Skip to main content

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2019) review

Apple’s most affordable all-in-one (until you fix the compromises)

Apple iMac 21.5-inch
Apple iMac 21.5-inch

Our Verdict

The iMac 21.5-inch (2019) that should be for everyone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s one unexpectedly capable component, but more than that is desirable for which you’ll run up the cost to get an iMac that’s a truly good investment.

For

  • Superb 4K display with wide color gamut
  • Reasonable selection of high-spec ports

Against

  • RAM not user-upgradeable
  • Underwhelming storage options
  • Weak graphics processor for 3D

If you’re thinking about switching to macOS from Windows, Apple’s 21.5-inch iMac is one of the newest all-in-ones competing for your hard-earned cash. It’s a more comfortable size for many desks than its 27-inch sibling, after all.

Even before its 2019 update, the 21.5-inch iMac’s specs were already appealing, most especially its 4K display with sharp picture quality as well as rich colors that make apps nice to look at, and photos and videos rich and detailed. Though the iTunes Store still doesn’t serve up 4K movies to Macs, so don’t buy one hoping for that!

This is a fine choice of a desktop computer that will handle general tasks like web browsing, email and productivity apps for managing your life. Additionally, it’s also capable of running more ambitious apps. And, it packs all that power in a comfortable and tidy chassis that’s perfect for many people, especially if you don’t spend a huge amount of time in front of your computer.

Don’t rush to the 27-inch iMac just because your desktop is often cluttered with windows. The Mac’s operating system offers low-friction features like Mission Control to help navigate your on-screen workspace painlessly. These help a great deal even on something as small as the 12-inch MacBook – and that vital feature in particular is triggered with a memorable gesture on Apple’s mouse.

Spec sheet

Here is the 21.5-inch Apple iMac configuration sent to TechRadar for review

CPU: 3.0GHz Intel Core i5-8500 (six-core, 9MB cache, up to 4.1GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 560X (4GB VRAM)
RAM: 8GB DDR4 (2,666MHz)
Screen: 21.5-inch 4K (4,096 x 2,304) Retina display (P3 wide color)
Storage: 1TB Fusion Drive (32GB SSD plus 1TB hard disk)
Ports: 4x USB 3 (Type-A), 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), SDXC card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, Gigabit Ethernet, Kensington lock slot
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system: macOS 10.14.4 Mojave
Camera: FaceTime HD
Weight: 12.5 pounds (5.66kg)
Size: 20.8 x 6.9 x 17.7 inches (52.8 x 17.5 x 45cm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

Before we dive into what’s new in the 21.5-inch iMac, there’s something you must know: the $1,099 (£1049/AUS$1,699) model at the bottom of the range contains aging hardware. By that, we mean 7th-generation Intel Core processor with relatively weak integrated graphics, a hard disk for storage and a display with a pixel density that’s most likely far less sharp than the one in your phone.

If you want a bona fide entry-level 2019 iMac, they start at $1,299 (£1,249/AUS$1,999). There’s one other off-the-shelf 21.5-inch iMac configuration in the line-up, which will cost you $1,499 (£1,449/AUS$2,299). Both configurations boast an 8th-gen Intel Core chip.

The former packs a 3.6GHz quad-core i3 that lacks Intel’s Turbo Boost tech, while the latter, which we tested, is equipped with a 3.0GHz six-core i5. Turbo Boost, which can raise the clock speed of active cores when some aren’t needed, can boost this Core i5’s clock speed up to 4.1GHz.

The two new 21.5-inch iMac models also differ in their graphics processors (GPU): a Radeon Pro 555X with 2GB of dedicated memory on the cheaper model, and a Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of dedicated memory on our more expensive review model.

Storage is the other difference. Predictably, given Apple does it on 27-inch iMacs too, neither 21.5-inch iMac includes a spacious SSD by default. The more affordable model has a basic 1TB hard disk, while the other has a 1TB Fusion Drive, neither of which is ideal.

If you need a 21.5-inch iMac with the responsiveness that a computer deserves in 2019, budget for at least another $100 (about £90/AUS$160) beyond the stock configurations’ prices, so you can ditch the old-school storage tech. The exact amount will vary depending on which price point you start at, and the drive capacity too, obviously. If needed, allow a bit more for an external drive, too.

Image 1 of 4

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2019) back

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2019) back
Image 2 of 4

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2019) ports

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2019) ports
Image 3 of 4

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2019) with Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Keyboard

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2019) with Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Keyboard
Image 4 of 4

Apple Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Keyboard

Apple Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Keyboard

Design

Ultimately, the 21.5-inch iMac’s design is the same as the bigger 27-inch model, so our issues with that – as well as our praise – hold true about its aesthetics. Even more so, in fact, because the thick bezel and tall chin stand out more without a huge screen dominating your view.

As we’ve said about the 27-inch iMac, the design doesn’t look bad, but it’s looking somewhat old-fashioned. Even at an overall smaller size, the elegant curved back lets the 21.5-inch iMac blend in better with its surroundings compared to the thick design from before 2012.

One thing that does stand out on the smaller iMac, however, is its fan. During heavier tests, like HEVC video conversion in HandBrake, it is certainly more noticeable than on the 27-inch iMac fan. It isn’t so loud that our ears need a break, but keep it in mind for creative work that benefits from noiselessness – in particular, anything to do with audio.

Display

When you spend a little more to get a true 2019 21.5-inch iMac, the most notable difference is its Retina 4K display.

This more than doubles the base model’s horizontal and vertical resolution to 4,096 x 2,304 pixels – true 4K, not ‘UHD’. Just like the 27-inch iMac’s Retina 5K display, it supports the P3 color gamut, letting it display billions of colors.

Well, sort of. Temporal and spatial dithering techniques are used to alternate the color of pixels or arrange them so that human eyes interpret the effect as a blend.

Many other all-in-ones with about the same screen size as the 21.5-inch iMac tout a 1,920 x 1,080 (FHD) or a 2,560 x 1,440 (QHD) display. This means that you’re getting something that’s a tad better with the iMac’s panel, ideal for photo editing, especially if you have a camera that can capture all the colors supported by the Retina 4K display’s P3 gamut.

Some of the competition, such as HP, don’t offer a 4K display in all-in-ones of this size. HP’s ProOne 600 can be configured with an 8th-gen processor, 8GB of RAM (at the same speed as the iMac’s) and a 256GB SSD for less than the 21.5-inch iMac costs. Still, as we also warned in our 27-inch iMac review, keep an eye out for compromises that have been made.

Though this computer is cheaper than the new 21.5-inch iMac – it’s priced closer to the older model Apple is keeping at the bottom of its range – its IPS screen has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. It is marketed as a business PC, after all.

Creative professionals might go for the 27-inch iMac for its Retina 5K display and more real estate. But what the 21-inch iMac’s Retina 4K sacrifices in workspace, it makes up for with the quality of its display relative to many competitors.

Apple iMac 21.5-inch

Apple Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Keyboard

Peripherals

Apple’s Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Keyboard are included in the 21.5-inch iMac, which are divisive. If you don’t get on with the mouse’s sensitivity or shape, think about swapping for a Magic Trackpad 2 for $50 (£50/AU$60) at checkout. Need a numeric keypad? Then you need to shell out $30 (£30/AU$30) more at checkout to get a full-length keyboard.

Sadly, even if you order a custom build through its online store, Apple does not provide an option to remove the mouse and keyboard from your purchase so you can save money and continue using your existing set.

That’s partly because Apple wants you to embrace its multi-touch gestures, which definitely make a significant difference to benefitting from macOS features like the Mission Control workspace manager, super-smooth scrolling and zooming in on content.

Images Credit: TechRadar