OS X Yosemite vs Mavericks full review

Which version of Mac OS X is best for your Mac? In our Mac OS X Mavericks vs Mac OS X Yosemite comparison review we compare the user interfaces, feature sets and overall performance of Mavericks and Yosemite, and help you decide whether to upgrade. Updated to include detailed speed testing results, to determine if upgrading to Yosemite can slow down your Mac.

Since Mac OS X was introduced, there has been a consistent pattern with point upgrades. One upgrade introduces a design variation with a slew of new features, the next one consolidates and optimises. Yosemite, OS X 10.10, bucks the trend.

After the post big-cat overhaul that was Mavericks, you'd be forgiven for expecting a set of cautious minor tweaks - but instead we have an OS X iteration that's bursting with new features, building on Mavericks rather than streamlining. Yosemite is the biggest upgrade since Mac OS X Lion.

So, how does Yosemite stack up against Mavericks, and what should you be on the look out for? In this comparison review we compare the two operating systems. What can you expect from Yosemite, as a former Mavericks user, and, more importantly, will it work on your machine?

Find out: Will your Mac run OS X 10.10 Yosemite?

Read our Yosemite pros and cons. Plus: ultimate Yosemite tips and our Yosemite tips for beginners

And here’s what is coming in the next version of OS X...

Watch our Yosemite tips video:

Mac OS X Yosemite vs Mac OS X Mavericks: Speed testing

Before we get on to the differences in the user interface and feature sets, we decided to answer one of the key questions that will be concerning prospective upgraders: will Yosemite slow down your Mac?

It's a reasonable question, because an OS update, if it comes with enhanced visuals and advanced features, can place more of a burden on your system hardware - particularly if the machine in question is at the lower/older end of the list of compatible Macs.

To test this out, we put a test Mac through an extensive battery of lab tests, both before and after upgrading it from Mavericks to Yosemite. We tested general processing speed, graphical processing, real-world gaming performance and more.

And the answer is that yes, upgrading to Yosemite could slow down your Mac, but probably not by much. (And in some of the gaming tests the system was actually better under Yosemite.)

For detailed results and our full report, check out the full article: Can upgrading to Yosemite slow down your Mac?

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: User interface

Yosemite changes the look of Mac OS X more radically than any other upgrade since the switch from OS 9 to OS X. You immediately know you're no longer using Mavericks. Is that a good thing?

From our point of view, yes. The transition underlines the fact that OS X was long due a makeover. It's as surprising as the change from iOS 6 to iOS 7 - and it makes Mavericks look positively old-fashioned.

Firstly, there's the wholesale adoption of flatter design across the entire operating system and its bundled apps. Look at buttons, toolbars, checkboxes - all the bevelling and glossiness has gone. Windows are chrome-free, stripped-down affairs. The traffic light buttons on windows have been improved in functionality as well as looks - with the green toggle now defaulting to full screen. It's a feature that we think should have been in Mavericks where full-screen was welcome, but clunky.

Then there's more transparency is Yosemite than in Mavericks. Aesthetic transparency, that is. You can see more of your other apps or the desktop through toolbars. There's still a sense of 3D, but it's all about depth in Yosemite. The 3D effects in every version of OS X up to and including Mavericks "popped out" at you instead.

Perhaps we might think of Mavericks' decreased reliance on skeuomorphic app and icon design as the true halfway house between Lion and Yosemite. Read: Yosemite versus Windows 10 comparison

Still 3D, but Yosemite has depth rather popping out with old-school bevelled effects.

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: Fonts and icons

The interface changes in Yosemite are enormous - but two are of particular significance.

A global font change is about as big as it gets, altering the entire look and feel of the system. Maverick's Lucida Grande is out and in comes Helvetica Neue (just like in iOS 7). We like it - although you may not like it quite as much on an older Mac. If your machine runs Mavericks, it will run Yosemite - but Helvetica Neue slimline look doesn't suit lower resolutions. This is a change with Retina screens in mind, it seems.

Yosemite's icons differ from Mavericks in the same way as the wider interface, but it's intriguing to compare icons on a case by case basis. Not every icon has been flattened in quite the same way. Some are actually more 3D and complex than their Mavericks siblings. The new Finder icon, for example, is more bevelled on the surface while the Trash Can now has more, um, trash in it - and colourful trash at that.

It's clear that each one has been considered on a case-by-case basis and, more tellingly, brought into line with its iOS equivalent where relevant.

Yosemite’s icons have more subtle highlights, are generally flatter and are much brighter than their Mavericks counteparts.

What's the competition doing? Find out How Windows 10 is even more like Mac OS X

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: Widgets

Widgets seemed like such a great idea when they were introduced way back in OS X Tiger. They suited the DIY ethic that still pervaded the web of 2005, which was a little under a decade old at the time.

But it didn’t take long for the Dashboard to stagnate and its deprecation has been long coming. For example, development tools for standard Dashboard Widgets were removed from Xcode two years ago. Yosemite hasn’t binned Dashboard, but it’s turned off by default - which means it’s very likely to have been removed when OS X 10.11 comes around.

Widgets were useful, though, and they live in a prettier, more compact form in Yosemite's Notification Centre. In the preview version, there haven't been many to choose from. Let's hope that changes on release as third parties get to develop their own. A spring-out sidebar with a collection of mini-apps seems much more useful than the overlay method used by Dashboard.

Mac OS X Mavericks vs Mac OS X Yosemite comparison review

The Dashboard hasn’t gone, but it’s off by default in Yosemite. Widgets are moving to the Notification Centre.

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: AirDrop

The biggest change between Mavericks and Yosemite is functional rather than aesthetic. Enhanced mobile integration. It feels like we’ve been promised this for so long and every time we've actually been able to try a new feature (iCloud, AirDrop) it was disappointing.

In Mavericks AirDrop enables you to share files between proximate Macs straight from the Finder - and that’s just dandy if you work in an office full of Mac Pros. But most of us don’t have two Macs, or can find much easier ways to transfer files between our machines and those of our Mac lovin’ friends.

But many of us have a Mac and an iPhone, or a Mac and an iPad - and with Yosemite AirDrop finally supports transfers between iOS 8 and OS X 10.10. If you use iOS for production of any kind (editing spreadsheets, making music, taking photos for example).

Wondering about the next version of Mac OS X? Read our list of 10 cool names Apple could use for Mac OS X 10.11

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: Handoff

Handoff, part of Yosemite's Continuity suite of features, is perhaps the second most exciting feature for us. But it comes with caveats. Big caveats.

The feature allows you to start working on one device, then switch to another with your progress saved. For example, you can begin an email on your phone, then finish it up on your Mac, or begin reading a web page in Safari on your iPad then continue at your computer. This always seemed to be the iCloud dream and, indeed, there were signs of it coming way back in Lion, with the introduction of Auto-Save and Versions.

But iCloud’s continuity between iOS and OS X was always clunky and patchy. Your photos automatically update, for example, but try starting a project on GarageBand for iOS then opening it on your Mavericks Mac from iCloud.

The caveats? These apply to many of Yosemite's Continuity features - and it's the only major hardware issue with Yosemite. It requires Bluetooth LE - now integrated into Bluetooth 4.0 - to work, so some fairly recent hardware won't function with it.

Your iPhone 4S will be fine if you can get it to run iOS 8, but you’ll need an iPad 3 or better (the retina iPad). If you have a MacBook Air or Mac Mini, Bluetooth 4.0 was standard from the middle of 2011. 2012 saw BTLE come to the MacBook Pro and iMac.

Mac OS X Mavericks vs Mac OS X Yosemite comparison review

Integration between your devices is seamless and subtle in Yosemite, with the option to pick up where you left off on Mac or iOS gadget.

If you are finding you can't get AirDrop to work between your Mac and iPhone or iPad read our guide to troubleshooting AirDrop

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: Mobile integration

Assuming your hardware is compatible, one of the most impressive Continuity features is the ability to send SMS messages and even make (and receive) phone calls from your Yosemite Mac.

Using Messages and Facetime's smart handling of contacts, those of us fond of science fiction have been waiting for this giant leap in two way comms for a very long time. Yosemite integrates with your phone and dials out with it, or intercepts calls when both devices are in proximity to each other. We just need food in pill form and flying cars now and we'll finally be living in the future.

In operation, Continuity makes your apps deal with messages, texts, voice calls to your mobile and facetime audio in a contextual way. If you send a text to someone with an iPhone or Messages open, that's how it will be handled. If you message a contact without an iPhone, it'll use your phone to send as a text. It's closer to the way iOS handles texting, in short.

The same thing happens with voice. You click the call icon on your Yosemite Mac and the way the connection is handled will depend on whether the intended recipient is using iOS or OS X.

While this element of Continuity aspires to be one of those features that "just works" it actually requires a fair bit of set-up between your devices. And, those hardware caveats have to mentioned. If your Mac or phone doesn’t have Bluetooth 4.0, it won't work.

So here's a consideration for current Mavericks owners. If you're happily running Mavericks on an older Mac, know that most of the advantages you'll gain from upgrading will be cosmetic. It’s frustrating to know that your software has features that don't work on your platform.

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: iCloud Drive

In addition to this range of Continuity features, iCloud has been fixed so that you can actually access files as drive from Finder again. Why this functionality was ever deprecated in the first place, we don’t know. It’s one of those examples of control-freakery that simply hands ammunition to Apple-hating internet loons. But, anyway - it's back in Yosemite.

If you're one of those people who gets periodically pestered to upgrade iCloud storage from 5GB - which is just about anyone with more than one Apple device - then the upgrade to iCloud Drive is a good time to do that. Storage prices have been cut and you can choose from one of the following options:

  • 20GB (79p per month)
  • 200GB (£2.99 per month)
  • 500GB (£6.99 per month)
  • 1 TB  (£14.99 per month)

A word of warning, though; you can upgrade to iCloud Drive from iOS 8, but if you own a Mac running Mavericks you should hold off a couple of weeks so that you can upgrade all your devices at the same time - or you will cut off access to files transferred between iOS 8 and Mavericks which is, of course, incompatible with iCloud Drive.

Mac OS X Mavericks vs Yosemite

In a step that brings iCloud back into line with popular online storage services, iCloud Drive is now accessible and editable in Finder.

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: Mail

If you're switching from Mavericks you'll be glad of some of Yosemite’s app upgrades. Take the Mavericks version of Mail. Far away from here, preferably. Glitchy and with notoriously poor integration with Gmail (by far the web’s most popular email service) we can’t have been alone in seeking out alternatives.

In Yosemite, Mail has had some new features added, like Markup and Maildrop. Markup enables you to annotate images in mail - rather like the tools we already have in Preview, but live. To be frank, we’re struggling to think of many uses for this - but others might.

Maildrop makes more sense. It gets around the bandwidth limit imposed by some mail providers for attachments by uploading larger files to iCloud and inserting a link. We habitually do this with Dropbox and there are other existing services that will have their noses bent by this news.

Bottom line is, if Yosemite’s Mail can get the basics right, we’ll be happy enough.

Read our Mac email tips, using Mail in Yosemite

OS X Yosemite vs OS X Mavericks: Spotlight

And finally, some of Yosemite's most noticeable differences are in Spotlight, changes that make it seem more like an app than an OS feature.

Spotlight now pops out into its own dialogue box, with a large preview pane. As well as searching your local drives, it searches online too (via Bing, weirdly), but also spiders through your apps, including Mail, Calendar, Messages, Maps, iTunes and so on. Oh - and if you're trying to find a site that you've visited before it also trawls through your web history and bookmarks.

If you’re not happy with how and where Spotlight searches, you can change that in System Preferences too (goodbye Bing!).

Placing Spotlight so central in the OS is a clear swipe at Google, which has its own OS too. Chromebooks have been so successful, especially in Apple’s key education market, that supply can’t keep up with demand.

Apps that run in the browser, search integration and, of course, cloud integration are all fronts Apple and OS X ignore at their peril. Read our review of OS X Server (Yosemite). Read How to use Safari on the Mac, Yosemite Safari tips

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