Big Sur brings a fresh look, as well as new controls and customization options to macOS. Our tips outline how to make the most of Apple’s latest operating system.
Apple’s Big Sur OS update is now available for download for all Mac users, but what does version 11 of macOS actually offer, and how can you take advantage of the new features? Rather than hunting around on your own to see what’s new and different, peruse our tips to see what awaits you in Big Sur, and how you can get the most out of the new OS.
If you haven’t already updated to Big Sur, click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner and select About This Mac. At the macOS window, click the button for Software Update, then click the button to Update Now and follow the prompts to install the update.
Use the New Control Center
Taking a page from iOS and iPadOS, Big Sur adds its own Control Center, which displays icons for commonly used features. On the menu bar, click the Control Center icon (it looks like two horizontal bars). You can now quickly access controls for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirDrop, Do Not Disturb mode, Keyboard Brightness, Screen Mirroring, Display, Sound, and Music. Click a control to expand and use it.
You can add more options to Control Center under System Preferences > Dock & Menu Bar. In the left pane, scroll down to the section for Other Modules. You can then select Accessibility Shortcuts, Battery, or Fast User Switching, and check the box for “Show in Control Center.”
Pin Controls to the Menu Bar
Pin controls from Control Center to the Menu Bar for even quicker access; you can do this one of two ways. Click the icon for Control Center, then drag and drop a specific icon to the Menu Bar. Alternatively, go to System Preferences > Dock & Menu Bar. In the left pane in the Control Center section, select a specific control and then check the box to “Show in Menu Bar.”
There’s one more trick here: You can hide the entire Menu Bar so it appears only when you move your cursor to the top of the screen. This feature was already available in past versions of macOS, but in Big Sur, you enable this differently. To set this, go to System Preferences > Dock & Menu Bar and check the box for “Automatically hide and show the menu bar.”
View Notifications and Widgets
Borrowing another feature from iOS/iPadOS, Big Sur now displays notifications and widgets in the same section. Click the date and time in the Menu bar to view any notifications and see the default widgets, such as date, weather, World Clock, and Screen Time. Click a widget to open the corresponding app.
Customize Your Widgets
You can tweak specific widgets in a number of ways. Right-click on any widget to change the size, edit details, or delete it from the screen. As an example, you can edit the weather widget to change the location. You can also reorder your widgets by dragging and dropping them to different spots.
To add widgets, click the Edit Widgets button at the bottom or right-click on any widget and select Edit Widgets. Scroll down the screen to see all the widgets you can add, or select a specific category in the left pane. You can also search for a widget by name. Hover over a widget you want to add and click the green plus icon in the upper-left corner of its icon, or just drag it to the Widgets pane.
Even cooler, you can download widgets from third parties by searching “widgets” in the Mac App Store. You can then use the app as a widget in the Notification center or on the Menu bar.
Turn Off Startup Sound
You can now disable the built-in chime sound that plays when your Mac fires up. Go to System Preferences > Sound and uncheck the box for “Play sound on startup.” Now your Mac will remain quiet whenever you boot it up.
Check Your Mac’s Battery
Big Sur now offers more details and a dedicated system preference just for your battery. Click the battery icon on the Menu bar to see the percentage of charge left. Then select the option for Battery Preferences to determine when the display shuts off battery power, enable Power Nap in battery mode, and optimize video streaming on battery power.
Even better, you can take certain measures to preserve your battery life. Make sure the option for “Optimized battery charging” is on. This feature will learn your daily charging routine so your Mac won’t be charged past 80% until you need the extra boost.
Click the button for Battery Health and be sure the option for “Manage battery longevity” is on. This will try to reduce the rate at which your battery chemically ages. Back at the Battery screen, click Usage History to see your battery level and usage for the last 24 hours or 10 days.
Hear What You Type
If you have trouble seeing the screen, you can now hear letters and words spoken aloud as you type them. To set this up, go to System Preferences > Accessibility. In the Spoken Content section, check the box for “Speak typing feedback.” Now open any app in macOS into which you can type. As you type a letter, the feature reads it aloud. After you’ve typed a word, that word is read aloud. Enter a space, new paragraph, punctuation marks, or other entries, and those are read aloud as well.
Adjust the Colors
Big Sur offers a new accent color known as multicolor, which determines the color that appears in buttons, menus, and other elements. The multicolor option changes the accent color for an app based on the developer’s preferences, so each app can sport its own unique color. To set this up, go to System Preferences > General. For Accent color, choose the first icon.
Further, the default setting for wallpaper tinting can be annoying as it changes the shading of windows, apps, and other items in macOS. To switch the display of windows to a more neutral color, go to System Preferences > General and uncheck the box for “Allow wallpaper tinting in windows.”
Try the New Wallpaper
Under System Preferences > General, Big Sur adds several new images that you can set up as your wallpaper. As in previous versions of macOS, you can choose a dynamic wallpaper that changes between light and dark as the day and night progress. There are a greater variety of pictures, though, including cool variations on the usual scenic themes.
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