computer/imacround.jpgWhen I first saw a picture of the new iMac it reminded me of a hair dryer from the fifties. My reaction was, “How could Apple, the high priest of computer design, have developed such an awkward, flimsy-looking machine?”  Yet, when my iMac was delivered, I changed my mind almost immediately. The new iMac is much sturdier than it looked in the pictures. The flexible arm that attaches the flat panel monitor is quite strong.   It allows the user to adjust the monitor smoothly and easily. The space-saving, all-in-one design looks amazingly good on my desktop.

A white half-dome shaped base that is only 10.6” at the bottom holds all the inner workings of the computer. The 800 MHz PowerPC G4 processor proved to be speedy and powerful. On the back of the dome is an Ethernet port for connection to a network or broadband modem, a pair of FireWire ports for hooking up devices; such as, digital camcorders, a 56K modem, three USB ports for the addition of printers and other peripherals.    A VGA video port for attaching an external monitor, a speaker jack, and a headphone jack is also included. One missing component was a microphone jack, so if you use a microphone, plan on using the tiny built-in microphone or purchasing an external microphone with a USB adapter. The one-button optical mouse plugs into a USB port on the keyboard. Left-handers will be pleased to know that Apple has actually placed a USB port on each side of the keyboard.

A small door on the bottom of the computer opens to allow installation of an AirPort card for wireless networking and for easy access to the area where additional memory chips can be installed. Apple’s attention to detail is apparent when you realize the four screws attaching the door are captive, meaning they are connected to the computer, so they can’t get lost. Additionally, they are blunted so as not to scratch any nearby furniture.

One thing I absolutely love about this new iMac is the svelte flat panel LCD monitor. It is encased in a crystal-clear surround that gives the unit a wonderful-looking high-tech “halo” effect. The screen’s display is bright, clean and colorful. Even when viewed from an extreme side angle, the image is clear and realistic. Apple recently added a 17” LCD monitor to its iMac lineup, and I am salivating for it already.

Several iMac configurations, including the one I reviewed, have an excellent drive called a SuperDrive. This drive can be used for burning both CDs and DVDs, and I highly recommend you consider purchasing an iMac with a SuperDrive.

I have only a few minor complaints about the iMac design. First, the power button located on the side near the rear of the base is difficult to find without turning the machine to the side or leaning over the computer. I must note, however, I seldom turn the iMac off. This computer is the quietest computer I’ve ever encountered. The monitor powers down automatically so that other than a very small green light on the monitor, you never even realize the computer is on when it is not in use. My second complaint about the iMac is very petty when I compare it to the entire world of personal computers. Yet, while Apple did a fantastic job on designing this machine, when fully loaded with peripherals, the wires oozing out of the back ruin the looks of an otherwise sleek setup. I must state I am also bothered by the mass of wires that all PCs have. Perhaps I am just hoping that Apple will come up with a solution.

Other things to note are while the iMac’s interior speakers sound weak and tinny, the ApplePro speakers that came with my Mac produced some of the best sound of any off-the-shelf system I’ve seen. Also, the iMac comes with an optical mouse which has the traditional one-button styling. Since the iMac uses OS X, that supports multiple mouse buttons and scrolling, I was puzzled as to why a more sophisticated mouse was not included. Mr. Jai Chulani, the iMac product manager, explained the one-button mouse was included to keep the process of getting up and running as simple as possible. While I think this is an honorable goal, if you have ever used a two-button scroll mouse, you will want to plan on purchasing one if you buy a new iMac.

The set up was, true to the Apple’s strategy, quite easy. Simply plug in the keyboard, mouse, speakers, and power cord. Then turn the computer on. The computer prompts for user names, passwords, and other pertinent information and configures everything automatically. Apple has included just about everything needed for common computer tasks, Internet visits and e-mail. Software that comes with the iMac includes Appleworks that has word processing and spreadsheet capabilities, Sherlock, a web searching tool, Quicken for organizing finances, and Internet Explorer for surfing the Web. Also included is some real fun stuff.   iTunes for music, iMovie for digital video editing, iDVD for DVD creation, and iPhoto for organizing and sharing photographs. iMovie, iTunes, and iDVD are all especially good applications whose functionality and ease-of-use surpass most, if not all PC products.

The new iMac also comes with Mac OS X, which is easy-to-use, functional, and very visually appealing. The OS X “dock” feature is an elegant substitute for both the Start button and the toolbar that is used on Windows computers. I’ll give you more on OS X in a future review, but you can probably tell already that I like it.

The new iMacs come with a one-year warranty on parts and service and 90 days of toll-free technical support. Apple also offers a well-designed, information-filled Web site that includes FAQs, a knowledge base, technical notes, and message boards where you can generally find an answer to most questions and/or problems. A $149 AppleCare warranty can be purchased for an additional three years of parts, service, and phone support.

The iMac comes in four configurations, ranging from $1,399 to $1,999. If you are an Apple aficionado or are thinking of becoming a “switcher” (switching from PC to Mac), this new iMac is a great choice for the average computer user.