MacOS High Sierra First Look: Five days with the High Sierra beta

Apple revealed its latest High Sierra MacOS update at WWDC 2017 and now you can try out the High Sierra beta for yourself. We’ve been testing the newest MacOS upgrade for a few days now and here’s our first impressions of those new features, as well as how to download the beta to test out at home.

Apple’s WorldWide Developer’s Conference was a bit of a launch tsunami this year, pummeling us with loads of new software and hardware. One of those launch products was the latest update of MacOS, version 10.13 which is nicknamed High Sierra.

We’ve already covered the new High Sierra features in-depth, with quite a few worthy additions added in this update. Since then we’ve installed the beta version of the new MacOS on our Macbook Pro (the new 13-inch Kaby Lake model – check out our full review) and given it a thorough going over. Here’s our first impressions of High Sierra.

Check out our complete WWDC 2017 hub to read about all of Apple’s launches, including iOS 11, the uber-powerful iMac Pro and Apple’s very own Amazon Echo rivalling smart speaker, the HomePod.

Apps, improved

Although High Sierra doesn’t offer up any fresh new first-party apps (at least, not in this current beta form), some of the existing apps have been spit-shined and generally improved.

Safari has been given lots of love, making it generally more efficient while also adding some genuinely welcomed features. For one, the Autoplay Blocking makes browsing the web considerably less frustrating. Many tech and gaming websites have been flipping a middle finger at readers for ages now, blasting our eardrums with unexpected audio and blocking our view with intrusive video adverts on every page. Safari now automatically cancels any such shenanigans, even when autoplay is activated on those sites – and oh boy, is it wonderful. We tested several of the biggest offenders and not a peep.

Of course that’s something that a simple plugin could already do on other browsers. We’re pleased to see it in action on Safari however and perhaps this will encourage publishers to get smarter with their marketing, rather than sacrificing the user experience for the sake of raking in cash or getting cheap views on videos.

The new Safari also blocks any website tracking that’s happening in the background. This typically follows your journey through the internet, taking subtle notes on your interests in order to throw targeted ads at your eyeballs. No longer, web fiends!

Another Apple MacOS app that’s been overhauled for High Sierra is Photos. We already fell in love with Apple’s photo gallery when the Macbook was upgraded with that shiny new Touch Bar, as the timeline feature makes skimming through your snaps all the more satisfying. With this update, Photos is even better.

Some of the new features are simple tweaks that make life a little easier. You can now quickly rotate groups of snaps, for instance, although there’s still no smart detection to point out shots that need flipping about (as far as we can tell). That’s a feature which has been on Google Photos for a while.

Photo’s built-in editing tools have been boosted too. Just select an image and hit the return key and these will pop up instantly, ready to use.

The ‘Curves’ tool is brilliant, a fast and intuitive way to adjust the brightness, contrast and colour levels of your photos. Simply select the feature you wish to edit and then drag the graph pointer around, and your photo will be updated in real time. When you’re happy, hit save and you’re done.

A fun addition is the ability to edit your Live Photos. These can be made to loop endlessly, or bounce back and forth (in other words, reversing once they hit the end and then repeating). However, the one cool new effect is the ‘long exposure’ effort. This stitches together the separate frames of your Live Photo to create a blended shot, blurring any motion while keeping the other areas sharp. This is particularly cool when capturing fast-moving subjects such as cars, pets and small children.

You also now get more support for third-party apps, so for instance you can edit a pic using PhotoShop in just a couple of clicks. Not much of an advantage, but nice all the same.

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a real difference – and in MacOS High Sierra, some of the tiny improvements are very welcome indeed. For instance, I use Notes quite a lot, so having the ability to quickly pin important ones to the top of the list is a great addition (and one which should have been implemented ages ago). Just right-click and tap ‘pin note’ and it’ll be easy to find later.

Messages are also now saved to iCloud, so they’re automatically synced across your iPhones, iPads and Macs. No more reaching for specific devices to recall a past conversation.

Invisible updates

Quite a lot of High Sierra’s updates are of course behind-the-scenes.

For instance, there’s now support for HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) format video files, otherwise known by the catchy moniker of H.265. These are compressed to a large degree, without diminishing picture quality. That’s particularly handy for 4K clips, which tend to take up a lot of storage space as they’re super high-resolution. With HEVC, these clips are almost half the size they used to be. Recent smartphones such as the Huawei P10 and Honor 9 use this format when shooting 4K, so it’s great to be able to play these with QuickTime and not have to convert first.

One of the biggest invisible updates in High Sierra is the all-new Apple File System. That may not anyone blast their pants off in excitement, yet it’s definitely a Very Good Thing. For one, common tasks such as copying and moving files around happen instantly; no hanging about. We tried copying some 4K video files which were roughly a gigabyte each from one part of our Macbook’s SSD to another, with the action never taking more than a second or so.

Built-in file encryption and backup also helps to keep your important data safe and secure. And of course Apple File System is also a method of future-proofing, getting MacOS ready for the next wave of ultra-fast storage solutions.

One for the future

Some of High Sierra’s features can’t be tested just yet in this beta version, of course.

For gamers, one of the biggest updates in this version of MacOS is the Metal 2 support. This pushes your Mac computer’s GPU to its full potential, which means even more gorgeous graphics and silky smooth animation.  

One of the most radical changes this brings is support for VR gaming. With Apple’s support for HTC Vive, you’ll be able to jump into immersive virtual worlds and blow the crap out of realistic virtual opponents. Check out our guide to VR gaming on the Mac for all you need to know.

How do I try out the High Sierra MacOS beta, and will it work on my Macbook?

If you want to check out these features for yourself, you can always download and install the MacOS High Sierra beta and install it on your Mac computer. Of course, because High Sierra isn’t in its finished form, you might encounter some bugs and other issues. That’s to be expected, until Apple releases the finished version later in 2017.

Check out our feature on how to update to High Sierra, which also covers whether your personal Mac computer is good enough to handle the latest version of MacOS.

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