Five setup tips for Apple's new MacBook Air

The 14-hour battery on the new 13-inch Air is great, but MacBooks still don't come fully optimized out of the box.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the past couple of months, prospective MacBook buyers, especially those looking for a slim MacBook Air, have been holding off on purchases, waiting to see what Apple had in store for its annual WWDC keynote.

While the new 11-inch and 13-inch Airs look and feel a lot like the previous couple of generations, the internal components have been upgraded with new, and incredibly energy efficient, CPUs, leading to battery life scores in excess of Apple's estimated 12 hours for the 13-inch version.

Because of that great battery life, you can bet that plenty of new MacBooks were ordered in the days immediately following the June 10 WWDC keynote. And while those first system should be arriving now (and they're already available to purchase in-store), that doesn't mean your new MacBook is perfectly set up as soon as you take it out of the box.

Whenever I get a new MacBook in for testing and review, there are certain default settings that drive me crazy, and a few optional features that should be turned on right away. These are the first tweaks I perform to get a MacBook set up just right. Obviously, some hard-core Apple fans will disagree, claiming that their laptops come perfectly configured from the factory and that these suggestions are heretical at best. If you've got further initial setup tips, share them in the Comments section below.

Screenshot by Dan Ackerman/CNET
Turn on tap-to-click
Preferences > Trackpad > Tap to click

It still boggles my mind that tap-to-click isn't turned on by default in MacBooks. In fact, I'd be happy if every multitouch touch pad, OS X or Windows, ditched the hinged pad and went with a solid glass surface that took a one-finger tap for a left click and a two-finger tap for a right click.

Screenshot by Dan Ackerman/CNET
Turn on tap-to-drag
Preferences > Accessibility > Mouse & Trackpad > Trackpad options > Enable dragging

Another standard Windows move that drives anyone trying to migrate to Macs totally crazy. Even worse, this feature is buried not under track pad settings, but in a submenu of the opaque "accessibility" menu, which seems to cover a lot of widely varied ground.

Screenshot by Dan Ackerman/CNET
Show the HDD on the desktop
Finder > Preferences > General > Show these items

Some people prefer a clean desktop. I like having one-click access to the file system, making it easy to flip between documents, downloads, and other folders with ease, as well as networked or connected devices.

Screenshot by Dan Ackerman/CNET
Turn on Find My Mac
Preferences > iCloud > log in > Use Find My Mac

If you have an iOS device, you've probably used the built-in device-finder function more than once, even if it's only to see if you left your iPhone at work (or in a bar). Macs have access to this now as well, as long as you tie the system into your Apple ID.

Screenshot by Dan Ackerman/CNET
Turn on battery percentage
Left click on battery icon > Show percentage

What's the point of having a 10-to-14-hour battery if you only get a very broad indication how much power is actually left? The default view is a monochromatic icon of what looks like a AA battery that slowly drains as the power runs down. This icon gives you only the most rudimentary feedback, but click on it and you can choose to permanently display the percentage of charge remaining, so you'll know when to start searching for an outlet.

About the author

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal.


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