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Apple iMac review (2023): Nothing's changed, except the M3

There's a lot to like if you're an all-in-one fan, but the iMac almost feels like an afterthought to Apple.

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

On the surface, Apple’s new iMac is easy to evaluate. It’s almost identical to the 2021 iMac, with its lovely 24-inch screen and multicolor exterior. In fact, the only difference between the new iMac and the old one is a new chip, the M3 processor.

As such, everything that we liked about the iMac in 2021 holds true here. It's an extremely well-designed machine, the screen looks lovely, and the M3 is plenty powerful for most people. But the issues we had with it — particularly the specs of the lower-end model — are harder to ignore.

The M3 iMac is a lovely and powerful all-in-one computer, but the specs of the base model are not up to par in 2023.

Pros
  • M3 chip is extremely speed
  • Display is excellent
  • Lightweight and easy to move
  • Color are still a lot of fun
Cons
  • Base models are seriously under-specced
  • A larger screen option would be nice
  • No vertical screen adjustment
$1,250 at Amazon

First, the good news. The M3 chip inside the new iMac (paired with 24GB of RAM and 1TB of storage in the model I tested) provides more than enough power for my daily workflow. Of course, as a journalist my needs are moderate. I don’t edit 4K movies or run intense music-creation software, and most things I do can be accomplished in a browser. But a ton of Safari tabs coupled with my usual apps like Messages, Photos, Slack, Bear, Apple Music and Trello never slowed it down. More power-hungry apps like Lightroom or Photomater never stuttered either, as I edited and exported RAW photos. I’m particularly glad that the M3 iMac supports up to 24GB of RAM this time around, up from 16GB on the M1 model.

The M3 iMac is also capable of running modern games, at least those that are available for it. In a tale as old as time, game options on the Mac lag far behind what you’ll find on Windows, but the situation is improving. Titles like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Lies of P are the kinds of games you usually wouldn’t expect to see on a Mac. That’s part of an overall trend this year, with other big blockbuster games like the Resident Evil 4 remake, Resident Evil Village and Death Stranding either available now or coming soon.

Review photos of the 2023 Apple iMac with a 24-inch screen and the M3 chip.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Both Baldur’s Gate 3 and Lies of P ran well on the iMac. They weren’t running at the highest resolution, but they were still totally playable. And other games from the Mac App Store like NBA 2K24 Arcade Edition and Skate City from Apple Arcade worked without a hiccup — but given those games have to run across a huge variety of lower-powered devices, good performance is basically a given. While no one is going out there buying a Mac with cutting-edge gaming in mind, I am still glad that there are more options than there were a few years ago.

Benchmarks show the M3 is a modest improvement over the M2, which is not a big surprise. The M3 is also almost identical in single-core performance to the M3 Max, which we tested on the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. Of course, that computer blows past the iMac in multi-core performance. But given the iMac’s intended purpose as a family computer, the M3 should be more than enough for most people. Apple Silicon is so performant that people who bought the M1 iMac two and a half years ago likely won’t have much reason to upgrade.

What hasn't changed

Review photos of the 2023 Apple iMac with a 24-inch screen and the M3 chip.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

As for literally everything else: if you’ve seen a 24-inch iMac before, you’ve seen this one. Mine came in a lovely shade of blue — dark and metallic on the back and a more pastel shade on the front. There are six other colors available, all the same as what Apple offered before, and they all make me wish Apple used these bold shades on more of its products. (Seriously, this year’s iPhone 15 colors are terrible.) The display has a 4.5k resolution, splitting the difference between the old Intel-based 21.5- and 27-inch models. I generally find that to be enough, though I do miss the expansive canvas you got on a 27-inch iMac. I’m not alone, but Apple has made it clear that that computer isn’t coming back. If you want a bigger screen, you’re better off checking out a Mac mini or Mac Studio and pairing it with the monitor of your choice.

Despite occasionally wishing it was larger, this panel remains great, with 500 nits of brightness, Apple’s TrueTone technology for adjusting color temperature to your environment and support for the Wide P3 color gamut. It’s not the most advanced display ever since it uses a time-tested LED panel but, once again, the people that Apple is targeting with this computer won’t mind.

The iMac is still extraordinarily thin at 11.5mm and weighs less than 10 pounds. I actually wouldn’t mind if it was just a little heavier. It’s easy to accidentally move the whole computer when I adjust the tilt of the display. And feline owners beware: my cats liked to jump on the desk and nuzzle the iMac, sliding it across my desk. But its minimal weight also makes it easy to move around the house.

It mostly sat on my desk, but I also brought it down to the bedroom to watch a movie when I was feeling under the weather. My colleague Devindra Hardawar (who reviewed the M1 model in 2021) also sang the iMac’s praises as a computer you can drop in your kitchen, which is not something I could do with my relatively limited counter space. But the point is that this remains the most portable iMac ever, and that opens up some interesting uses.

Apple has done a good job of putting surprisingly solid speakers into its laptops, and it’s also worked out an impressive speaker system to go in the svelte iMac. It has six speakers total with two force-canceling woofers, and this results in clear and relatively loud audio. I prefer using dedicated speakers as I’m a bit of a music nerd, but for casual listening or watching YouTube, this system is far better than you’d expect from such a thin device. The speakers also support Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio for Apple Music, movies and shows via the Apple TV app. Those effects aren’t the most obvious on this system; songs sound different, though not necessarily better, but I’ve found that to be the case no matter what device you’re using to play Spatial Audio.

Review photos of the 2023 Apple iMac with a 24-inch screen and the M3 chip.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

As before, the iMac comes with a color-matched keyboard and mouse (and/or trackpad, your choice), a subtle but really nice touch. Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts will scoff, but I continue to find the Magic Keyboard extremely comfortable to type on for extended periods of time, and I love that you can get Touch ID built in now. The Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad are the same ones Apple has been selling for years, and they’re very reliable (though plenty of people are not fans of the mouse’s shape).

However, Apple really missed a good opportunity to redesign these accessories to use USB-C for charging. Instead, they use the same old Lightning connector that has been on iPhones and other devices for years now. With Lightning’s days clearly numbered, this would have been a perfect time to move to USB-C. At least the included Lightning cable is also color-matched.

Base specs are a big downside

Review photos of the 2023 Apple iMac with a 24-inch screen and the M3 chip.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Most of the things Apple didn’t change with the new iMac don’t bother me — the design and screen all make sense, even if some people wish things were a little different. What doesn’t make sense are the corners Apple is cutting to offer the iMac at a starting price of $1,299. That configuration comes with a paltry 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which was stingy two and a half years ago and now is completely unacceptable. I can’t in good conscience recommend anyone spend more than $1,000 on a computer with only 8GB of RAM in 2023.

There are other cuts to the entry model that aren’t quite as egregious but are still disappointing. Apple doesn’t include the power adaptor with a gigabit ethernet port, the Magic Keyboard doesn’t have Touch ID, the GPU has eight cores (compared to 10 in the $1,499 model), it only has two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports (the more expensive iMac also has two more USB-C ports) and it only comes in four colors rather than seven. The base iMac might exist mostly as a more affordable model for education, but there’s no reason to handicap yourself with only 8GB of RAM if you’re buying this computer for yourself or your family.

That means you’re spending at least $1,499 to get a computer with 16GB of RAM and all the aforementioned compromises. That’s the same price as the middle-tier iMac, which includes the gigabit ethernet adapter, Touch ID and so on — but it also only comes with 8GB of RAM. Stepping that computer up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, the minimum specs I’d consider for a desktop, comes to a whopping $1,899.

This isn’t a new problem. The company’s entry models often feel artificially limited to push you toward a more expensive option. Just look at the $1,099 MacBook Air, which is also hamstrung by 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, but it feels slightly more forgivable on a laptop. With the iMac, you don’t get improved portability in exchange for poorer specs. In fact, in many ways (except the screen), the iMac is a more limited and more expensive computer than the MacBook Air.

Fortunately, Apple also sells the Mac mini. You can pick up that tiny desktop with an M2 chip, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage for $999, add a nice 4K monitor and you’re good to go for less than $1,500. Of course you lose the niceties of an all-in-one, which aren’t insignificant — I’ve really enjoyed the complete lack of cord clutter on my desk while using the iMac.

Review photos of the 2023 Apple iMac with a 24-inch screen and the M3 chip.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Wrap-up

Thanks to Apple Silicon, Apple’s desktop computer lineup is in stronger shape than it’s been in years. For a while, the iMac had to be both a simple all-in-one for those with basic needs as well as a more powerful, pro-focused machine (remember the iMac Pro?). But now, the Mac mini and Mac Studio are compelling options for people who want better performance, leaving the iMac to serve a smaller audience. And it does it well — the screen is great, the M3 is powerful, and the whole thing is shockingly compact. If you want the simplest and easiest Mac experience, the iMac is still the way to go. Just make sure you bump up the RAM.