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Apple OS X 10.11 El Capitan review

Tom Morgan
2 Oct 2015
Expert Reviews Best Buy Logo
Logo - OS X El Capitan
Our Rating 
Free for iMac and MacBook owners

A slew of minor upgrades and improvements add up to make El Capitan a must-have update for OS X users

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Specifications

OS Support: Mac OS X, Minimum CPU: Intel Core 2 or better, Minimum GPU: Intel HD Graphics or better, Minimum RAM: 1GB, Hard disk space: 40GB

According to Apple, OS X Yosemite had the fastest adoption rate of any PC operating system ever. If that is true, version 10.11 El Capitan looks certain to do the same. It’s an iterative update, rather than a complete overhaul, but the tweaks and upgrades make the whole experience just that little bit slicker and, considering OS X was already incredibly user-friendly, that’s quite the achievement.

Available for free for all iMac and MacBook owners, with support going all the way back to 2007/2008-era devices, El Capitan can be downloaded through the Mac App store. It’s a 6GB download, but you won’t need to create a boot disk or re-format your existing installation.

On the surface, very little seems to have changed, save for Apple making the switch from Helvetica Neue to its new custom San Francisco font. It’s a subtle difference, one that is designed to improve readability at smaller sizes and higher resolutions, but it at least adds consistency with Apple’s mobile operating system – iOS made the switch with version 9.

Mission Control & Split View

Multi-tasking is one of El Capitan’s biggest improvement areas, with full-screen window management and the Mission Control desktop overview both receiving upgrades. In previous versions of OS X, applications were grouped together in stacks when using Mission Control, making it hard to pick out a particular window if you had several open at once. Now, every window is displayed individually, expanding out to fill the screen from roughly where they were on the desktop and in proportion to their size. Thumbnails for any virtual desktops stay hidden until you move the mouse cursor to the top edge of the screen, making more room for application previews. If you only want to see windows for the application you’re using there’s still the option: CTRL+Down arrow on keyboards and a three-fingered swipe down on touchpads.

Mission control - OS X El Capitan

^ Finding a particular window is far easier now that Mission Control doesn’t stack by application

Mission Control is great if you like working with windows, but El Capitan also makes improvements for those that prefer working in full screen. Split View now lets you use two full-screen applications side-by-side, a first for OS X. A long press on a window’s green maximise button will highlight half of the screen; dragging and dropping the window onto either half of the screen will fill it, before presenting all your other open applications to fill the other half. You can also drag a windowed application onto a full-screen one in Mission Control to automatically start Split View.

When you have two applications running in Split View, you can adjust how much screen space they take up by clicking and dragging the divider between them. Returning to windowed mode just needs another click on the maximise button, which will leave the remaining application in full-screen mode.

Split View - OS X El Capitan

^ Running two full-screen applications is nice, but OS X still works best with windows

Split View works best with the default Mac applications and refuses to work with others, including Microsoft Office 2011, although it does work with Office 2016. It’s also frustrating that you’re restricted to two applications; Microsoft might have borrowed many window management tricks from OS X, but Windows 10’s ability to split windows into quarters is now a step beyond what Apple’s operating system is capable of.

Spotlight search

Spotlight search had a major overhaul in OS X Yosemite, putting your results in the centre of the screen and giving you live previews of files, folders and shortcuts before you opened them. The search window can finally be dragged around the screen in El Capitan, rather than obscuring the centre of your monitor as soon as you use the CMD + spacebar keyboard shortcut or click on the magnifying glass icon in the Menu bar. Clicking and dragging will let you position it anywhere, and it will continue to appear there the next time you activate Spotlight.

Sports Spotlight - OS X El Capitan

^ Spotlight now understands natural language requests, plus it recognises when you're after the score from last night's game

Apple has taken some of Siri’s natural language searches and integrated them with Spotlight, letting you search for photos from a specific date or email from one particular person by typing “Photos from yesterday” or “mail from Steve”. Weather and stock results are built into Spotlight now as well, giving you the weather for your current location as well as a ten-day forecast.

You can even type in the name of your favourite sports teams to see scores and max fixtures. Top-flight UK football teams are represented, but currently this feature mostly supports American sports including NFL, NHL, baseball and NBA.

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