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OS X Mountain Lion: A Full Review

After getting my computer back on Saturday, I immediately upgraded to OS X Mountain LionOne of the first changes many Mac fans have noticed is that “Mac” has been dropped from the title. This has led many to speculate that there will be more to the marriage between iOS and OS X, but more about this later.

Since I have lived with Mountain Lion for about a week, I thought I would share my thoughts on the OS.

INSTALLATION

This is the second OS X release Apple has distributed through the Mac App Store. With Lion, a number of people complained about how the update slowed their system and there have been similar complaints about Mountain Lion.

Installation is actually really easy if you want the OS to install around your files. Backup your machine, download OS X from the Mac App Store (approx. 4.5 GB), and follow the instructions on the screen. After approximately 45 minutes, you will be Mountain Lion. Like many, I wish Apple made it easy to do a fresh install of the OS, but I opted for the simple install.

With my machine, an early 2011 15” MacBook Pro, I did not experience a decrease in speed. In fact, my system feels quicker. But, as I posted Monday, I had my hard drive wiped in May and just had a new logic board installed. That could certainly account for my seamless transition.

MINOR UPDATES

While there are some new features that are important to highlight, one thing I wanted to discuss first was how stable and polished Mountain Lion feels. Mac users who transitioned from Leopard to Snow Leopard a few years ago understand what I mean. The whole OS has been optimized for the Retina MacBook Pro and the detail does make a difference on lower resolution displays. Details of the icons and OS are crisper.

As for minor updates, all the multi-touch gestures are smoother, inertial scrolling is now a part of Stacks, and the dock has an aluminum surface. In addition, LauchPad and Dashboard have received minor updates, and all OS X updates are now handled by the Mac App Store.

There are a number of improvements to existing apps as well. Mail has some minor updates. Preview now has access to iCloud and more detailed editing tools. There are updates to the Image Capture app that make scanning and printing even easier. Other minor changes include a change in app names. iCal is now called Calendar and Address Book is now Contacts, much like their iOS counterpart, but this is only the beginning of Apple’s marriage of iOS and OS X.

NEW FEATURES

Apple says that there are over 200 new features in Mountain Lion. Most of them are not immediately noticeable, but there are several that are substantial and are very usable. As with Lion, the marriage of iOS and OS X continues. There are a number of apps added to OS X to match their counterparts in iOS. These apps then sync wirelessly using iCloud.

New to OS X: Reminders and Notes 

Two news apps from iOS includes Notes app and Reminders. Both apps are virtually identical to the iOS equivalent, and they both work very well. There isn’t much else to say! As Steve Jobs said about iCloud in 2011, it just works. iCloud syncs your Notes and Reminders automatically so you can accesses them on all your devices.

Notification Center

Another useful addition from iOS is Notification Center. Similar to Growl, Notification Center is one place for all your apps’ reminders, Calendar events, Reminders, Mail, and Twitter updates. With a two-finger swipe from right to left on the Trackpad, Notification center comes up on the right side of the screen. Notification Center is completely customizable in System Preferences and will certainly become more and more usable as developers continue to integrate it into their apps.

iMessage works on iOS and OS X

The most popular new app on Mountain Lion is iMessage. Like Facetime in Lion, iMessage in Mountain Lion allows for seamless communication between Macs and iOS devices. With iOS 6, however, Apple is will integrate users’ Apple ID and phone number. This will enable text messaging via the Mac! iMessage supports texts, photos, and videos. iMessage replaces iChat and works with other online messaging systems.

Game Center

Game Center is yet another iOS app added to Mountain Lion. Game Center allows Mac users to play games against other Macs, iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. This cross platform play is unique to Apple and will certainly be interesting as more iOS games are brought to the Mac.

Safari received a number of updates including Tab View

One of OS X’s apps to receive a major update is Safari. Users will notice the unified address bar, but there is also a new Tab Viewer that makes seeig all open tabs even easier. Apple has also integrated Share Sheets which has been added throughout the OS. It allows users to share websites, photos, videos and a variety of media via email, Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, and Facebook (coming this fall). One interesting development with Safari is that it appears to be exclusive to the Mac. Safari 6.0 has yet to be created for Windows, and with the wholesale changes in Windows 8, an update is doubtful.

Apple has also taken significant steps in addressing user privacy. Mountain Lion features a new security feature called Gatekeeper, which allows users to choose the types of apps that are installed to their machine. Users can choose to only allow apps from the App Store, allow apps from the App Store and trusted developers, or allow all applications. The goal of Gatekeeper is to protect the computer from Malware and Spyware. Other privacy features include a clearer option panel for users to control the apps that can access their Calendar, Contacts, Key Chain, and location data.

Airplay Mirroring connects your Mac and TV via Apple TV

One of my favorite additions to Mountain Lion is Air Play Mirroring. Many Mac users already use Air Play for their files and music, but Air Play Mirroring allows users to wirelessly view their computer screen on their TV using Apple TV. This feature is certainly a welcome addition in many homes and classrooms. However, this feature only works on machines released in 2011 and 2012.

An interesting addition to Mountain Lion is Siri-like dictation. Dictation can be accessed using the user’s choice of hot keys. While it is useful, it can be problematic because only the MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a dual microphone system built in. This is a feature that will certainly improve over time, but if you have an external microphone, it can be really handy. As of right now, most third-party apps do not support this feature, but it is one of many great accessibility features added to OS X.

CONCLUSIONS 

Mountain Lion is certainly an improvement to OS X. While it may not be a major shift like Microsoft is planning for Windows 8, Apple is focused on the marriage of OS X and iOS via iCloud. The merging of Apple’s operating systems is working well for Apple and will take another leap forward when Apple releases iOS 6 this fall.

For only $20 in the Mac App Store, Mountain Lion is a must have for all Mac users. If you are using Snow Leopard, now is really the time to upgrade. Lion users should consider upgrading to access this polished OS. While there are sure to be bugs in this release, I have yet to experience any. In addition, I have yet to find a third-party app that is incompatible. My transition has been seamless, and I encourage all Mac user with eligible hardware to download Mountain Lion and enjoy the latest and greatest Apple has to offer.

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The Apple iPad 2 Review

After waiting in line at Best Buy yesterday to receive one of the 15 iPad 2s, I can honestly say Apple has not disappointed.  After Steve Jobs unveiled the new iPad last week, many wondered what made this iPad different from the first generation model.  The answer is all in the hardware.

HARDWARE

The iPad 2 had many new hardware features that make it far superior to the previous model.  The most obvious is the body itself.  The iPad 2 is only .34 inches thin and it feels completely different in the hand.  The new flat back makes it feel like a thin book or, more appropriately, like a magazine.  The aluminum back and glass screen make the iPad rigid and it feels incredibly durable.

iPad 2 next to the original iPad

The addition of two cameras also sets the iPad 2 apart from its predecessor.  The front-facing camera is VGA only and is meant for making Facetime video calls.  The rear-facing camera is 720p HD video camera, but when taking pictures, the rear camera is less than 1 megapixel.  The images are okay, but not the greatest quality.  The iPad, however, is too large to be an effective camera.  I have the iPhone 4, which has a 5-megapixel camera with flash.  This serves the purpose when I am on the go.  The cameras do well a video camera and that is their primary purpose.

The other major change to the iPad 2 is on the inside.  Apple’s A5 chip is a 1 GHz dual core processor that has dramatically increased speed of day-to-day operation.  The processor makes iPad 2 nearly twice as fast as the original and nine times faster with graphics.  iBooks (Free) is noticeably quicker.  Games that are heavy on the GPU are noticeably faster and more detailed.  The other major change is the iPad 2 has 512 MB of RAM instead of the previous generations 256 MB.  This allows the iPad to keep more open webpages in its memory as well as operate apps better in the background.  Also added under the hood is a gyroscope that give better control when playing games.

Unchanged on the iPad 2 is the screen.  The 9.7 inch display is unchanged, but still just as rich in detail.  The bezel surrounding the screen remains the same size but now comes in black or white.  Overall, the hardware of the new iPad 2 is what gives it its competitive edge.

SOFTWARE

The iPad 2 came preloaded with Apple’s new iOS 4.3 release.  This came with such improvements as quicker Safari browser, Air Time updates, and the option to use the switch on the side of the iPad for mute or rotate lock functionalities.

iMovie for iPad

There are a few additions to iOS 4.3 that are only found on the iPad 2, however.  The Facetime app is like the one on the iPod Touch and works very well.  There is a camera app like on the iPod and iPhone, but the big story is Photo Booth.  If you have a Mac, you know what Photo Booth is capable of.  It takes funny pictures of you and your friends for you to post all over your Facebook wall, but Photo Booth does more than that.  It shows off the incredible speed of the new A5 processor.

Drums on Garage Band

There are a few other apps Apple has created to take advantage of the iPad 2’s cameras and speed.  The first is iMovie ($4.99).  This is currently available for the iPhone and is a capable app.  It allows you to edit movies you have made with your iPad.  The other app is Garage Band ($4.99).  On the Mac, Garage Band only works with physical instruments, but with the iPad the instruments are virtual.  Whether you play the piano, guitar, or drums, Garage Band has you covered.  They also have “Smart Instruments” for those of us who are not musically inclined.  In addition to instruments, Garage Band allows the user to mix tracks and use the iPad as an amp for several instruments.

Photo Booth

OVERALL

Smart Cover and the iPad 2

iPad 2 is a very solid device and one that I will use every day.  Like the original iPad, the iPad 2 has a wide variety of accessories including Smart Covers ($39 – $69) which use magnets to attach to the iPad and easily lock and unlock the iPad by just closing or opening the cover.  I purchased a grey Smart Cover and it works very well and does not add a lot of bulk to the design.  What is truly amazing is that with the smaller size, new hardware, and added speed, the iPad 2 retains the original iPad’s 10-hour battery life and price point.  I purchased the 32GB black Wi-Fi iPad 2.  Of course, everyone wonders what Apple has in store for the next iPad, as well as this summer’s iOS 5 update, but for now, I have no problem waiting with the iPad 2.

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