Here's some highlights...
There was a time when the only part of your Mac that knew anything about your iPhone was the worst part of your Mac: iTunes. Now, the whole damn thing is infused with software that dynamically and intelligently talks to it, and vice versa. And if the software isn't talking directly to the iPhone, it's taking interaction cues from it that you already learned and can use again. That's powerful. And it’s going to help a lot of people do a lot more with their computers.
The Mac’s new operating system may lack that predictive intelligence and deeper smarts, but I’ll excuse those absent big-leap features this year. The improved performance and productivity of El Capitan pave the trail for a future operating system that even those of us with dust bunnies in our USB ports might embrace.
There’s subtlety abound in El Cap, but each change serves OS X well. Perhaps more to the point, El Capitan compliments iOS beautifully. Services like Photos, Notes, Mail and Maps are (mostly) the same app across iOS and OS X, now. El Capitan is the spit-shine Yosemite needed. It’s faster, more powerful and intuitive, and works a lot better with iOS than the Mac ever has.
There's a lot to like about El Capitan, not least the price. As a free upgrade it's a no-brainer, and though there might not be any one headline feature or improvement, it polishes away some of the rawer edges that were left behind in Yosemite. You might not use all of them beyond the honeymoon period post-install, but it could add up to a smoother overall experience if even just a few of the tweaks work their way into your day to day routine.
As I wrote this review, my curious coworkers kept asking what I thought of OS X El Capitan. It's okay, I said. I like it. But that's mostly because I also liked the previous version, Yosemite. This newest upgrade is a modest one, bringing lots of small improvements to last year's release. With the possible exception of Split View multitasking, I'd be hard-pressed to choose a standout feature that really defines the OS. So, if you weren't impressed with Yosemite's flat design and tight integration with iOS, you won't find much here to get excited about, especially if you're considering making the switch from Windows, which has had split-screen multitasking for years now. If you're a loyal Mac user, though, and appreciated the big-picture changes that came with Yosemite, you'll likely welcome the various tweaks here too, especially those performance gains. Can't ever have too much speed.
There was a time, only a few years ago, when OS X updates were fraught with should-I-or-shouldn’t-I peril, along with a real price tag. Those days are long gone. Should you update to El Capitan? Unreservedly yes—I’ve found it to be stable, it’s free, it’ll download and install itself on your Mac with nearly no intervention, and it’ll bring with it improved security, speed, and functionality. The days of dramatic operating-system updates are over. El Capitan is as solid as the giant granite monolith that towers over Yosemite Valley. Upgrade, and get an improved Mac. It’s really that simple.
The Good Apple's El Capitan is a free update that streamlines the Mac experience and spruces up existing tools without changing the fundamental OS X experience.
The Bad The updates to some of Apple's native apps -- Safari, Mail and Maps -- still don't improve them beyond the level of third-party alternatives.
The Bottom Line If you own a Mac, you'll want El Capitan. This update simplifies the Mac experience, improving the tools you already use while promising improved performance to come.