Apple Mac OS X Yosemite full review

OS X Yosemite review

After months in beta since its unveiling at WWDC 2014 in June, Apple released OS X Yosemite in October for Mac users to download and install for free. We've spent time with the new operating system to bring you our OS X Yosemite review.

The successor to OS X Mavericks and the second iteration in Apple's current California places naming convention, Yosemite has a new design, new cloud features, an improved Notification centre and new Continuity features that aim to improve the communication between your iOS device and your Mac (but it doesn't always work).

Read on to find out more about Yosemite's new features and whether they're actually any good in our OS X Yosemite review.

OS X Yosemite review: Upgrading & compatibility

Any owner of a sufficiently powerful Mac can upgrade to Yosemite for free. In order to do so, go to Apple's site, and find the Yosemite page. Here's a direct link. Click the blue Upgrade Now button. Follow the instructions in the Mac App Store.

Your Mac will need 2GB of RAM to run Yosemite, and 8GB of available storage. You'll also need to be currently running OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard or later, because you'll need the Mac App Store to download the update.

OS X Yosemite system requirements

Yosemite will run on the following Macs:

  • iMac (Mid-2007 or later)
  • MacBook (13-inch Aluminum, Late 2008), (13-inch, Early 2009 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2009 or later), (15-inch, Mid/Late 2007 or later), (17-inch, Late 2007 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or later)
  • Mac Mini (Early 2009 or later)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or later)
  • Xserve (Early 2009)

The system requirements for Yosemite are the same as those for OS X 10.9 Mavericks, the current operating system for Mac.

OS X Yosemite review: Design

The first thing you'll notice when you download and install OS X Yosemite is that it's been significantly redesigned. It's no surprise that the operating system now has a flatter and more minimalist look, with translucency, brighter colours, flatter icons and new typography, all of which are reminiscent of the redesign that was introduced to iOS with iOS 7 in 2013.

These new aesthetics likely stem from Apple's design guru Jony Ive's expanded role at the company, which means he's now working closely with Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi on OS X.

Buttons have been tweaked, menu bars have been simplified and there's a new Dark Mode option that offers darker menu bars, ideal for working in dark environments or if you simply prefer the look of the Dark Mode.

OS X Yosemite review: Notification Centre

We love the new Notification Centre in OS X Yosemite, which has been significantly improved upon since OS X Mavericks. Now, instead of sliding the entirety of the content being displayed on your Mac off to the left to display the Notification Centre, it simply slides over the top of the content on the right side of the screen which is much more stylish and subtle.

You'll now see 'Today' and 'Notifications' rather than just 'Notifications' like you used to see in Mavericks. In the Today tab, you'll see an overview of what's happening in the day ahead, including Calendar appointments, the weather and more.

If you click the 'Edit' button right at the bottom of the Notification Centre, you'll be able to add widgets including the calculator, quick access to social channels and third-party widgets that depend on the apps you've got installed on your Mac. Expect more widgets to appear as developers continue to create them.

We think that Notification Centre will soon replace the Dashboard, a feature that was introduced to OS X in 2005 when Tiger was released. For now, Dashboard remains, offering access to similar widgets as those found in the Notification Centre.

OS X Yosemite review: Spotlight

Spotlight is another feature that came to the Mac with OS X Tiger, and has been a real boon to Mac users ever since. Now, in Yosemite, it's more useful than ever, allowing users to not only search for files and applications on their Mac, but also news headlines, maps, the App Store, iTunes, Wikipedia and Microsoft Bing (not Google, of course. Microsoft is the lesser of the two evils apparently) for web search.

You can perform quick unit and currency conversions within Spotlight now too, which we've found to be immensely useful.

Plus, instead of simply typing into a tiny text box in the top right corner, Spotlight now appears smack bang in the middle of your Mac's display, which takes a bit of getting used to but is much more convenient now that a large preview of the results of your search appears too.

Sometimes in Spotlight can be a bit random, though, and it seems like Apple is using some sort of algorithm to show up the results it thinks you're most likely to be looking for. If a document you need isn't showing in Spotlight at first, you can click 'Documents' to see more for example, so it's not limiting the results completely.

OS X Yosemite review: iCloud Drive

Another one of our favourite new features in Yosemite, and one we've found to work really well, is iCloud Drive. It's Apple's answer to Dropbox, allowing you to save and store files including presentations, spreadsheets, PDFs, images and any other file smaller than 15GB in iCloud, which are then accessible from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac or even PC. It's also accessible via the browser, by visiting and logging in.

In OS X Yosemite, you can add iCloud Drive folders to the Finder, which we were pleased to see. We also like the ability to store files from our Mac in iCloud Drive folders and use them in various applications, even if it's not the one that you created it in, on your iOS device.

Right now, iCloud Drive isn't a way to share documents and files with colleagues or friends (you can use Mail Drop for that), but we suspect that Apple is working to make iCloud Drive even more useful in the future.

You will only get 5GB of iCloud Drive storage for free, though, which includes space for your documents, photos and backups so it's highly likely that won't be enough. You can pay 79p a month for 20GB of storage, £2.99 for 200GB of storage, £6.99 for 600GB of storage or £14.99 per month for 1TB of storage.

OS X Yosemite review: Safari 8

Safari 8 is the new version of Apple's web browser that comes with OS X Yosemite. Like the rest of the operating system, it has adopted the new design, and we rather like it. It's cleaner and clearer, but keeps the features we loved from the previous version of Safari including Reading List, Shared Links (which now includes RSS feeds) and Bookmarks, which you can access by tapping the icon next to the back button in the toolbar. You also see Frequently Visited sites and Favourites in the Smart Search URL bar.

You'll also get a new Tabs view, which shows you previews of all the tabs you have open a bit like you get in iOS 7 and 8's Safari app. Simply tap the icon that looks like two overlapping squares on the right of the toolbar to see the Tabs view.

If you use the same Apple ID for your iPhone and iPad and have iCloud turned on, you'll see the tabs you have open on those devices in Safari on your Mac in the Tab preview too.

Sharing in Safari 8 is improved, too. Clicking the Share icon will show you a list of recent recipients who you can share the webpage with immediately via email. You'll also be able to share via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more.

Now, like Spotlight, Safari can also search for more thanks to the aforementioned Smart Search URL bar. It can search Wikipedia, Maps, iTunes and news, but just like Spotlight it doesn't always show up the results you'd expect it to.

You can now use Safari's Private Browsing mode in a separate tab rather than the whole window/application. See also: Why use incognito mode: Private mode isn't just for porn

Additionally, the DuckDuckGo search engine has now been integrated into Safari, which is committed to not collecting or tracking the personal information of its users. If you'd like to use DuckDuckGo within Safari simple go to Safari > Preferences > Search > DuckDuckGo.

OS X Yosemite review: Mail & Mail Drop

Mail has some great new features that could prove to be huge time-savers if used regularly.

The new Markup feature in Mail lets you add annotations and images to PDFs from within the Mail app, but we actually found it to be fiddly and temperamental during our testing. Sometimes, trying to get Markup to actually work took so long that we may as well have edited the image or PDF in Preview and then reattached it, which pretty much defeats the whole purpose of using it.

If you do actually manage to get Markup to work, an icon will appear in the top left of the preview of the PDF or image you've been sent, which you'll then be able to click to select Markup and use the tools offered by the feature. These tools include a signature tool that works with the trackpad on your MacBook or by using the camera to capture an image of your signature from a piece of paper, neither of which actually works very well. You'll also get lines, shapes, text boxes and speech bubbles.

A better new feature in Mail in OS X Yosemite is Mail Drop, which lets you upload an attachment larger than 5MB to iCloud when you attempt to send it via email, which will then be automatically downloaded by the recipient of that email. You won't even notice it's happening (well, unless you're on a bit of a slow internet connection as it can take quite a while to download the large files for you).

The catch, however, is that the recipient must be running OS X Yosemite on their Mac and must be using the Mail app, which narrows down its usefulness dramatically. That said, if you use Mail Drop to send an attachment to someone who doesn't use Yosemite, they'll receive a download link for the file instead, which can sometimes still be quicker (at least at your end) than services like Dropbox.

OS X Yosemite review: Continuity

Here's where our praise of OS X Yosemite begins to falter. Continuity was one of the features in the new operating system that we were most excited about. It should mean that the iPhone, iPad and Mac can communicate in ways that they never have been able to before, making life much easier and more efficient for anyone with multiple Apple products.

There are various elements that make up Continuity: AirDrop now works between the Mac and iOS devices (previously it only worked from iOS device to iOS device and Mac to Mac) and Handoff.

When Apple first announced that AirDrop would finally work between iOS and Mac, we were jumping for joy. It's something that has frustrated us ever since AirDrop was introduced. It's a quick and easy way to transfer files including images and documents between your devices (if you're on the same WiFi network) so can come in very handy.

However, there are several catches to the new AirDrop features in Yosemite. The first is that it doesn't work with all iOS devices or Macs. If you have a Mac that was purchased after 2012 and an iPhone 5 or later and/or iPad 4 or later, iPad mini 1 or later or a 5th gen iPod touch or later, then in theory, you should be able to use AirDrop between OS X and iOS.

But, we actually had so much trouble trying to get OS X Yosemite to work that it drove us round the bend. It did work, eventually, though not particularly reliably, but the point is that not everyone is going to go to as much effort to get it fixed as we did. In fact, if we hadn't been trying it for the purpose of this review, we would have given up on it long ago. If you find that you're having trouble getting AirDrop to work, take a look at our AirDrop troubleshooting guide.

Instead, we'd recommend using the iCloud Drive feature. It's actually a quicker and easier way to copy files to your iPhone than using the currently crappy AirDrop, as you can simply drag and drop files into the iCloud Drive folder and they'll be accessible on all of your other devices.

AirDrop between iOS and Mac is a step in the right direction, but right now it's in need of some serious improvements so is a bit of a let down for us.

Similarly, Handoff is a feature that got us excited when OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 were first unveiled. In theory, it's supposed to let you begin working on something on your iPhone or iPad – say an email or a pages document, for example – and pick up immediately from where you left off on your Mac, and vice versa. Your devices are supposed to be able to detect that you are approaching and are mid-email, and should prompt you to continue writing the email right away. It should even work with Safari, which is quite cool.

However, just like with AirDrop our experience with Handoff so far has been far from satisfactory. It seems to work better from iPhone to Mac than the other way around, with prompts appearing when we approached our Mac while writing an email in our iCloud account, but not appearing on the iPhone when we wanted to pick things up there and head out.

One feature in Continuity that does seem to work quite well, however, is the ability to make or take phone calls from your Mac, and also to be able to pick up and reply to messages, even if they're not iMessages, right from your Mac too. You'll get notifications on both your Mac, iPad and iPhone if you miss a call, which is handy when you leave your phone in your bag, for example.

OS X Yosemite review: Verdict

Overall, we really like OS X Yosemite, and we think that many of the new features introduced with the update are a step in the right direction, even if they're not quite up to scratch yet.

We really wish Continuity worked correctly, and it's a shame that those features don't work at all on Macs that are more than two years old, but we're pleased to see that Apple has at least attempted to introduce them. We'll suspect have to wait for an update to Yosemite, or perhaps even for the next version of OS X 10, before we can really say that Continuity is a feature that we find useful, which is a real downfall when you consider that it should be one of the flagship features of this OS X update.

However, we love the design of OS X Yosemite (though we know not everyone agrees) and improvements to Notification Centre, Mail, and iCloud have already changed the way we work on our Macs in a very positive way.

As it's a free upgrade, we'd recommend it to all OS X users if your machine is compatible, though we would advise waiting until the OS X 10.10.1 update is available if you're using a MacBook because there have been some reports of WiFi issues with the current version that should be resolved by that update.

If you'd like a more in-depth look at the new features and how well they work in OS X Yosemite, check out our sister title Macworld UK's OS X Yosemite review.

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