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18 things to tweak when setting up a new MacBook

Just bought your first MacBook? Start out by checking or changing these settings.

Sarah Tew/CNET

After you have jumped through the initial screens from the Mac Setup Assistant that had you log in with your Apple ID, connect to a network and so on, your work is not done. Here are 18 settings to change or at least check on your new MacBook.

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Check for updates

Has Apple released an update to MacOS since it built your MacBook? Find out by clicking the Apple button in the upper-left corner of your screen and then clicking About This Mac. You should be staring at the General tab of the About This Mac window. If so, click the Software Update button, which will launch the System Preferences to check for updates.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Show battery percentage

Like an iPhone, a MacBook displays a small battery icon at the top of the display to show how much battery power remains. It's more helpful if next to this icon it also displays the percentage of battery you have left. To show the percentage, click the battery icon in the menu bar and click Show Percentage. (If you don't see a battery icon, go to System Preferences > Energy Saver and check the box for Show battery status in menu bar.)

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Set up Siri

Siri should be enabled by default, but if you would prefer to use Siri only on your iPhone, then you can disable Siri by going to System Preferences > Siri and unchecking the box for Enable Ask Siri. If you plan on using Siri frequently, then you can use this Siri window to choose Siri's voice, language and a keyboard shortcut.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Customize the Touch Bar

If you have a new MacBook Pro model with the Touch Bar, then head to System Preferences > Keyboard and click the Customize Touch Bar button and then simply drag the buttons you want to show up on the default view of the Touch Bar to the Touch Bar below the display. Don't worry, they'll make the leap from your display across the hinge and to the Touch Bar. 

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Sync folders via iCloud

I find it incredibly useful to sync the Desktop and Documents folders between my two Macs and my iOS devices. To sync these two folders, go to System Preferences > iCloud and click the Options button for iCloud Drive. Next, check the box for the top item, Desktop and Documents folders.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Choose default browser

Even though it uses more system resources than Safari, I use Chrome instead of Safari because the favicons help me keep track of all of my open tabs. To set a default browser, go to System Preferences > General and make a selection other than Safari for Default web browser.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Set scrolling direction

A MacBook's "natural" scrolling direction doesn't feel natural to me. If you want the two-finger swipe gesture to scroll vertically in the opposite way, head to System Preferences > Trackpad and click on the Scroll & Zoom tab. Next, uncheck the box for Scroll direction: Natural.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Get your Dashboard

MacOS lets you juggle multiple desktops via Mission Control, which you can swipe through using the three- or four-finger swipe gesture. The Dashboard is a special desktop that lets you pin various apps to it for quick access to current weather conditions, your calendar, a calculator and other info. To enable the Dashboard, go to System Preferences > Mission Control and change the Dashboard setting from Off to either As Space or As Overlay. The former sets up the Dashboard as your leftmost desktop, and the latter overlays it on your current desktop with the press of the F12 key.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Add and remove items from Dock

Apple throws a number of stock apps into the Dock at the bottom of the screen. You can make room for the apps you use most frequently by removing others you don't need in the Dock. To remove an app from the Dock, simple click on its icon in the Dock and drag it to the desktop until you see Remove appear above the icon and then let go. Poof, it's gone! To add an app to the Dock, open it and then right-click on its icon in the Dock and mouse over the Option line in the menu and click Keep in Dock.

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Matt Elliott/CNET

Move the Dock

The Dock sits at the bottom of your screen, but on a widescreen MacBook display, you might find it better to have it on the side. To move the Dock, go to System Preferences > Dock and choose either Left or Right for Position on Screen. While you're there, you can also drag a slider to adjust the size of the Dock. You can also make it disappear from view when you aren't using it by checking the box for Automatically hide and show the Dock.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Stop auto-play videos

Safari now combats two of the bigger internet annoyances: autoplay videos and ad trackers. Ad tracking is stopped by default, but there is a global setting for stopping autoplay videos that you'll want to enable. Open Safari's Preferences and click on the Websites tab. Choose Auto-Play from the left panel and for When visiting other websites at the bottom of the window, select Never Auto-Play or Stop Media with Sound (if you are okay with muted videos playing) and sit back and rejoice in the silence.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Enable Safari favicons

Favicons are those tiny icons that show up on your tabs and bookmarks bar that make the browser more visually interesting and, more importantly, they're a great aid in keeping track of which tabs are which. Chrome has had them for some time, and now Safari does, too. To enable favicons for Safari, open Preferences and click the Tabs tab at the top. Next, check the box for Show website icons in tabs.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Work the Night Shift

Staring at a blue screen before bed can shift your body's natural clock and make it difficult to get a good night's sleep. With Apple's Night Shift feature, the colors of your display are shifted to the warmer end of the spectrum during the evening hours. Head to System Preferences > Displays and click the Night Shift tab. You can set Night Shift to come on from sunset to sunrise, or you can select a custom time period. Use the slider to adjust the color temperature of the effect between less warm and more. Once you start using Night Shift, you'll wonder how you ever sat in front of a cold, blue screen in the evening hours.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Make your desktop dynamic

With MacOS MojaveApple introduced a dynamic wallpaper that slowly changes its lighting throughout the day, going from a bright, sunny desert scene during the day and transitioning to a cool, dark screen at night. You can find it by going to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver. There are two dynamic wallpapers: Mojave and Solar Gradients. The dynamic Mojave wallpaper is one of my favorite features of MacOS Mojave.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Try out dark mode

 MacOS Mojave also delivered an honest-to-goodness dark mode for Macs. Go to System Preferences > General and you'll see the Light and Dark options at the top for Appearance. On most of Apple's own apps, dark mode turns the background black and text white. The Photos app and iTunes, in particular, look great in dark mode -- the colors of your photos and album art really pop against the black background. Hopefully, third-party apps will allowed to get in on the dark mode fun soon.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Set hours for Do Not Disturb

Along with overly blue screens, notifications have no place in my home after a certain hour. As with iOS, MacOS lets you disable notifications in the evening so you aren't disturbed while watching Netflix or sleeping. Go to System Preferences > Notifications and check the box Turn on Do Not Disturb. By default, it's set for the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. but you can set your own Do Not Disturb Window. There are options to enable the feature when your MacBook's display is sleeping or when you are mirroring the display to a TV or projector (and presumably watching a movie or show or video). You can also let calls come through (if you use your MacBook to answer calls) or just repeated calls, which might mean there is an emergency or something urgent to which you may need to respond.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Set app download tolerance level

If you want to download apps from the web at large and not just from the Mac App Store, you'll need to tell MacOS to loosen up on the reins a bit. Go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy, click the General tab and then click lock in the lower-left corner and enter your password to make changes. Next, for Allow apps downloaded from choose App Store and identified developers.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Choose how quickly your MacBook locks

While on the Security & Privacy page, you can set the length of time your MacBook can sit idle before the screen locks. It's more convenient to set a longer time but also less secure. The time period to set here doesn't start ticking until the screen saver begins, so you also need to set the length of time before your screen saver kicks in. Go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver and you can select the style of your screen saver and also the time by using the drop-down menu in the lower-left corner.

Originally published on Jan. 6, 2017.
Update, Jan. 4, 2018: Added information about MacOS Mojave.