macOS Monterey review: It’s all about apps
Apple’s 2021 upgrade to macOS is called Monterey, following in the footsteps of Big Sur and Catalina and continuing the trend of naming versions of macOS after places in California. It’s available in the Fall of 2021, but is it any good, and should you upgrade? Read on to find out.
macOS Monterey: Compatibility
This update leaves out Macs from 2012 and older. Monterey is compatible with the Macs below and newer versions of each model.
- MacBook 2016
- MacBook Air 2015
- MacBook Pro 2015
- Mac mini 2014
- iMac autumn 2015
- iMac Pro
- Mac Pro 2013
What about storage requirements?
The macOS Monterey installer weighs 12 GB. But you’ll need at least 35 GB of free storage for the macOS itself. 60 GB would be best.
What’s new in macOS Monterey?
1. FaceTime and Messages
What app has been a hit all the way through 2020? Zoom, right? It doesn’t take long to understand why Apple updated its Facetime first before all other apps. It’s been fairly neglected in the previous years.
However, Apple has gone for social rather than business features, a smart move given the dominance of Microsoft and Zoom in that market. So, FaceTime gets SharePlay, a new feature that allows you to watch movies and TV programs, listen to music, or share your screen with friends on a FaceTime call. Playback controls are synchronized, so everyone is watching the same thing at the same time, and volume dips automatically when someone speaks. Everyone can see what tracks are coming next when you listen to music, and anyone can add songs to the list.
Something spatial for you
FaceTime also gets spatial audio, making voices sound like they’re coming from the place on the screen where the person talking is positioned. And there are new mic modes that can either isolate your voice and reduce background noise or allow ambient noise to be heard. A grade view allows you to see everyone on screen at once, as you can with Zoom and Teams, and if you have an M1 Mac, Portrait mode blurs the background and focuses on you.
Messages gets a couple of new features. Links, images, and other content sent to you in Messages are now added to a new ‘Shared with you’ section in Safari, Photos, or whichever app handles the content that’s been shared. And if you are sent multiple photos or images in a message, Messages now arranges them as a stack or collage.
2. Quick Note and Notes
The Notes app got lots of new features in Big Sur, and it’s been given more in Monterey. The most significant is Quick Note. It’s a way of creating a note quickly from any application. If you add a link to a quick note from a supported application, such as Safari or Music, a thumbnail of the content will appear in the note. And Quick Notes have their own section in the Notes app, from where they are synced across all your devices.
You can even pin Quick notes to the apps themselves. For example, in Music:
Image credit: Apple
The Notes app also has a section called Activity which allows you to easily see what other people have added to your shared note. It also allows you to ‘mention’ someone in a shared note, in the way that you can in Messages. And when you mention someone, they are sent a notification. And Notes finally gets support for tags. Just type # followed by a word to apply a tag to a note. You can then search for notes by tag or use the tag browser to find all the notes with a given tag.
3. Safari reinvents tabs
In Big Sur, the main focus for Safari improvements was privacy and security. This time it’s about the interface, and more specifically, tabs. The new tab bar takes on the color of the site you’re visiting so that it seems to merge seamlessly into the page. Tabs are now displayed to the right of the Smart Search field, and the Share, New tab, and Tab overview buttons are hidden behind a More button on the right of the Smart Search field.
👉 Fluid tab bar
Tabs can now be grouped in a similar way that they can in Chrome. And you can name groups and edit them. Tab groups appear in a re-designed sidebar that also includes your Reading List and bookmarks. And you can drag a tab group onto an email, where all the URLs of tabs within the group will be listed. Tab groups can be synced across all your Apple devices.
However private and seamless modern browsers are, they still collect piles of data. If you want to forget and erase all that past Safari or Chrome activity, check out this tool in CleanMyMac X 👇
The Apple-notarized version of CleanMyMac is available for download here.
4. Universal Control: Two devices, one mouse
Apple has spent the best part of a decade creating ways for iPhone, iPad, and Mac together. It started with Handoff and then added features like Continuity Camera and the ability to use an iPad as a second screen or graphics tablet. Now, in Monterey, you can use the same keyboard and mouse across all your Apple devices without disconnecting and re-connecting them or pressing any buttons. Put a Mac and an iPad next to each other, for example, and you can move the cursor from Mac’s screen to the iPad’s and then start typing in an iPad app using your Mac’s keyboard. You can also drag and drop content between two different Macs without any additional setup.
5. AirPlay: Use your Mac as a speaker
Ever since the Mac gained the ability to use Airplay to send video and audio to an Apple TV, many users have wanted to use it the other way – to send video and audio from an iPhone or iPad to their Mac’s screen. In Monterey, you can do just that. You can play a presentation on an iPhone and have it appear on the screen on your Mac, use your Mac’s display to extend or mirror that on your iPad, or use your Mac as an AirPlay speaker.
Image credit: Apple
6. Shortcuts app automates repeated tasks
Shortcuts on iPhone and iPad are brilliantly useful for all sorts of purposes, and now the Shortcuts app is included in macOS. As with the iOS version, you use Shortcuts to automate tasks that would normally take several steps to take only one or even run automatically when triggered by an event.
There’s a gallery of pre-built shortcuts covering everything from turning text into audio to making your own GIFs and putting two apps in a split-screen side-by-side view. You can also make your own shortcuts by creating workflows.
7. More 😎 anonymity in iCloud+
Apple has added features to iCloud to improve your privacy and has called it iCloud+. The new features include private relay, which masks your IP address from network providers and the sites you visit by encrypting data that leaves your Mac and sending it via two different relays.
You can hide your IP address and hide your email.
Hide my Email allows you to create a random email address that’s forwarded to your email account, so you don’t have to give out your real email address when you sign up for a newsletter. And there are new storage tiers in the subscription plans that include storing footage from multiple HomeKit security cameras.
8. Less significant but nice to have
This one alone is worth upgrading. Live Text turns text in an image into actual text you can copy and paste. If you click on an address in a photo, it will open in Maps. And if you click on a phone number, you call it, message it, or save it.
Focus helps reduce distractions and works similarly to Do Not Disturb, except that you can customize which notifications you want to receive and set up multiple modes for focusing on different things.
Maps get new detail in cities, news transport features, and a 3D interactive globe.
Control Center will tell you which apps have access to your microphone and display an indicator when it’s in use. Mail hides your IP address and prevents senders from seeing whether you’ve opened an email.
There’s also a low power mode for Macs that run on a battery, and Macs with an M1 processor get spatial audio surround sound when connected to AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
How to upgrade
It won’t be available for regular users until autumn 2021. Starting then, if your Mac is compatible with Monterey, you’ll find it
- On the Mac App Store
- In System Preferences> Software updates
macOS Monterey is a terrific upgrade for Mac users and brings with it lots of new features. As always, if you have other Apple devices and use iCloud, you’ll get the most from it. But even if you don’t, the Safari and Facetime improvements make it a very worthwhile upgrade.