A quick take on macOS Big Sur

I’ve been using my MacBook a lot more over the last few months and to be honest I resisted Big Sur for a while but when the machine was running really slowly I thought, what have I got to lose.

After using it for a good few weeks now I wanted to share a few thoughts on using it.

  • It’s fast: yes, on older hardware (2016 MacBook) the whole OS runs a lot smother than Catalina did. Apps launch faster and seem more responsive. On the 2015 iMac 5k with 16GB it flies.
  • Newly designed apps: I like the new design on apps like Mail and Calendar and along with the fresh lick of paint they line up more nicely with iOS and look more modern.
  • Messages is finally good: Been upgraded to be in line with iOS.
  • I don’t like notifications: I really don’t like the way I need to hover and use the little X to close, it’s slowing my workflow down.
  • Less bugs: It feels like I’m encountering less or no bugs in daily use. Where on Catalina I ran into bugs weekly on Big Sur I’m not seeing it.

Overall I’m pleased with Big Sur, it’s a nice upgrade. I’m hoping that Apple move to a two year cycle now and just refine Big Sur this year as I’m finding it nice and stable.

Appreciating the 2016 12″ MacBook

Seems an odd thing to post as someone that has predominantly lived on iOS but in the last few months with my job searching, interviews and working with agencies I’ve been using macOS a lot more and I’ve really grown to appreciate the 12″ MacBook that I have and I’m glad I kept it around. It’s a 2016 model with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD and whilst it isn’t the fastest ship in the galaxy it’s doing a great job. It’s lighter than my iPad Pro 11″ with a keyboard and seems the perfect size to chuck an M1 processor in and call it a day. If Apple released this exact machine (with a more reliable keyboard!) and an M1 processor than I would be buying one day one. Now I’ve updated to macOS Big Sur and the latest versions of pages etc I can do everything I need to on this machine.

The main reason for falling back on macOS is mainly around updating my CV based on templates I’m given, a more reliable Zoom experience and ability to easily hook up my MIC setup without faffing around with anything. This isn’t me leaving the iPad behind at all I love it, but I do have a new appreciation for this MacBook and if you found one (and could deal with the flat keyboard) then as a portable it’s still great (especially if you grab one with 16GB RAM). Having one USB-C is a pain sometimes but I can manage with it given Zoom calls tend to be less than an hour and at four years old it still holds a charge fine for me. I do have a concern that now I’m using it for hours a day the well reported keyboard issues are going to hit me but at the moment (touching wood) it’s holding up fine.

I’ll continue to hold out hope we’ll see this smaller form factor with an M1 at some point…

My 12” MacBook runs faster on Big Sur

In a previous post I said that in beta I found that my base 12″ MacBook with 8GB wasn’t up to the task of running macOS Big Sur.

Well in my current job hunting I found that I couldn’t run a couple apps that I wanted to so I took the plunge.

I’m pleased to report that it’s now running quicker than Catalina did! I have no idea how but in my experience the whole experience of running this machine has been improved. It’s not a miracle cure for my lack of 16GB of RAM but it’s a definite improvement over Catalina, I can switch between apps quickly now and Safari is a lot more responsive.

So, contrary to what I said before, if you’re on a 12″ MacBook then you should see performance gains from upgrading to Big Sur.

Can you run macOS Big Sur on the 12” MacBook?

So I updated to Big Sur on the 8GB 2016 12″ MacBook to test the final public release performance and whilst it does run a bit faster than the beta I’d not recommend it.

It looks fantastic but there is a lot of lag in the experience on this little machine and I’ll be reverting it back to Catalina.

It’s a shame but this little machine with it’s slow intel to keep cool just didn’t stand a chance. I’d love an M1 12″ because the form factor (keyboard aside) is one of my favourite Mac models.

So, if you’re on an 8GB base model 12″ I wouldn’t recommend using Big Sur.

What’s new in Big Sur?

Source: Apple

Big Sur launches to the public today, here’s the Apple page on what’s new. Personally I’d hold off for the next patch before installing and if you have 8GB RAM I’d carefully consider giving it a miss for now.

I’m testing it again on a 12″ MacBook and it’s not that great in terms of performance on 8GB but it really does look great from an interface perspective.

Give it a week and see how it settles down.

Can you run macOS Big Sur with 8GB RAM?

I’m currently running with two different MAC setups in our house a late 2015 5k iMac and a 2016 MacBook, both have 8GB RAM. I’ve also been doing a lot with photos lately and been running into memory limitations and slow performance using the app to manage a large library (>30,000 photos). This already had me thinking about moving the iMac to 16GB RAM but with the impending Big Sur update I’ve done a little testing to see what it runs like on 8GB RAM and the MacBook to see it it’ll be a required upgrade before the software comes to us in November (my best guess).

I’ve had Big Sur running on the MacBook that has a 1.1 Core M3 processor and 8GB RAM and whilst I’m surprised that it doesn’t run much slower than the current latest Catalina build (10.15.6) I am seeing lag in using Photos, Notes and Mail that has me thinking that the UI changes are heavier on the CPU and GPU than before. Given my iMac is much more powerful than this little MacBook it gives me some confidence it’ll run but with the UI changing all over the place I’m hesitant to upgrade any of my setups software wise. It does seem to be more graphics intensive than Catalina so the graphics card will have a big say in this but adding more memory will mean that with multiple applications in use and photo sync in the background the experience will be a lot nicer.

Unfortunately I don’t have a choice with the MacBook as I can’t upgrade it but anything where you can add RAM I’d recommend adding some and making sure you have at least 16GB RAM to run Big Sur.

With this in mind I’ll be ordering more memory for my iMac before release to make sure I am getting the best performance I can in day to day use, especially in these times of more working from home.

Should you upgrade to macOS Big Sur on a MacBook 12”?

I’ve been testing Big Sur on my 2016 MacBook 12″ (8GB Ram, 1.1 M3) for a month or so now and even though I know it’s a beta I don’t think performance is going to get much better on this model. At this point I can’t recommend upgrading to Big Sur if you are running it on a 2016 MacBook. It’s laggy to the point it’s almost unusable in places, I’ve gone back to Catalina and I’ll be sticking to it on this model of MacBook.

I’m yet to try our iMac that also has 8GB Ram and I’m fearing that I won’t be upgrading that one either. Ram seems to be big on this one and I’d recommend 16GB at least if your machine had 8GB or less.

Apple Music on macOS needs some work

I’m probably writing something that a lot of Mac users will know but coming from an iPad the Music app on macOS needs a lot of work. I’ve been using it for a week or so and wow is it clunky and buggy in my experience.

As you can see above I’ve done a search and the results showing are completely blank. It takes a restart of the Music app to get the search to work and happens multiple times a day.

Here’s another, the Apple Music feature “browse” completely breaks after a while and again shows blank, requiring a restart of the Music app.

In general I’m also noticing performance is slow across both my MacBook and iMac 5k, it’s strange given that I have a fast internet connection and relatively new Macs.

I don’t know how much work goes into the Mac version but please let me know if I’m complaining for no reason here and I have a few settings that need tweaked or something.

I’ll never complain about the Music app on iOS again after this experience.

Coming back to macOS

I trashed my beloved iPad Pro 10.5″ and my iPad mini 2 is proving frustrating trying to do production work so I’ve switched back to the 12″ MacBook that’s been sat unloved mostly for the last few years. It’s a base model and comes with that original (badly thought of) keyboard. Here’s my experience of switching from iOS full time back to the macOS.

Specs:

  • Early 2016 MacBook 12″
  • 1.1 GHz Dual Core M3
  • 8GB Ram
  • 250GB SSD

I picked up this MacBook refurbished from Apple back in early 2017 and although it’s only just over 3 years this processor is showing it’s age worse than my 3 year old iPad Pro was, it’s mostly ok for what I do though to be honest. The storage space is a step up from the base model and as I don’t store pictures or music on it I’m finding space to not be a problem at all. I’m out of Apple Care+ now but in the time I’ve had it I haven’t had any problems, not even with the keyboard. I guess now is the time to test that theory as I’ll be using as my daily machine for now.

My workflows:

  • Recording my podcast and editing in GarageBand
  • Editing images using Photos
  • Writing on the blog
  • Browsing the internet
  • Listening to music with the Music app
  • Apple Notes, Calendar and Reminders

Performance is varied, very much depends on the activity that I’m doing. For recording my podcast (even when I tested with Logic Pro) and editing the performance holds up for me. Editing images in Photos isn’t amazing, if you go full screen with thumbnails scrolling isn’t too smooth and there is lag on opening up the image to edit. Anything browser based is fine as you’d expect and also Notes etc. all run fine too. Overall for my use it’s ‘fine’ as I’d expect from a few year old machine, macOS holds up well and it’s only really the Photos app that I can’t believe is so slow compared to what I can do on an iPad.

Getting back using macOS has both it’s positives and negatives as I’m learning each day I get back used to using it.

Pros:

  • File management beats Files on iOS hands down, here’s an example. I recorded a voice memo on the iPhone and moved it onto the files app on iOS. I found that managing this file was a lot slower. I couldn’t rename the file and move it into the Music App. I ended up going to iCloud on my Mac, pulling them onto the desktop, renaming and then importing into Music all on my Mac. I could then see it show up on my Music app on the iPhone
  • A trackpad built in, yes I know it’s a silly one given iPad cursor support but having a trackpad under my keyboard is great
  • Screen adjustment, I forgot how nice it is to be able to adjust the angle rather than the Smart Keyboard being fixed
  • Pro apps, I know it keeps coming up but where are the pro apps on iOS? Even an app like GarageBand is better on macOS, it’s not like for like between the platforms. There’s no doubting the hardware and iOS as a professional platform but I’d like to see Logic Pro moving over to iOS with as close functionality to the Mac as possible
  • USB-C, it’s nice to be able to share a power cable between my laptop, Nintendo Switch and work phone

Cons:

  • Less flexible than an iPad in terms of helping with posture and RSI. I like the flexibility of my iPad in that I can use it as a tablet or laptop style with a keyboard. I do miss the touchscreen a lot when trying to sit and relax so tending to use my iPhone when I’m not in my office
  • I miss the Apple Pencil…
  • I’m not a huge fan of the keyboard on the MacBook (it’s very flat) and I prefer the Smart Keyboard cover
  • I miss the speed of iOS, I mean (for me) I get work done quicker on an iPad and used to flying around apps and functionality of the apps
  • I don’t get my iOS apps I’m used to so falling back on Apple apps, which most are fine but I still find them a little limiting in places e.g. Reminders tagging but both Calendar and Notes work great on both platforms
  • Battery life isn’t as good as my iPad was although I’m still testing this one. As I mentioned above though as I mostly have my Switch plugged in (thanks, Animal Crossing) I can easily reach over and plug my MacBook in
  • Missing TouchID

This isn’t meant to be an iOS vs macOS post but just my experience on coming back to the Mac after being on iOS for so long. I think I’ll be ok for now and want to give it a go.