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On buying things that don’t fit – my iMac 5K anti-review

When Apple announced their iMac with 5K display I was hypnotised – it was the best looking desktop computer that I had ever seen. The Mac of my dreams.

Little did I know that it was going to be one of the WORST investments I made in the past 4 years.

This is a story about a computer. But it’s actually a lesson.

If it doesn’t fit you, it’ll just make you unhappy.

Until late 2014 I’d spent my days coding on, alternatively, a 2009 15 inch MacBook Pro or a tiny 11 inch Mac Book Air from 2013. Both of them were decent machines for writing code, but terrible whenever design got involved.
It was pretty bad: the low screen resolution meant that whenever I used XCode(the IDE for coding iOS apps) or Photoshop, I had to spend most of my time scrolling and zooming in all directions.

More importantly, because of the low color gamut of the display, when implementing a given app design, I would confuse neighbouring color shades, since my display showed them as the same; also, because my screen was not retina, there were frequent 1 pixel-off differences in images or alignments when compared to retina-made designs. (Things have gotten better with XCode since; now you can design interfaces or test apps in the simulator while zoomed out)

You understand now why the idea of owning a large screen Mac with a gorgeous display was so appealing to me. So much that, at the end of 2014, I got hypnotised by Apple’s autumn keynote, the one where they announced the new iMac 5K with Retina display. So, at the end of a very lucrative year, when the iMac 5K arrived in stores, I jumped the gun and ordered one with all the extras I though I’d need: maxed out CPU, GPU card and a speedy 500GB SSD. All of which, together with the extra insurance (equivalent of Apple Care for Romania), rose the total cost to almost $5000.

The iMac 5K has a gorgeous display, better than most computer screens, showing all kinds of color shades I might have missed otherwise. It is speedy(even though I haven’t yet upgraded its RAM, leaving it to the default 8GB) and all visitors are impressed when looking at it (“I see the monitor, but where did they put the computer?”).

Using it and working with it is a real treat. Lots of screen space, great looks, gorgeous colors. Software looks better than ever, XCode and Photoshop feel at home and now have as much space as they need.

One problem(apparently related to the Radeon M295X GPU) appeared after updating to OSX El Capitan; the iMac would block and reboot randomly, then later it evolved into showing graphic artefacts on the screen. That’s when the extended warranty came in handy; the issue was fixed by the guys at the local Apple Authorised Service, who mentioned replacing the motherboard, due to some faulty components in the original. No other issues were seen since.

But the joy of owning such a gorgeous device didn’t last for long – more precisely, less than 2 weeks, when I had to leave home for the 2014-2015 winter holidays. That’s when I realised my huge mistake – I had based my purchase decision on what I wanted, not on what I actually needed.

See, I didn’t actually need a desktop. Desktop computers are great, if you’re in such a business where you’re actually sitting at your desk all day, needing a great display for your job – architecture, graphic design, professional media production (video, music, photography), etc.

But it was not what I had signed up for when I’d chosen my career as a indie software developer / solopreneur. I couldn’t carry a desktop computer with me to my mountain house, or on long holidays, or to a co-working place or to code in a coffee shop; I couldn’t take it to a conference.

What I actually needed was a speedy computer with a better display resolution and improved color gamut, one easy to carry around, given my semi-nomadic lifestyle. I should have purchased a Retina MacBook Pro for less than half the price, hooking it to an external monitor whenever I wanted to code from the home office (the last-gen 15 inch MacBook Pros can even connect to multiple 4K displays at once).


I ended up travelling less

Because of the iMac 5K I ended up travelling less, knowing that when I did I’d be forced to code on the smaller, 11 inch Mac Book Air (which I recently replaced with the even more incredible Mac Book 12 inch). Knowing that the real work computer was waiting for me at home gave me an uneasy feeling when I was out of town – that I couldn’t travel and work at the same time. Which is wrong, obviously.

I ended up working less

I ended up working less – and less productively. Sitting in front of the desk (even an adjustable one) might work for others but is not great for me or for inspiration, nor for uninterrupted coding marathons. There are times when you just can’t work from home and you’d rather go somewhere else to get things done. I couldn’t, not with a desktop.

Not for resale

Part of the appeal of Apple laptops is that they tend to be still valuable in the after market, holding on to their resale value. But that’s not the case with desktop computers, not after having invested so much in a custom configuration. Instead of selling it for less than half the acquisition price, I’d rather hold on to my iMac indefinitely.  That’s a lot of time to keep a computer around, particularly such a large one. But it sure looks good on the desk.

Don’t buy stuff if it doesn’t fit into your lifestyle.

I kept the final conclusion for last:

Next time you’re thinking about buying something, remember my anti-review. Remember my hard-learned lesson:
Don’t buy stuff if it doesn’t fit into your lifestyle. Regardless of how awesome it is or looks. If it doesn’t fit you, don’t buy it. It’ll just make you unhappy.

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