macOS Ventura review: Should you upgrade?

After a whirlwind of releases this fall, including four new iPhones, the AirPods Pro 2, two new iPads and iOS 16, Apple is ready to push the release button on the latest major software update for the Mac: macOS Ventura.

MacOS Ventura isn’t the same substantial update that last year’s macOS Monterey was, but it does bring several useful new features to Apple’s computer lineup. There’s a completely new way of multitasking, a native option to use your iPhone as a webcam and new Messages, Photos and Mail features — to name a few.

I’ve been using Ventura since it was first released in Apple’s beta program back in June, and my initial assessment has proven true: MacOS Ventura is a sneakily meaningful upgrade.

MacOS Ventura will be available as an update through the Mac App Store. You’ll need to search the store for “macOS Ventura” to find it. Download and install the Ventura installer, then follow the prompts to install the latest major macOS update.

The new macOS Ventura will work on the following MacBooks and Mac desktops:

• iMac (2017 and later)
• iMac Pro (2017)
• Mac Pro (2019 and later)
• Mac Studio
• Mac Mini (2018 and later)
• MacBook Air (2018 and later)
• MacBook Pro (2017 and later)
• MacBook (2017 and later)

Jason Cipriani/CNN

I suspect Continuity Camera will become one of the most popular MacOS Ventura features because it turns your iPhone into a webcam for your Mac, something that’s long overdue. And better yet, you don’t have to do anything to set it up other than bring your iPhone close to your Mac. Then, when on a call, select your iPhone as a camera option in the respective app’s settings page.

Then, you can use the camera controls on Control Center to turn on Portrait Mode, use Center Stage to keep you in the frame or use Stage Lighting to improve lighting conditions.

There’s even a desk view that uses the iPhone’s cameras to create a video feed of your desktop so you can appear on the call and show a demonstration simultaneously. The desk view feature sounds great; however, I’ve had some issues getting it to look just right. I’ve found that the farther away your iPhone is from you, the better off you are with getting everything lined up just right, but even then, the video doesn’t quite look right.

macos ventura screenshot

Jason Cipriani/CNN

Stage Manager is new to both the Mac and iPad with the release of Ventura and iPadOS 16.1. The new feature brings a new multitasking workflow to both platforms, although it’s been more controversial for the iPad than the Mac due to performance issues.

Stage Manager on the Mac, however, doesn’t suffer from the same issues, and, as long as you remember it exists, I can see it being a useful update to help Mac owners multitask.

Stage Manager is an optional feature you have to manually turn on or off in the Control Center. When enabled, Stage Manager creates an active stage where it shows an app or group of apps. On the left side of the screen are more stages, with app(s) shown on small thumbnails. You can have multiple apps located and running in each stage.

You can drag and drop apps into a group. For instance, I commonly use Safari and iA Writer at the same time. In the traditional multitasking MacOS workflow, all open apps live on a single desktop. That means when I open another app like Mail, Slack or Twitter, those windows just pile on top of everything else. The end result can be a cluttered mess of apps and windows; it can be overwhelming unless you’re constantly managing and minimizing windows, creating secondary desktops or using apps in full-screen mode.

With Stage Manager, I can create a stage with my writing apps — Safari and iA Writer — and then another stage with Mail, Slack and Twitter. And then, as needed, I can switch back and forth between the stages, accessing and using apps as needed.

It’s a far cleaner and more simplistic approach to multitasking on the Mac that, granted, has a learning curve. But here’s the real problem with it: I can never remember it’s there.

Over the last few months, I’ve rarely used Stage Manager, not because I don’t like it but because at some point I turned it off, and then it never crossed my mind to turn it back on. And that’s the problem with making Stage Manager an optional feature with a button tucked away in the Control Center.

When I use Stage Manager, I enjoy the cleaned-up look and interactions. I just wish I remembered it was there more often.

macos ventura review video effects cnnu

Apple

Sure, there are a few headlining features to macOS Ventura. Stage Manager and Continuity camera are two prime examples, but for me, it’s all of the small features in Ventura that make it a must-have upgrade for any Mac user.

Prime example? You can now use Handoff to switch a FaceTime call between your Mac and your iPhone or iPad without hanging up. If you start a FaceTime call on your Mac, just bring your iPhone near your computer and you’ll see an alert asking if you want to move the call between devices. A quick click later, the call has moved over to your iPhone. Pretty darn cool.

With the launch of iOS 16 in September, iPhone owners gained the option to edit or delete iMessages. And now Ventura gives that option to Mac users. If you find that you sent an errant message to the wrong iMessage contact, you have two minutes to realize your mistake, right-click on the message, then select Undo Send to delete it.

If you make a bunch of typos in a message, you have 15 minutes to right-click on the iMessage, select Edit and fix your mistake.

I use the edit feature multiple times a day. Typos happen, and it feels great to fix them instead of sending multiple messages to save face.

In a similar aspect, the Mail app now has a customizable send delay that doesn’t actually send your email until after that time has expired. That means you can reply to a message, promise that a file is attached, click send, only to realize you didn’t, in fact, attach anything. In the bottom left-hand corner of the Mail app you’ll briefly see Undo Send to stop the message from being sent at that moment.

You can adjust the grace period from 10 seconds all the way to 30 seconds, if you think you’d benefit from having more time.

MacOS Ventura will launch alongside iPadOS 16.1 and iOS 16.1, all three of which will debut iCloud Shared Photo Library. I played with this feature early on in the beta program before it was removed. On paper, the shared photo library promises to easily sync photos and videos between your iCloud Photo Library with up to six family members. You can set it to automatically share photos and videos with specific faces or a date — perhaps of your partner or children — or manually add items to the shared library.

MacOS Ventura is free and comes with useful features and improvements like Continuity Camera, Stage Manager and smaller changes to apps like Messages, Mail and Photos.

If you have a Mac that’s compatible with macOS Ventura, I see no reason why you shouldn’t upgrade. I’d suggest waiting a few days, maybe even a week, to ensure there aren’t any major issues or bugs that weren’t caught during the beta program, then press that upgrade button. This software might not revolutionize the way you use your Mac, but like Blink-182 once said, it’s all about the small things.

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