Why I Downsized from a 27″ to a 21.5″ iMac

The last iMac I bought was a late 2014 5K iMac, the first with the retina display. I tricked it out with the fastest processor, the best video card, and lots of extra RAM. It’s still fine, but for accounting reasons, it was beneficial to me to upgrade.

So I bought a 21.5″ iMac.

I’ve been using 27″ displays for about five years; prior to the iMac, I had an Apple Thunderbolt Display which was the same size. It’s great for having two big windows open side by side, or a bunch of smaller windows. But in the past year or so, I realized that it was just too big; that it took up too much space on my desk, and especially in my field of vision.

A computer is a tool, and is only useful as long as it works efficiently. But I found the size of the iMac somewhat oppressive, as if too much of what I saw during my work day was a computer screen. Yes, this may be parodical, since most of my work is done on a screen, but I realized that I could be more comfortable if I had more space.

The smaller iMac isn’t that much narrower than the larger model; only 12cm. And its height from foot to top is only about 6cm less. But that’s enough to make it feel much smaller. There’s more space between my iMac and my speakers; there’s more room to see the walls behind my desk, to see the items on my desk. There more room in my mind because my eyes see more beyond the screen.

I won’t miss the extra size. The only work I do where I need a large amount of space is photo editing and screencast creation, and I can zoom in when I need to see either of those with more magnification. If I worked all day editing video, then the 27″ iMac would be essential (frankly, if I did that kind of work, I’d want a larger display). But for what I do, it’s overkill. Bigger isn’t always better.

15 thoughts on “Why I Downsized from a 27″ to a 21.5″ iMac

  1. Hear, hear. I did the same a month ago, for mostly the same reasons as you. One additional reason you may notice: much less travel to reach menus. I recently worked for a week at someone else place with a 27 inch iMac (with my usual apps – BBEdit mostly, but not fully configured to my habits) and my shoulder was not happy…

    Oh, and for my wife, a rMBP 13. And 3 iPhone SE.

    Yeah, video and Photoshop jockeys, music creators,… Those I know have two large monitors.

    • I have my trackpad’s tracking speed fairly fast, so I can reach menus with a single glide of my finger. But it is a bit easier overall, if I’m moving the cursor across the screen.

      I do have an iPhone 8+, and appreciate the larger screen mainly because it’s easier to read.

  2. I bought my 21in. last year when they came out with that size for that model, 27 was just too big for my space. But I came from a 13in MacBook Air , so that thing is GIANT to my eye, the peril of getting older, I needed the bigger screen, not the biggest.

    • When you move in that direction it’s interesting. I moved from, if I recall correctly, a 20″ iMac to the 27″ Thunderbolt display back in 2011, and it was like whole new worlds opened up in front of me. I almost wish they still sold a 24″ iMac, but I think the 21.5″ is fine. I would like to see an iMac with smaller bezels around the screen; there’s almost 3cm on each side, and if they could halve that, the device would look a lot smaller, especially because of the thick black borders wouldn’t look so imposing.

  3. It’s good to read comments from people with views different from one’s own; particularly when they are carefully explained and reasoned.
    That said, I couldn’t move from my 27″ now. I’m so accustomed to the larger screen; to the split screen when using Full Screen Mode and with my Mouse settings allowing for easy access to menus.
    I can enlarge the font size without compromising screen real estate.
    I too, have a quasi “surround sound” system and love listening to all sorts of music and the placement of the speakers suits the HiFi output nicely.
    But I do earnestly respect others’ opinions. Thank you.

  4. The main problem with the 21.5″ model is RAM. 8gb is simply too small these days, and the markups for 16gb and 32gb purchased new from Apple is…wrong. Yes, you can upgrade yourself (OWC has kits), but it involves taking apart your machine, which involves some fairly delicate steps. That significantly changes the value equation — but is not to say that the 27″ is a great deal, either. The whole pricing structure for Apple machines needs rightsizing (when a decently-equipped machine starts at $1500, and performs worse (numbers-wise) than a $500 box you can put together yourself, something is terribly wrong), and I’m afraid the coming Mac Pro isn’t going to bring us back to modular workstations that are in reach of all but those who already have a pile of scratch to work from.

    • Agreed, I paid the Apple tax of £180 for an extra 8 GB. This should be enough; I had 24 GB in my 27″, and it was more than I needed.

      While you may be able to make a “$500 box” yourself, it won’t have the same quality display.

      • Agreed — that’s why I specified the numbers. What I’m really afraid of is that the new Pro will cost as much as the iMac Pro without the screen, but with about the same performance.

  5. Hmmm… strange. Productivity is pretty well established to be function of screen real estate. Most of the professional users and programmers I work with have two 27″ monitors, if not three.

    Menus on the Mac are designed well around Fits law. If your mouse/trackpad acceleration is setup well, you can flick you finger and instantly bump off the top menu edge.

  6. My health org’s CEO runs two 5K monitors off the trash can Mac Pro. I have no idea who procured the purchase just because he’s got to use the best there is out there. To me, it doesn’t look like a comfortable picture with 2 huge monitors side by side.

    The iMac monitors are all fixed height, which is a deal-breaker to me. I have an old 24-in iMac, and I cannot make the top edge below eye level, which is a personal preference.

  7. I’m sticking with 27″ for the time being and not just because I work with music scores. I love the ability to have two life-size A4 documents open side-by-side, for example my calendar with my email and my password manager alongside my browser; so useful.

  8. I’m glad you found something that works better for you. FWIW, Desktop#1 of my 27″ iMac is permanently configured to have Safari on 1/2 the screen; Mail on 1/4; Messages on 1/8; and Tweetbot on 1/8. I also keep a narrow strip of Desktop at the right edge for dragging-and-dropping files. I agree that one app filling all 27″ becomes unwieldy, but having all four of my constantly-used apps constantly running on the same Desktop is perfection. Everything is “right sized” and constantly “live” in front of me. Plus it’s easy to drag-and-drop content between the four apps when needed. To each their own of course, but I can’t imagine a more convenient way to work within four apps simultaneously.

    • I use spaces, so I don’t have to worry about seeing everything. I see the apps I need when I need them, and switch to a different space for certain apps (for example, iTunes takes up the full window in one space).

  9. Attached to my MacBook Pro are three 23” 1080p displays. I find four smaller displays much more efficient than a large 4K display. Certainly not as oppressive since I can see the wall and windows behind them.

  10. Ha now I feel much better about never being able to get a 27 inch iMac I have lusted for the past 10 years!!. My 20.5 inch 2007 model (updated with an SSD & max memory) is looking much better now that I gave Kirk’s logic a fair audition. Seeing something other than a video screen in my field of view makes good sense. I never knew how good I had it!! Ha…Now keeping my fingers crossed the old girl’s motherboard holds up.

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