Up Close & Personal with the New iMac G5


Episode 48
November 18th, 2005

Apple was kind enough to ship me one of the new iMac G5s for review, making me the first on my block to experience an iMac G5 with a built-in iSight video camera, and the Front Row "media experience" which utilizes the new Apple Remote five-button infrared remote control.

After putting one through its paces for a little over a week, here are my first impressions:

Let's take it from the top… Like all Macs it was a breeze to set up. It took less than five minutes to unpack and configure. The only thing new or different about setting up a new iMac is a new screen that allows you to take a picture of yourself with the built-in iSight camera and use that picture with your user account as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The new "Select a Picture For This Account" screen.

Once you've created a user account and have your iMac up and running, the next thing you'll want to play with is the infrared remote control shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: The Apple Remote (shown next to the Mighty Mouse to illustrate its size).

Clicking the Apple Remote's Menu button invokes the new Front Row media experience on screen as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The four faces of the Front Row media experience on-screen menu.

From the Front Row menu you can use the Apple Remote to access Videos, Music and Photos on your hard disk, as well as control Apple's DVD player if you've got a DVD in your optical drive. It's slick but you can tell it's a 1.0 release. For example, when you're using Front Row you cannot select items with the mouse or keyboard - you can only control Front Row using the Apple Remote even though it may be more convenient to grab the mouse or keyboard. And some of the menus are very slow to appear. After selecting Movies from the Video submenu it took the iMac more than thirty seconds before Front Row figured out that I don't have any movie files in the Movies folder in my Home folder.

But there are also some nice touches. For example, if you have an Internet connection you can watch streaming movie trailers, so you don't have to download trailers to your hard disk to view them. And since the remote control device is so tiny (see Figure 2), Apple placed a magnet inside the new iMac for you to attach the remote when it's not in use, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: A magnet inside the iMac insures you won't misplace the tiny Apple Remote.

Another new feature is the built-in iSight camera, installed dead center just above the display. Of course you can use the camera with iChat AV for video conferencing, but the most fun you'll have with it is using the new Photo Booth application bundled with all new iMacs.

Photo Booth does just what its name implies-it takes snapshots. Just click the little red camera button and a few seconds later the screen will flash white (simulating a camera's flash) and the picture drops down into the tray at the bottom of the Photo Booth window, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Click the red camera button and Photo Booth snaps a picture of you.

That's all well and good but the real fun is in the special effects, obtained by clicking the Effects 1 or Effects 2 buttons. Doing so lets you choose from 16 special effects for your snapshot ranging from interesting to hysterically stupid, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Photo Booth's Effects 1 (left) and Effects 2 (right).

In the few days we've had the iMac here my family has already taken nearly 200 snapshots with Photo Booth, almost all of them using one or another of the effects.

Figure 7 displays just some of the results:

Figure 7: A montage of Photo Booth Effects (with special thanks to my wife and kids).

We've wasted lots of time playing with Photo Booth. While it's a relatively simple application, it's tons and tons of fun.

Moving right along, performance of the new iMac G5 is excellent given the low price. Most of my applications and games ran as well as or better than they do on my PowerBook with its 1.25GHz G4 processor. The new ATI Radeon X600 PCI Express-based graphics subsystem with its 128MB of video RAM seems to help a lot.

Of course it has all the usual ports and connectivity including 10/100/1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet, built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, 5 USB ports (3 USB 2.0), and 2 FireWire 400 ports.

Bundled software includes iLife '05; Mac OS X version 10.4 "Tiger," AppleWorks, Quicken 2006, World Book 2006, the aforementioned Photo Booth, plus a pair of games-Nanosaur 2 and Marble Blast Gold.

I've only found one thing to complain about thus far-the decision to include the new Mighty Mouse rather than the old single-button mouse. I know I've been screaming for years that Apple should bundle a multi-button mouse, but after living with Mighty Mouse for a while I absolutely hate it. I'm forever clicking the pea-sized Scroll Ball when I don't mean to; the side buttons are hard to use; and using it for long makes my hand hurt.

And I have one quibble with Apple that's not the iMac's fault: How come iSight video camera owners can't download a copy of Photo Booth? I'd love to use Photo Booth with my iSight and PowerBook but Apple apparently doesn't want me to do that. According to an Apple spokesperson, the only way to get a copy of Photo Booth today is to buy a new iMac. Not that buying a new iMac is a bad thing… but I don't need another Mac just now. So I wish I could get Photo Booth for my other Macs when the iMac has to be returned to the mothership in a couple of weeks.

The bottom line is that if you're in the market for a desktop computer, the new iMac G5 delivers a lot of bang for the buck.

Product Specifications (taken from the Apple press release):

The new 17-inch 1.9 GHz iMac G5, for a suggested retail price of $1,299 (US), includes:

The new 20-inch 2.1 GHz iMac G5, for a suggested retail price of $1,699 (US), includes:

And that's all he wrote...