When Apple introduced the latest incarnation of its iMac G5 product line, the reactions were almost exclusively those of praise. They had managed to make the iMac G5 even thinner, while at the same time upgrading its specifications. Apple also introduced Front Row, a remote control, and a built-in iSight camera. MacSupport was so kind as to provide OSNews with this new iMac G5; here are our findings.
OSNews will be making good use of the iMac G5. First off, we’ll be focusing on the iMac in combination with Mac OS X. In a second article we will focus on a whole different animal: Linux. We will then take a look at how various PPC versions of Linux distributions perform. However, first things first. In this article, we will try to answer the question if the current iMac G5 is worth its price tag.
Please bear in mind that this will not be a review of Mac OS X Tiger, but of the new iMac G5, and its new features in particular.
The iMac MacSupport loaned to us had the following set of specifications:
These add up to a total price of EUR 1437.32 [$1736.28], which includes taxes.
The machine came loaded with Mac OS 10.4.2 (which I quickly updated to 10.4.3), which is also available on a rescue CD. As I have come to expect from Apple, the machine was very well packaged, and it was literally plug-and-play.
Build Quality & Design
The first thing that immediately came to my attention while setting the machine up on my desk, was the build quality of the machine. The solid, hard plastics, the magnesium stand, the total lack of joints; it all added to the quality feeling of the iMac. There’s only one other machine I have that comes close to the iMac’s build quality, and that is my Sun Ultra 5 UltraSPARC machine (which also feels as solid as a brick). This is a definite step up from my rather, sorry to say, flimsy iBook G4, which is of a much lower build quality than this iMac (battery and keyboard of the iBook don’t fit properly, the armrests squeak when pressed, the ‘open lid’ button doesn’t work as it should, etc.).
The design is a matter of taste, I guess. Personally, when Apple first introduced the iMac G5, I had a hard time accepting that rather huge ‘bar’ underneath the screen; but after a few months, it grew on me, and by the time they released the new iMac I was accustomed to it. Now, I actually see it as a style element which adds to the looks of the machine. The frontside looks very clean to me, with the built-in black iSight being the only thing out of place.
The backside of the imac is also very clean, sporting ‘iMac’ in large, grey letters. The ports are located in the lower left-hand corner of the backside. These include, from left to right: headphone/optical out, audio-in, three USB 2.0 ports, two FireWire 400 ports, the ethernet port, and an Apple Display Connector (ADC; ADC-VGA adapter not included). In the middle of the backside is the power connector. The stand has a hole in it through which you can route cables.
All in all, I am pretty confident when I say that the iMac G5 is the best-looking computer money can buy. That may not matter in an office or gaming setting, but for settings where the computer is used to interact with customers or visitors (reception desks, banks, shop counters), it does matter. And for those settings, the iMac is the best option. It’s all-in-one design also eliminates any clutter.
When you turn the iMac on, it goes through the usual new-Mac setup routine. Here, I wish to give some praise to Apple’s outstanding Migration Assistant. I already own an iBook, and by connecting it to the new iMac using a FireWire cable, you can transfer your entire user account, including files, settings, preferences, passwords, etc., from your old Mac, to the new one. In my case, the whole transfer consisted of 8.5GB.
When the transfer is completed, your new Mac looks exactly the same as your old one. That is of great importance to me, seeing there’s well over a year’s worth of files, applications, settings, and tweaks on my iBook. The only problem I could find was with Apple’s X11. In order to use GIMP, I have Apple’s X11 installed on my iBook. However, after the transfer, GIMP started to complain on the iMac. It said it needed Apple’s X11 and refused to load. I downloaded Apple’s X11 off of the web, but couldn’t install it; it complained I already had a newer version installed. So I couldn’t use GIMP anymore.
Now, let’s move on to the new aspects of the iMac.
Remote Control & Front Row
The most defining feature of the new iMac must be its remote and Front Row. The remote is held in place on the right side of the screen using a magnet, and it looks like an iPod shuffle with an extra button named ‘menu’. With it, you open Front Row.
Now, what exactly is Front Row? Simply put, Front Row is ‘nothing more’ than a front-end for iPhoto, iTunes, Quicktime Player, and DVD Player. Front Row even loads those applications when you browse through the menu. So, Front Row offers no more basic multimedia functionality than the applications it launches. Front Row literally is no more than the sum of its parts– when it comes to playback/viewing that is (seeing edit and download functions aren’t available in Front Row).
However, that does not mean Front Row is a useless application, because quite frankly, it’s not. It is very easy to use, it looks good, and the readability is excellent for when you’re not sitting right in front of your computer. I can imagine Front Row being really awesome when you’re throwing a party.
The remote control simply is a joy to use. The furthest distance away from the iMac I could try the remote from, was about 7 metres, and it had no problems with that distance at all. Also, the ‘receivability’ (yeah I just made that word up) of the remote is excellent; there is no need to aim at the receiver directly (which is placed behind the Apple logo on the front bezel of the iMac). You can also use the remote without Front Row; you can control iTunes with it, or DVD Player, or whatever. It can also sleep/wake the iMac. What I miss is some sort of configurability; it would have been nice if Apple included a panel in System Preferences with which you could change the behaviour of key-presses (ie. load iTunes when ‘play’ button is pressed). For more advanced ‘remote controlling’ of your Mac, I suggest the outstanding Salling Clicker.
However, Front Row also has its drawbacks. For instance, it does not update your podcast subscriptions. It does not give you access to the iTunes music store (which I do not use anyway, but still). Because Front Row’s sections need to load their respective applications, it can be slow. It does not shut down those applications when you turn off your music– so when you exit Front Row, iPhoto, iTunes, and so on are still running. The delay between pressing the ‘menu’ button on the remote and the appearance of Front Row is also too slow, which sometimes leaves you pressing the menu button twice.
Some people (including Steve Jobs himself) compared Front Row to Windows Media Center Edition. This makes no sense at all, and it’s a gross overstatement of Front Row’s capabilities. The comparison Jobs made during the announcement of the iMac G5 between a remote for MCE and the iMac remote is completely out of this world, and makes absolutely no sense at all– it would be like comparing the remote of your garage door to the one of your TV, and then claim usability supremacy because the former only has two buttons. MCE sports all sorts of features that the iMac with Front Row does not have, with the most important ones being TV and TV recording functionality. And there we have the new iMac’s major, major weakness: the lack of support for television viewing and recording.
When I first saw the new iMac G5 in that special press event, the first thing I thought was: where is the TV support? The machine is perfectly fitted to be a television: remote control, widescreen, instant sleep/wake functionality. The lack of it is a big failure of the new iMac G5, and seriously damages its value when you already own a previous model. Personally, I would have bought the iMac immediately if it wasn’t for the lack of TV support. A major miss by Apple; the people at MacSupport confirmed that there is great demand for this functionality, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if something like this will be announced tomorrow during Steve Jobs’s keynote.
In conclusion, Front Row is a nice application, it does what it is supposed to do, and does so in an easy, beautiful way. However, don’t expect that you can use this iMac as a replacement for your TV– something some people have been hinting at. And it’s by far no competition for MCE in terms of functionality.
iSight & Photobooth
The built-in iSight really is a major selling point of the machine– seeing the ridiculous amount of money Apple dares to ask for its iSight camera. The iSight is embedded atop of the screen and it can produce VGA quality video and photos. Obviously, because it’s built-in, everything works perfectly from the get-go. The actual quality of the camera disappointed me a little bit; the quality reminded me of videos or pictures I sometimes shoot with my mobile phone (test photo). An iSight isn’t used to win the World Press Photo, but still, I expected more.
Photobooth is an awesome little application. It kind of emulates those, well, photo booths you see in train stations and airports, only now without the unpleasant side-effect of draining your wallet, of course. You can choose between several effects, divided into two categories (see the screenshots for more details). Shooting a photo is accompanied by a three-second countdown timer, and the screen is used as a sort-of flash. All photos you’ve shot are stored in a row beneath the ‘viewfinder’, and you can immediately send your pictures via email, import them in iPhoto, or set them as account pictures, or buddy pictures in iChat AV.
The iSight works perfectly fine with iChat AV. As a test, I had a videoconference with Eugenia (on the other side of the Atlantic) and it worked really well. I have to say that the video quality of her external iSight seemed a lot better than of my internal one; Eugenia confirmed this.
At the beginning of this review, we asked the question whether or not the iMac G5 is worth its pricetag. I can answer that question with a firm, confident, and solid ‘yes’. The iMac G5 in its current form is, in my opinion, the best personal computer for home and/or office use that money can buy. If you compare the iMac to what Apple’s competitors have to offer, it becomes painfully clear just how far Apple is ahead when it comes to making user-friendly, visually attractive, and plug-and-play home computers.
However, that does not mean there is no room for improvement. The quality of the iSight camera leaves a lot to be desired, and Front Row is nice, but it could have, and should have, been a lot more. The lack of TV support is the major miss of this machine. Other than that, OSX also leaves quite a few things to be desired.
Another thing to take into account is whether or not it is worth to upgrade to this new iMac G5 if you already own a previous model. That question I can answer with a definitive and resolute ‘no’. Photobooth/iSight and Front Row/remote control do not offer enough functionality over the previous model, and the processor/memory/videocard improvements aren’t that stellar either. If you already own a 1st generation iMac G5, there is no need to upgrade now; you are much better off waiting for the coming Intel iMac.
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I don’t think this adds much more than what can be garnerd from playtesting an iMac at your nearest computer superstore or Apple store. I suspect a lot of PC users (me being one of them) will be so reluctant to try something else that they will spend their time bitching about specs, an operating system they’ve never used, oh and the price. over and over again.
Meanwhilst Mac users will be getting some work done.
About the “bar” under the screen, I’ve not yet accustomed to it, and still love the old pod and hinge design. I think it has become synonymous for Macs due to constant use in TV shows etc.