Home > Mac News > Working with the 24-inch iMac, Part I

Working with the 24-inch iMac, Part I

September 24th, 2006

A great deal about working with a new computer is naturally relative to the old, so a lot of what I’m finding on the new computer is just that: contrasts. I’m fully accustomed to laptops now, and since the last time I had a desktop Mac was my 300MHz G3 Tower (one of the last “beige” ones), the immediate contrast is pretty noticeable, in addition to the special features of the twenty-four incher.

The first thing that anyone must notice about this computer is the monitor. That much is obvious. It’s big. Honking big. The strange thing is, photos don’t convey this. I’ve seen photos of the iMac on the web before, and I tried taking some today–and still, somehow, the monitor just doesn’t look nearly as impressive in the photos. Putting something near the monitor for scale doesn’t help. To get the full effect, you simply have to see one in person, otherwise the effect is pretty much lost. And the effect is pretty strong; I wasn’t sure about buying one until I saw it at an Apple Store–then I was very strongly motivated.

It just looks so small here, and in the photo next to the PowerBook from before.

Strangely, the size of the screen has one negative effect: text gets too small. Now, that shouldn’t be a problem, because all you should have to do is set the text size to be bigger. And in apps like word processors, that’s not a problem–but I’m finding it to be a big problem in browsing web pages. In both Safari and Firefox, the text size stubbornly refuses to reset. In both apps, I go and set the standard screen font size to be larger than 12-point, and nothing happens. I’m sure there’s something I’m missing, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it might be. Now, there’s an option to set the lowest possible font size, and that works to pump up the text size. Unfortunately, it does not affect line spacing, so the text crams together, and it also prevents me from making the text any smaller by the command-minus shortcut, if text becomes too big. So until I find the solution, I have to suffer with those problems, or get used to command-plussing every page I visit.

What my blog looks like, full screen. You can imagine reading gets a bit difficult…

But size isn’t the only thing this monitor has; it’s also bright. Too bright, sometimes. Right now, I have the room lights on full and the brightness is set to its lowest level, and it’s a bit on the brighter side of just-about-right. It definitely takes getting used to. A reviewer said that in a brightly-lit office with sun coming in through windows, the 24-inch screen still seemed bright, and I can fully believe it.

What’s best about the monitor is video. It plays video gorgeously. Even low-quality stuff looks fairly good. Medium-quality looks great. DVD video looks beautiful. But the kicker is downloading 1080p videos off the web (so far, just from Apple’s movie trailer page); the 1080p’s fit perfectly on the screen, pixel-for-pixel, almost completely filling it up. The monitor is, for all intents and purposes, a large HDTV screen. And the NVidia graphics card makes it play smoothly; on my PowerBook G4, even the smaller HD trailers can be somewhat jerky. I’ll bet that gamers would love this computer–but I’m not a gamer and have nothing to test on it, even if I wanted to. But I do have Google Earth, and man, does a big screen and fast graphics make a difference with that. In fact, I had gotten all too used to the speeds of my PowerBook, forgetting that everything from web pages to graphics programs load and play faster than I’m used to.

What a 1080p video file looks like, natural-size. The clarity, of course, doesn’t come across in this photo.

OK, enough about the monitor. It is the central feature of this computer, but it’s not all there is. Though one last small point about a related issue: using a television as a second screen. With the video-out-to-RCA accessory cable, you can pipe your iMac to your TV (though there’s no longer that much advantage in size!), but there is also a surprising new option: you can rotate the image displayed on the TV 90, 180, or 270 degrees. Why, I have not yet figured out–maybe just because you can. It seems strange, but there must be a reason.

I’m having fun with other features, many of which might bore owners of desktop Macs bought over the past few years–like the built-in iSight camera. It’s been available for a year or two now as a standard option, but this is the first one I’ve had to lay around with. Now, for some time, I’ve been using Skype to voice chat with my family, and it just so happens that Skype has very recently released the beta version of Skype 2 for Mac, with video conferencing now introduced. I tried it out, and it works beautifully–better, in fact, than Apple’s own iChat AV! The iChat sound quality sucks, and the video feed is smaller than Skype, which also has excellent audio quality. Today, my dad is going to go out and get a peripheral iSight camera just so we can have 2-way video chats. It’ll be a nice addition, as you can show things to each other–for example, I just bought some old coins for my sister to make jewelry from, and tonight I can give her a peek at what I’m sending, maybe even get feedback on what to buy next. I’ve heard and felt the concern that you wouldn’t want others to see how you look, but I find with family and friends, that’s not really such a problem in practice, at least not for me.

Apple’s Photo Booth software also adds to the fun, allowing you to gawk at funhouse distortions of yourself and whoever else is there. I’m certain that’s going to get old fast, of course. But the ability to take easy snapshots will come in handy from time to time, I’m sure.

Another feature that’s been around for a while now if Front Row, which I’d never actually used before, and didn’t really get until now. Having used it, I find it resembles Apple’s demo of their iTV box very closely. I also wasn’t aware exactly of the functions–essentially, it makes your Mac into one giant iPod, in that you can navigate all your audio, image, and video files with the remote control interface, which is styled after the iPod. If you own a video iPod and have used it to peruse photos and movies in addition to music, it’ll be a very familiar experience. Frankly, I’d just as soon use programs like iTunes, VLC, Image Viewer, or DVD Player to do the same things. Maybe I’ll find myself using the all-in-one interface when I need it from a distance–but not that I can foresee.

When I bought the iMac, I opted for the Apple wireless keyboard and mouse. The wireless part is nice–I’ve always hated the clutter and tangles of shifting the mouse and keyboard around. One gripe is the power switch on the keyboard–essentially, you have to pick up the keyboard (which is a bit heavy), turn it over, and throw the switch on the bottom to turn it off–hardly a handy maneuver. A switch on the side would’ve been the obvious thing to do; why Apple didn’t is a mystery to me.

Other than that, it’s all about getting used to a new keyboard and mouse. I always have trouble with new keyboards, and spend weeks hitting the same wrong keys over and over. Right now the biggest pain is the “delete” (backspace) key and the F13 key. I set the F13 key to open my browser, and now half the time when I want to delete something, the browser pops up and for a moment I think my other app has suddenly crashed or something. I’d rather set the F14-F16 keys to start apps, but Apple mysteriously set F14 and F15 to be the brightness controls, without so marking the keys–and I can’t seem to find any way to reconfigure those without a third-party app… Otherwise, the keyboard is nice–solid and with healthy bounce.

The “Mighty Mouse” takes some getting used to. I’m used to standard 3- and 4-button mice with normal scroll wheels. The MM keeps Jobs’ fetishistic single-piece design intact, which means that the difference between a left click and a right click can be tricky towards the middle. The tiny scroll ball is strange at first, but you soon get used to the 360-degree functionality and the strange feel to its button action. I can come to like this. One other nice mouse movie is the control-scroll zoom feature. I use the zoom feature a lot, and this move comes in handy. The side “squeeze” buttons I don’t like as much, and might not get used to.

More impressions later, especially when I try out some Intel-native iMovie HD work….

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  1. ykw
    September 24th, 2006 at 16:28 | #1

    I don’t understand why you have small text w/ a bit monitor. Correct me if I’m wrong, yet 1900 pixels across a 24″ monitor are similar to 1100 pixels on a 14″ monitor, and therefore your pixels are of similar size to many laptops. I’m guessing at this 1900 number. I don’t know what resolution you are working with. The photo of you in front of the screen looks very impressive !!!

  2. Luis
    September 24th, 2006 at 16:32 | #2

    Yes, but the overall size of the monitor means that you have to sit farther back from it. If I had my face in the screen, I could read it. But you don’t sit as close to this monitor as you would a laptop…

    Reading at 12pt. text can work, it’s just a strain.

  3. September 24th, 2006 at 23:44 | #3

    Luis, have you tried downloading any Bittorrents on that yet? I have the first generation iMac G5 and when using Azureus it just sucks up all the CPU resources and the fan goes full blast. I’m wondering how loud the fan is on the newer iMacs.

  4. Luis
    September 25th, 2006 at 00:03 | #4

    Roy: You might want to try this app:


    I have no problems with CPU usage on that. It takes opnly 3% of CPU caopacity, and 50MB of RAM. It even shows realtime download speeds in the dock icon.

    As for the fan, nothing so far. A very low hum, which for all I know is a quiet hard disk drive, is all I’ve heard coming from it. Then again, the G5 was a power hog with a giant cooling system, whereas the Core 2 Duo is designed to be even more energy efficient than a Core Duo. The Core 2 Duo is in fact often used as a laptop chip.

    Hell, I’m not even sure this thing HAS a fan…

    Update: Actually, I’d forgotten about something. I tried downloading torrents on my Mac before, and as I recall, it got MUCH faster download speeds than my XP downloading. BUT–it also had the effect of slowing my other Internet accesses on my Mac down to a crawl, so I had to abandon it. Since you mentioned it, I’ve been trying it again on the new Mac–and it works beautifully. Huge download speeds (some files at 1MB/sec) and no slowdown of the other Internet processes. Cool!

  5. Michael
    September 27th, 2006 at 01:36 | #5

    Hi Luis:

    Just wondering if you could take a moment to post the actual dimensions of the screen area – including & excluding frame.

    Thanks, Michael

  6. Luis
    September 27th, 2006 at 02:01 | #6

    Michael: If I understand you correctly, the answer is:

    With frame: 57cm x 46cm (22.5″ x 18″), 72cm diagonal (28″);
    LCD Screen only: 52cm x 32cm (20.5″ x 12.5″), 61cm diagonal (24″, of course).

  7. Michael
    September 27th, 2006 at 09:13 | #7

    Luis: Thanks for the dimensions – that’s exactly what I was looking for. I’m looking forward to upgrading from my G4 mini to a new imac but am wavering between the 20″ and 24″. I’m a little concerned about the extreme brightness on the 24″ and the percieved smaller size of text. The eyes are not quite as sharp as they used to be!

  8. Luis
    September 27th, 2006 at 10:47 | #8

    Well, I mitigated the brightness by adding a backlight, a small lamp behind the screen that lights the wall behind the computer. That helps with contrast. The brightness is a big advantage in bright rooms (which mine is not), and with watching video.

    The size of the screen can be a help, actually, if you can get the text to appear larger. The bigger problem is with browsers, because the standard font size that you set in a browser does not affect CSS styles, only non-CSS text–IMHO, an incredibly stupid oversight by browser designers. It means that you have to do a Comand-plus a few times on most web pages. But if you’re willing, it can actually look better that way.

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