Apple eMac, all-in-one computer with 17in screen, G4 processor (700 MHz), 128 or 256 Mb of memory, with CD-RomDVDCD-Writer Superdrive, from pound;649 to pound;978
Fitness for purpose *****
Ease of use *****
Value for money *****
Minimal is the word. You take one big, stylish white box with 17in flat screen and built-in speakers, place it on your desk, connect three plugs, press the start button (strangely, so unintuitive you probably couldn't find it without the help sheet), wait roughly one minute for start-up and you and your eMac computer are ready to start surfing the internet.
Minimal design and a minimal effort required to set it up, so it's a pity the eMac is so heavy, really heavy - 50lbs. It's the first time anyone delivering a review computer to TES Online has ever had to ask for help. Taking it up a flight of stairs unaided was no picnic, particularly as it doesn't have a carrying handle on top like the familiar iMacs.
To give it a positive spin, one school ICT manager pointed out that the weight is an advantage for security - burglars will have to be fitness fanatics to steal these. Once in place, however, the eMac performed well, fulfilling Apple's concept of a digital hub. I can't think of any other machine that gives the capability to edit and organise music, pictures and video (iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie), watch DVDs and burn CDs to distribute students' work, and all for pound;704 - and this with full office software thrown in (AppleWorks 6).
The latest eMac now comes with a Superdrive for creating your own DVDs (with 800MHz processor), for pound;978. And all eMacs now have the latest version of Apple's new system software (10.2) with the ability to run older Mac programs (System 9).
The first thing you notice about the eMac, after the ultra-cool design, is the screen. This is both bigger (40 per cent so) and clearer (maximum resolution 1,280x960 pixels) than on the original iMacs, and is a welcome step forward. Connectivity is also excellent, with five USB ports (12Mb per second), two FireWire (400 Mb per second) and Ethernet (10100-base-T), optional built-in modem, and optional AirPort wireless networking.
Mac OSX really is an extremely stable and impressive environment, but it's also true that some steps forward exact a penalty on the user as software publishers struggle to keep pace. Anyone using handheld computers will already be frustrated by the lack of compatible software on new Macs, although we are promised a solution with the latest, v10.2. And networking will remain an issue until the latest generation of servers are in place. These points are less forgivable for individual Apple users than for schools which have far friendlier pricing structures. Non-school users will not forget that Apple charged people to take part in OSX beta testing, an absolute cheek, and is now charging again for the upgrade to 10.2, regarded by many of its critics as the first "proper" version of System X.
Despite the niggles, however, the eMac is an excellent machine for schools and for home use, realising the promise of the original iMacs, and representing extremely good value, particularly for anyone wanting to work with multimedia and digital video.