Review: Apple's newest 24-in. iMac 'a sight to behold'

Better than that, it's also $300 cheaper than before

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Personally, I don't mind glossy screens. In fact, I prefer them. Unlike some vocal Apple fans, I don't think Apple's move to glossy was a devious plot against the old matte finish; it was no doubt meant to streamline production and follow the market. Glossy screens -- really glossy screens -- debuted on the PC side of the market and proved to be popular.

I'm less enthralled by the new iMac keyboard, which lacks the number key section of traditional keyboards. I own an Apple wireless keyboard, which also lacks the number key section, but that was a tradeoff I was willing to accept for size and portability. Desktop keyboards, by definition, aren't going anywhere, so portability is hardly a factor, especially given the wired nature of the keyboard. On the positive side, typing on the keyboard feels nice, as the throw doesn't seem to be as short and abrupt as the wireless keyboards I've tried.

You can still order a keyboard with the number keys with your iMac, for no extra cost. But I can't shake the feeling that Apple's looking to weather the current economic storm with annoying little cutbacks: a FireWire port gone here, a redesigned keyboard there, no Apple remote in the box. And the remote, which goes for $19 now, should be included with the iMac, as it makes such a perfect machine for watching videos, and DVDs -- especially in places where screen size is important, yet space is at a premium, like a dorm room.

I'm certainly happy that the iMac still has Target Disk Mode capability, meaning you can enable it to act as a big FireWire hard drive by holding down the T key at startup. This has always been seen as a major differentiating feature between a PC and a Mac, and it's incredibly handy as a troubleshooting tool.

With an eye on performance, I ran the iMac through a series of video conversion tests to see how it would do. With the 24-in. screen, the iMac could be exactly what a budget-conscious videographer or designer might choose. I stacked it up against another recent Apple offering, my 15-in. 2.53GHz MacBook Pro, a favorite for mobile video editors and designers.

Specifically, I ran a series of video conversion tests to push the processor, creating an iPhone friendly, 640-pixel-by-480-pixel h.264 mp4 file from a 1080p hi-resolution movie with a running time of 44:19. The iMac needed 1:31:15 to do the conversion; the MacBook Pro needed 8 minutes more to do the same task. A software re-encode of a 77-minute DVD took 1:41:54 on the iMac, 1:49:45 on the MacBook Pro. And exporting a fairly complex 50-minute video produced in iMovie 09 took about two hours and 15 minutes on the iMac, 15 minutes longer using the MacBook Pro. (The iMovie file was exported using Apple's "Large" settings, resulting in an h.264 m4v file with the resolution of 960x540 pixels.)

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