Mac fans may want to skip this one: I finally got my hands on an iMac this weekend and the reality of this little box (and it is far smaller than I expected) is even worse than I imagined. Cheaply made, the iMac is one of the clearest signs that the new Apple isn't in the same league as the company that once wowed the world with innovative engineering and design skills.

Case in point: The iMac is clearly a laptop computer attached to a low-end, low-cost 15" monitor. The evidence of this is everywhere, from the cheap laptop CD-ROM drive that any small child would snap off within minutes of use to the obvious small, black laptop keyboard that most people would find uncomfortable to use on a daily basis. The tiny laptop-like speakers (which, to my knowledge, are actually only laptop-sized, and not actually seized from some PowerBook parts bin like the rest of this machine) give laptop-like sound. And that mouse.

My God, that mouse.

The one thing that looked so cool in those ads will be the first thing most iMac users will want to replace. Too small for anything but a child's hand, the iMac mouse is easily the most questionable part in the entire package. It makes hotel soap look enormous by comparison (OK, that's an exaggeration).

Anyway, I spent a good part of the weekend trying to come up with something positive to say about the machine, and I'm still struggling. MacOS 8.1, which accompanies the iMac, is an attractive OS, though it still suffers from single-mindedness, as I mentioned in Friday's WinInfo. And the ease of setup for iMac is simply incredible: Plug in a few wires and you're ready to go. But frankly, the machine itself suffers from an overbearing sense of cheapness, like an old Hyundai, and doesn't look like it will stand up to any real world use. Apple fans have got to love the amount of press coverage this little hunk of junk has generated, but real Apple defenders should look elsewhere should they wish to crow about the superiority of products from Cupertino: The iMac just doesn't live up to the hype.

OK, I'll try to shut up about the iMac now. Really. If you're looking for a more Mac-centric (but still very fair) review of the iMac, please check out MacWorld's review.

--Pau