9 MacBook Pro tips everyone should know
I just got a new 14-inch MacBook Pro, and as supply chain delays forced me to wait over a month between purchase and delivery, I had plenty of time to think about the way I would personalize it. I even started to think about all the stickers I’m going to put on its cover. But that’s a topic for another day.
This piece is going to break down the top nine things to do when setting up a new MacBook Pro. These tips will also come in handy even if you have owned your MacBook Pro for a while. System preferences to consider changing, which apps you need to download, and various other things I’ve learned by examining Macs over the past 5 years or so, and using them all along with the original iMac Bondi Blue in 1999.
Oh, and most of these recommendations also apply to older MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs. So no matter which of the best MacBooks you’ve just bought (I envy all new 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro owners), I’ve got some great ideas. Because, to paraphrase Pedro Pascal in Wonder Woman 1984: your MacBook Pro is good, but it can be better.
1. Repeat (if you can)
Your mileage may vary on this. If you have a very particular set of customizations that you love and need, stick with whatever Migration Assistant or Backup Tool you want (I prefer SuperDuper!). But, personally, I have to know how much simpler this method is.
When I got my new 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro in December 2021, I just migrated the files. For the sake of a cleaner setup, with less mess and more space, I was just judging what I needed and what I didn’t need.
The only problem, obviously, is that this sends me on the path to changing my preferred settings back to my Ordinary. This is what inspired me to write this story.
2. Find the right screen scale for you
So, it can be something that takes some trial and error, but macOS ‘default screen scaling (i.e., resolution) isn’t for everyone. Open System Preferences (Click the Apple icon in the upper left corner of your screen, then select System Preferences) and click Displays.
Under Resolution, select Scaling. You can now adjust to have bigger text or more space on your screen. Try them all, see what you like. Currently I am sticking to Default, but I continue to consider more space.
Then there are two more settings that I always turn off. I’m the type who wants full control over my screen, so I turn off “Automatically adjust brightness” because I don’t need macOS to change my brightness level based on my ambient lighting (I like the similar feature. in the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition and Kindle Oasis, but that’s a whole different story).
I also turn off True Tone, another tool from Apple that changes your display due to ambient lighting. It’s trying to find the real white balance for you, and I often find it more yellowed than I like it. It’s the last thing I need when editing photos and videos on my MacBook Pro.
In System Preferences, tap Trackpad. There are three default settings in this section that I know people like to change. Personally, I press Scroll and zoom and deactivate the scrolling direction: natural setting. This is a setting that was inspired by the iPhone, but reversed the default scrolling direction of the Mac. I’m old enough to prefer it the other way around, and stubborn enough to hate change (plus, there’s no benefit either way), and I don’t want to get used to it.
The other parameters that you can that you want to change are under Point-and-click. Some people turn on the Type to Click option, to avoid having to press harder when clicking on something. I just think it leads to a lot of accidental clicks (so I keep it off). Friends have also told me that they think the Mac’s tracking speed – how fast the cursor moves – is too slow, and this can be adjusted by move the tracking speed needle to the right, closer to fast.
4. Supercharge the corners of your screen
I’m not sure where I would be without the macOS Hot Corners (probably using a third-party app to do the same). Hot Corners is a macOS feature that activates a command or feature when you move your cursor to one of the corners of your screen.
By default, the Mac only uses one of the four Hot Corners – and it uses that for a feature you might 1) not know and 2) you might not care about. This is QuickNote, where you can keep a current note document linked to specific websites or applications, by placing your cursor in the lower right corner.
On a Mac, I need QuickNote less (Drafts is right there in the dock, always ready for me to capture a new idea), but I haven’t turned it off yet. Instead, I activate the top left corner for the Mission Control option. Mission Control shows all of your open (not hidden) windows on each of your screens, and that’s often how I find things in a sea of ââtoo many windows.
Other Hot Corners options include Desktop (temporarily hiding everything on your screen to show your desktop) and Put display to sleep (which can be a bit too much for something you might accidentally activate).
5. The Dark Mode Decision
Even though you might have chosen an option in the initial system setup, let’s talk about the three display modes you get under System Preferences> General.
Here you can choose from Light, Dark and Auto. Personally, I would go with Auto. I like both light mode and dark mode, preferring the former when waking up (I associate dark mode with nighttime) and want the latter at night when I’m not trying to blow my eyes out with it. all white light from the MacBook Pro 14’s very bright panel.
Your preference may lead you to another appeal, but this is where you make that decision.
6. Customize the Finder
While using Finder, press Command +, (comma) to open Finder Preferences. This screen can be so large that I still think it should be in System Preferences (but I digress).
First, under General, you might want to click the button next to Hard Drives, so that your laptop’s hard drive is visible on the desktop. I usually would, but I haven’t yet (don’t know why). Next, I change the New Finder window option, which defaults to Recent, to sort recent files on your Mac that never suited me.
Next, tap Sidebar at the top of Finder Preferences. A parcel of those options weren’t checked by default for me, and that wasn’t good. I made sure the music and pictures were visible, and you might want your Laptop view – which has all connected drives, plus your laptop’s internal drive and network – to be visible as well.
Finally, under Advanced, I activate the two options “Keep folders in foreground”. Now, both in Finder windows and on the desktop, under many (but not all) sorting options, your file folders will be separated from
7. Install this password manager
I’m not trying to be your parent, but you use a password manager for unique and complex passwords, right? You don’t recycle the same easy-to-guess combination of your pet’s name and birthday, do you?
And since you’re using a Mac, you’re like me and use 1Password, Tom’s Guide’s choice for the best password manager for Mac and iOS users. Because 1Password is pretty much the first new app I’ve ever installed, because it’s the app that helps me log into all of my other apps.
If you’re not, now is a great time to start.
8. Now on the apps
You probably have a lot of apps that you already love, but let me break down the ones I use. Drafts are a must-have for me because it’s a giant hyper-functional notebook that syncs across all of my devices. Each time you open it, it goes straight to a new blank document.
Next, I install my podcast app (or podcatcher if you want) of my choice: Overcast (an iOS app that has been ported to the Mac). It’s just more well-designed and more comprehensive than Apple’s default podcast app, with audio tricks for cranking up voice volume when needed and smart speed for taking long breaks.
When it comes to general productivity, I use Fantastical for a better Calendar app (Apple is catching up but not yet) and Todoist and Due for scheduling and reminders.
Due, I must note, is also available in the amazing Setapp, which I’ve been testing since its debut. It is a subscription service that contains a tonne well-designed and powerful Mac apps (and their iPhone and iPad versions) in one monthly subscription. Those apps include the charming bartender for managing menu bar icons – a new priority thanks to the MacBook Pro 2021’s notch. Setapp even has the beloved Downie, a fantastic utility for downloading YouTube videos.
I also use deliveries to track my packages and shipments as I 1) still work from home and 2) lead a life of online retail therapy.
Amphetamine is one of my favorites when I want to make sure my MacBook screen doesn’t turn off. I also like Jettison, which ensures that your external drives eject when you sleep your system.
You might notice that I didn’t mention Google Chrome. This is because I don’t think it is necessary, and I advise against it. You can probably just go with Safari. Or you will learn that you need Chrome. But this decision can wait.
9. Get your Apple Pay and your security
Save yourself from the mistake I made. In System Preferences, open Wallet & Apple Pay. If you are using Apple Pay and have already added multiple cards, check the menu on the left to make sure the correct card is set by default. It can be a boring thing that you don’t want to deal with later.
Then open Touch ID to configure more than one finger. You want to be able to unlock your Mac without wondering which finger to use, right?
And one last thing. If you’re using an Apple Watch, in System Preferences, open Security & Privacy and turn on “Use your Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac.” It hasn’t been a 100% perfect feature for me as I often use my Mac at a slight distance surrounded by other tech, but it’s a wonderful feature.