With a name like OS X Mavericks, you might think Apple’s new software for Macs is a big departure for the company. It’s not. While iOS 7 represents a huge visual departure for Apple with a complete redesign, Mavericks focuses on a plethora of enhancements that deliver more versatility and speed — and not just for so-called power users.
With features like Tabs and Tags, OS X Mavericks makes it easier to find what you’re looking for across the desktop and the cloud, and both overall performance and Safari get a turbo boost. More important, multiple power-saving technologies help squeeze more battery life out of your notebook. We tested all of the best new features of Mavericks on a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display to find out how good this upgrade really is.
Editors’ Note: OS X Mavericks will be released this fall. We conducted our testing on the first Developer Preview build and will update our evaluation once the final version is released.
Here’s a case where OS X Mavericks is ahead of iOS 7. When certain notifications come in, you’ll be able to act on them without leaving the app you’re using. For instance, you can respond to new messages as they arrive, which we did via the Messages app with Google Talk chats. You can also delete emails on the fly. We just wish other apps, such as HipChat, supported more robust notifications, although that could come with future API support.
Other Notifications enhancements include the ability to delay certain software updates, display incoming FaceTime calls (which you can decline with a message or reschedule) and push notifications for certain websites, such as CNN. If you step away from your Mac, you’ll see waiting notifications right on the lock screen when you return.
Between the system-wide Spotlight search tool in OS X and the Finder’s own search tool, Apple’s software already does a good job of helping you find what you’re looking for. Finder Tabs takes things to the next level for power users, making it easy to create tabs for different types of content.
For instance, you could have one tab that you keep open for documents and another for pictures or even iCloud or Dropbox files. Plus, because all of your tabs are combined into a single window, your desktop will look like less of a mess when you zoom out into Mission Control.
Creating a tab is simple. Just Command click on a folder to open it in a tab, or select Command + Tab to create an empty tab. Just like in a browser, you can also click the + button on the right side of the screen to open a new tab.
The Finder Tabs feature is very flexible in that you can have different view types for different tabs, such as Cover Flow or Icon view. Plus, we could easily drag and drop a file from one tab to a folder in another tab. If you prefer to keep your Finder in its own space, you can do so in full-screen mode.
Overall, using Finder Tabs is intuitive and cuts down on clutter, taking a familiar Web browsing feature and applying it to search.
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You don’t have to be a neat freak to want to use OS X Mavericks’ new Tags feature. In fact, by letting you easily apply tags to files across your desktop and iCloud, you won’t even have to bother with folders (if you don’t want to). We used this feature to help organize our very messy Dropbox.
You can add a tag while saving a file right in the dialog box, complete with its own color option. You can also apply tags in multiple other ways from within the Finder. There’s a dedicated Tag button at the top of the screen; you can right click a file to tag it, or you can drag it over to the left sidebar, where the tags are listed. Even cooler, you can select multiple files and tag them at once, as we did with a bunch of Android security app reviews.
It’s quick and easy to access tags: Just type one in the search box, or click on one of the tags on the left sidebar of the Finder window. In our case, we found it useful to tag this review and any related screenshots of OS X Mavericks, but we can imagine users leveraging tags for all sorts of projects.
Not enough versatility for you? You can apply multiple tags to a single file and reorder tags in the Finder sidebar by dragging them around. (The most recent tags are on top, though.)
Apple’s Web browser gets faster and more social with OS X Mavericks. The new Safari has a revamped sidebar (accessed via the Bookmark button near the top-left corner of the screen) that includes not just your bookmarks and Reading List, but also a new Shared Links feature.
Via this scrolling list of articles, you can see what your followers and connections are sharing on Twitter and LinkedIn. If you click on a link, you’ll be taken directly to that page. We also like that you can search this sidebar for hot topics, such as “Windows 8.1” or “OS X Mavericks.” You can also retweet a story once it’s open, though you can’t add a comment or edit the tweet.
The Top Sites page — what you see when you open a new tab — also gets a Mavericks makeover. All of the sites you visit most frequently are displayed in a neat grid, and you can reorder them with a simple drag and drop. Those who like to add articles to their reading list will be pleased to learn that you can now keep scrolling through the pages when you reach the end of a story — no additional clicking is required. The same applies to Share Stories.
The new Safari’s biggest claim to fame is located under the hood, as Apple promises faster performance and more stability. Because each page runs as a separate process, Safari lets you more easily recover from crashes (because you can just reset that page), and it can better protect you from malware by sandboxing it.
Apple tries to provide peace of mind with the iCloud Keychain feature in OS X Mavericks, which saves your usernames and passwords across multiple sites and makes them available to your iPhone and iPad as well as your Mac. If you don’t want to create your own passwords, Safari can suggest them for you. Plus, iCloud Keychain can speed up credit-card entry when you’re shopping online. (You just need to plug in the security code.)
Another benefit of iCloud Keychain is that you don’t have to manually sign in to accounts for Mail, Contacts, Calendar and Messages when you log on to a new Mac. The same applies to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.
OS X Mavericks includes some new technologies to increase both performance and efficiency. Let’s start with Compressed Memory, which frees up memory to make your Mac more responsive. The idea is that by compressing recently used items in RAM, they can be uncompressed faster.
In a few benchmarks, our 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display posted better results with OS X Mavericks than a previous model that ran Mountain Lion. On Geekbench, which gauges processor and memory performance, our Maverick system scored 7,666. The Mountain Lion version of the notebook notched 6,760.
We also ran the Cinebench test, which measures both CPU and graphics performance (Open GL). The Mavericks MacBook Pro notched scores of 2.84 and 19.33, respectively, in CPU and Open GL, versus 2.82 and 16.79 for Mountain Lion.
We did notice that with Mavericks, our MacBook Pro took longer to boot than the previous Mountain Lion model did (23 seconds vs. 12 seconds), but we anticipate that the new OS will speed up closer to launch. The only other hiccup we encountered was when pasting and saving large files in the Pixelmator app. When typing file names for 2560 x 1600-pixel screenshots, we noticed some lag.
Thanks to hardware acceleration, Apple claims that OS X Mavericks also makes for smoother scrolling and greater responsiveness in such apps as Safari, Mail and Preview. However, in our testing, we barely noticed a difference between a MacBook Air 2012 with Mountain Lion and our test 13-inch MacBook Pro with Mavericks. It’s always been smooth. Our Mavericks notebook was only slightly better at momentum scrolling and coming to a dead stop.
Apple already offers some of the longest-running laptops, and the energy-saving technologies in OS X Mavericks only increase that advantage. Timer Coalescing, for instance, groups low-level operations together (such as system tasks) to reduce CPU activity by up to 72 percent. And App Nap is smart enough to know when apps are open but not in the foreground, thus reducing CPU usage by up to 23 percent. Even Safari has gotten in on the power-saving act by delaying the playback of plugins until you click on them.
To evaluate Mavericks’ miserliness, we ran the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing on 40 percent brightness. The previous MacBook Pro with Mountain Lion lasted 7:38, and our 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display with Mavericks lasted 8:19 — an increase of 41 minutes. That’s a sizable runtime boost, and we expect even bigger gains once Mavericks officially launches. We also plan to test video playback, which should also be more efficient.
Creative professionals and power users depend on leveraging multiple displays to increase productivity, and Apple caters to that crowd with OS X Mavericks. You can now see your Menu Bar and Dock on both your main display and other screens, and you can drag a thumbnail from Mission Control on one display to another. You can also run full-screen apps on each display, although we generally miss having quick access to the Menu Bar.
In Mavericks, the icon for the Calendar app looks familiar, but the app itself looks more clean and modern. Just as with iOS 7, Apple has eschewed traditional visual metaphors, such as torn paper toward the top of the screen, opting for more white space and more room for bigger fonts, making your appointments easier to read at a glance. (The Notes app gets a similarly refreshed aesthetic.)
A nifty new Event Inspector feature will attempt to autocomplete a location as you type it, such as our 150 Fifth Ave. office address. The Calendar app will then show your location on a map, to make it easy to remember the cross street, as well as display the weather (so you can decide if you need to take an umbrella).
Although it’s more hidden than we would like, there’s a feature that allows you to click on the date and time to show you the travel time from a certain address, such as your office.
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With OS X Mavericks, Apple is adding two iOS features to its desktop platform in Maps and iBooks. Maps is similar to the iOS version (except on a bigger canvas), complete with 3D flyovers for cities. However, at least over a fairly fast 4G LTE connection, the 3D view took a while to render on this developer preview.
This fall, if you look up directions, you’ll be able to send them to your iPhone, as long as it’s running iOS 7. Too bad Maps doesn’t offer public-transportation directions — a weakness shared by iOS.
However, we like that points of interest include Yelp ratings and photos. Plus, if you get an email, you can hover over it to see the location in a mini Maps view.
iBooks isn’t included in the developer preview, but it promises to be pretty much what you would expect, following in the footsteps of Amazon Kindle for PC. You can access 1.8 million books right from the iBooks Store, and iCloud keeps your current page in sync across multiple Apple devices. We just don’t see many people reading on their Macs, with the exception of students.
Whereas Microsoft continues to lump tablets and laptops together with Windows 8.1 — with mixed results — Apple treats them as separate animals, woven together with services such as iCloud. OS X Mavericks enhances the desktop experience with features both longtime and first-time Mac users will appreciate, including Finder Tabs and a swifter Safari. We also appreciate the active notification options and longer battery life Mavericks enables.
At times, we wished we could reach out and touch our Retina display, but at least for the foreseeable future, Apple isn’t supporting touch with OS X Mavericks. We also wish Apple would take a cue from iOS 7 and make it easier to close apps from within Mission Control. Overall, though, even in its early Developer Preview form, OS X Mavericks proves that Apple knows what its users want.