, just like the MacBook, was simple. As much as I loved this machine, about 9 months after I purchased it, the aluminium unibody MacBook made it’s debut. And oh my, it took gorgeous to the next level.

Obviously, I had to own it. My love affair with the aluminium unibody MacBook, lasted longer than my time with ol’ whitey. I bought the unibody for University, thinking that I’d need something to take to lectures to take notes on, something that was portable to take for group work, that I could work on anywhere. After about a year, I came to a realisation that has stuck with me ever since:

Nothing makes effective notes like a pen and paper.

It seems like forever that I have battled with the idea of ’going paperless’. As an environmentalist, I thought that this would be a great thing, but as the pile of Moleskines sat next to my keyboard as I type this would attest to, paper will never be replaced. Yes there are a host of note taking services around these days, but none of them offer the flexibility of the classic ink on a page. Whether the combination of the new 9.7" iPad Pro and Apple Pencil will change this, remains to be seen. It has arguably already replaced artist's sketch books

In my second year of University, I decided that I’d chosen a machine with limited display space and power - with the compromise that it would be portable - only to leave my MacBook forever connected to power on my desk. As much as the design appealed to me, the unibody MacBook soon made way for a 21.5” iMac.

The iMac, affectionately nicknamed Pinty, has been my baby ever since. It’s a machine that I have loved like no other. Together we have published a dissertation, started a website, stored countless memories and streamed thousands of hours of TV and Film to an Apple TV. Together we published my first scientific paper, and obtained a place studying for PhD, but after 6 years of faithful service, age began to take it’s toll on dear Pinty.

Upon starting my PhD, it was essential that I had a powerful machine to work on in the office, but also at home. So, I purchased at Retina MacBook Pro, and fell in love all over again. I’d experienced Retina displays before, on iPhones 4 through 6, and of course the iPad, but Retina OS X was an entirely different animal.

The Retina MacBook continues to serve me well. I use it everyday for work, I love the display, the power, the form factor. I would have opted for the new MacBook, but when you’re constantly transferring data between machines, the lack of ports was an issue. Further to that, I think something has been overlooked when half of the iPad line up offer a more powerful processing power. Pinty however, had been steadily declining in health, and was frequently doing his best impression of a helicopter preparing for take off, and once again the extensive use of a MacBook screen left me longing for a larger display. Which brings us to now. Which brings us to the 5K Retina iMac.

All Together Now - My Personal Apple Store...

Beauty Unparalleled

Apple just don’t lie. When they tell you that the iMac is ginormous, they mean it. The 5K iMac is exactly that, and every single pixel on this magnificent display is stunning. My initial impression on the unboxing was, “Jesus, have I gone too big?”. I’ve got a 32” TV in my room, connected to the PS4 and Apple TV, and even though the display is bigger, somehow the iMac makes it feel small. Flicking my eyes from corner to corner of the screen almost requires turning my neck.

The thoughts of a step too far vanished instantly when I powered up. Yes, there’s no denying that the screen is huge, but there is some just so right about it. In the age where productivity on iOS is increasing exponentially on smaller screens with Workflow automation, and its use becoming easier, combined with abilities to write fully functioning Python code, for many people the age of the desktop computer is coming to a close. Well not me.

Frederico Viticci, over at MacStories, often speaks about how the iPad has become his primary computer, and how the introduction of the iPad Pro has only reinforced this. For me, iOS will never overtake OS X in terms of productivity. Call me old fashioned, but I like the dedicated file systems, the larger screen area, the multitasking system that has been perfected over decades. I’m sure that iOS multitasking will continue to improve, and the latest additions such as slide over and split view have gone a long way to solving this.

The 5K iMac Boasts Some Severe Real Estate

For me, the new iMac has already become the home of productivity. The glorious display is perfect of split view when it comes to writing and having web pages open at the same time. The video that I film on my GoPro, converts format in the a fraction of the time taken on my previous iMac, and remains something that is impossible to do (as far as I’m aware) on the iPad.

My iPad will always have a place in my life. Watching videos on the go, working on something on the bus and taking work to show at meetings. It’s these ultra portable tasks that the iPad will always be the best device for. However, when it comes to the home office, the desk where I do the majority of my work, I needed a powerhouse. And my god, the 5K retina iMac is well and truly that.

It’s tough to put the experience of the new iMac into words. As an amateur writer, I’ve never struggled to get my point across previously. However, for the first time I find the splendour hard to communicate. Perhaps the best way to explain it, is to tell you to go and see for yourself. Although I’m still adapting to the new machine, I already know that I will never own a smaller iMac again. It’s amazing how quickly you become used to the real estate offered by the extended display. Where I absolutely don’t need more, I could no longer manage less.

Everything is just easier with more space. Take editing for example, be it my thesis in Manuscritpts, or articles like this in Ulysses. For those that don’t know, writing a thesis is an arduous process. Editing one is even worse. To give an example, I wrote the first chapter of mine back in January of 2015. To date (March 2016) I’ve rewritten from the ground up three times. Being able to see large chunks of it on a single display at one time, makes the editing process flow. I can read through without forgetting what has been said above, I can find new context, display the figures in a much more coherent manner. In short, I can see what I’m doing.

And that for me is the take home of the new iMac. Yes, it’s a beautiful design. Yes, it’s a powerhouse when it comes to converting video in iFlicks 2, and crunching just about anything through the quad core processor with ease. Yes, the resolution is outstanding and every single pixel is stunning. But space is where it comes into it’s own.

Until now, I did not know what a valuable commodity space is. Where I don’t agree in terms of an iPad screen, in terms of a desktop, bigger is undoubtedly better. There is no going back.

The One Downside

Unfortunately, while everything I can think of to do with the iMac is flawless, the peripherals are not. I opted for the Magic Keyboard 2 with Magic Trackpad. The Trackpad is glorious, I prefer the slanted design over the previous model, and again, find myself enjoying the larger real estate. When it comes to Force Touch, I feel as though this has not been well implemented into OS X yet, as it has simply replaced the gesture that was previously associated with the three finger tap. Integration of Force Touch is something that I’d definitely like to see more of in the future. I was surprised that it did not just replace the right click function, but we will see where this progresses to.

My main qualms are with the Magic Keyboard. It’s not all bad, I love the compact design, the finish and how the contours and lines align perfectly with the trackpad. The colour scheme is also integrated well with that of the trackpad, they really look like they belong together.

Unfortunately, what I don’t think belongs with the new Magic Keyboard, is typing. Previously, I had used the keyboard on a friends new MacBook, and I thought I would get on with it well. However, through spending an extended period of time with the keyboard, I have become disillusioned with it. Prior to the purchase of this iMac, I was using a Logitech K811. This is hands down the best keyboard that I have ever used, and Apple could have taken note of everything that it had done right.

The Magic Keyboard 2 Form Factor vs The Logitech K811

Primarily, it’s the key depression that I don’t like. A lot of attention was given to Apple’s redesign of key depression with the new butterfly mechanism. Where I honestly can see the advantage of this in the new MacBook, where portability, weight and compression are key factors, I don’t believe it was necessary for the desktop keyboard. A desktop keyboard should be like the K811, with a deep and satisfying key depression, and ample spacing between keys. By trying to compress the size of a keyboard, that for the majority of users will never leave the desk, seems unnecessary. This need for sleek and small means that the Magic Keyboard is the only Mac keyboard made by apple that does not implement backlit keys. I’ve never known Apple to go for aesthetics over functionality before now. Usually these two factors combine to produce beautifully functional products, but not here.

Too Much Compromise For Minor Size Differences

Typing just doesn’t feel right on the new Magic Keyboard, and as such I’ll be sticking with the K811 for the foreseeable future. It’s a keyboard I’d recommend to anyone, regardless of profession, and especially for anyone with multiple bluetooth devices due to the quick switch functions. It’s expensive, currently around £80, but worth every penny.

Conclusions

In short, you can’t fault the 5K iMac. It’s the most beautiful, and in my opinion, most functional Mac to date. I would reiterate my earlier statement, that it is very difficult to capture just how incredible this display is in words. It has to be seen to be believed.

I can safely say that this will be a Mac that I used for at least the next five years. From the current state of affairs in the broader field of technology, this product is future proof for that period of time.

It would be harsh to punish the iMac for what I believe to be a poorly thought out and borderline lazy implementation of peripherals by Apple, seeming as this can easily be fixed by the purchase or use of an alternative keyboard.

All in all, this all is one, is all you will ever need.