Monterey vs Big Sur: The ultimate comparison

8 min read

macOS Monterey — Apple’s latest operating system — is available to all Mac users starting October 25, 2021. In this article, we answer the questions of macOS 12 Monterey compatibility, what features it brings, and how it compares to the previous macOS Big Sur.

What’s new in macOS 12 Monterey

The new macOS Monterey is a major update to the operating system of Macs. It brings a bunch of cool new features, including FaceTime overhaul, addition of Shortcuts, Live Text, Universal Control, Focus, handy privacy enhancements, and tweaks to fan-favorites — Notes, Maps, and Safari.

Note that some of the new features will only be available for M1 Mac owners. We’ve added the said features in a separate list at the end of the article to help out all the Intel-based Mac owners out there.

macOS Monterey release date

macOS Monterey is available to everyone starting October 25, 2021, and its developer beta has been available since early June. 

And most importantly, is macOS Monterey free? Yes, this is a free software update for eligible models of Macs (find the list below).

Monterey vs Big Sur — feature faceoff

In the age of work from home, Monterey adds a collection of new features built for more effective online collaboration and connection, task management, focusing, and making small tasks flow smoother.

Is it worth the update? Let’s take a look at the biggest new features in Monterey vs Big Sur.

A look into streamlined future

Monterey OS is all about making your experience more smooth, more streamlined, and more integrated. It seems to aim for interconnectedness, functionality, and bring all the amazing features together into a perfect, almost unrealistically perfect flow.

In Monterey, FaceTime app adds screen sharing capabilities, grid view, portrait mode (this one only on M1 Macs), spatial audio, and SharePlay feature for joint viewing of shows and movies, as well as music listening. Plus, you can now share a link to your FaceTime call outside the Apple ecosystem! You can’t do that in Big Sur.

With the Live Text feature included in macOS Monterey, your Mac can now “see” text in photos. No need to retype things to look up an address or save a phone number. Live Text recognizes text in apps like Safari, Photos, Quick Look, and Screenshot, so you can copy it or use directly for your needs. How do we know this is awesome? We are already using third-party app TextSniper to select text in non-textual format anywhere on the screen.

Monterey’s Universal Control is almost sci-fi. In the coming macOS, you’ll be able to use a mouse, keyboard, and trackpad across devices. One such use — dragging and dropping an item between your desktops. It’s almost magic. In Big Sur, as you might know, Continuity and Handoff are the backbones of connecting your devices into an ecosystem, Universal Control takes the possibilities even further.

Another seamless interconnectedness feature is Monterey OS enabling Mac to work as an AirPlay speaker.

Where Big Sur supported 3D experience for select cities, Monterey sees Maps add interactive 3D globe with detailed mountain ranges, deserts, forests, and more. And while only the happy owners of the new M1 chip equipped Macs will be able to enjoy it, this feature sounds amazing nonetheless. Plus, in Monterey, Maps will add very detailed maps of large cities like San Francisco, LA, New York, and London.

Perfectly efficient for work and leisure

Focus is something new coming to macOS. The app helps you, well, focus. It aims to help get the work done with customizable settings to shield you from distractions, including filtering notifications.

Notes are better. In Big Sur and Monterey both. In Big Sur, Notes added quick styles, top hits, and enhanced scanning. In Monterey, the app becomes even more polished. With the coming update, Notes gets a Quick Note feature — something to help capture ideas and thoughts while you are working in another app. Tags and mentions also set to appear. Activity view will now help see changes history for any given note.

Shortcuts is another totally new thing in macOS. Monterey adds this automation app to help you create shortcuts for sequences of various actions you tend to do a lot on your Mac. This is designed to bypass the routine and save time and memory space for better things. This simple yet powerful addition is set to come to your Mac with macOS Monterey this fall. If you haven’t tried anything like this before (and we have — with third-party app Keysmith, and can assure you that it’s extremely handy), pre-built shortcuts in Shortcuts will help get you started with the app.

Safari is getting prettier. In Big Sur, Safari had a massive overhaul, adding customizable start page, faster performance, favicons in tabs, website previews, Privacy Report, and much more. In Monterey, more tweaks and additions are afoot. Safari’s tab bar is becoming more integrated into the page you are viewing, you can now group tabs, share these groupings and sync actress your devices. Plus, more privacy. And since we’ve mentioned it, let’s talk about all the expected privacy improvements with macOS Monterey!

Never not privacy-minded

Privacy is something Mac users tend to value a lot. This means a new macOS just has to come with privacy updates, and Monterey is set to deliver.

While Big Sur added Privacy Report to Safari and self-reported developer privacy practices on the App Store, Monterey has a few new solutions up its sleeve. The new OS is expected to add a number of notable privacy enhancements for Mail, Safari, and iCloud+.

Mail now set to allow hiding IP and location of the sender from your recipients. Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention to prevent trackers from profiling you using your IP. iCloud+ adds iCloud Private Relay for more secure and private browsing.

Additionally, in macOS Monterey, a new recording indicator will show you when an app accesses your mic. Plus, you can see the apps with mic access in Control Center.

On-device dictation in Monterey set to process your speech offline, protecting data from possible breaches (available only on M1 Macs though).

Supported Macs

Apple’s preview page for the Monterey macOS lists the following devices as able to run macOS Monterey:

Here’s the full list of macOS Big Sur compatible devices: 

  • iMac, late 2015 and later
  • iMac Pro, 2017 and later
  • Mac Pro, late 2013 and later
  • Mac mini, late 2014 and later
  • Macbook, early 2016 and later
  • Macbook Air, early 2015 and later
  • Macbook Pro, early 2015 and later
  • MacBook (2015 or later)
  • MacBook Air (2013 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (2013 or later)
  • Mac Pro (2013 or later)
  • Mac Mini (2014 or later)
  • iMac (2014 or later)
  • iMac Pro (2017 or later). 

Like we said, a handful of select features in the new macOS Monterey will only be available on Apple silicon Macs, even though a bunch of Intel-based Macs (as listed above) will get this major system update as well.

Features that won’t work on Intel-based Macs:

  • Portrait mode for FaceTime
  • Keyboard dictation updates: offline dictation and continuous dictation
  • 3D interactive globe view in Apple Maps
  • Exceptionally detailed maps of San Francisco, LA, New York, and London
  • Addition of neural text-to-speech voice in these new languages: Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish

Want to learn more about these? We’ve detailed each in a dedicated blog update here.

Big Sur vs Monterey issues

Minor or more significant, no OS comes without any issues whatsoever. Often a simple reboot can fix your issue, but sometimes you’ll have to go as far as downgrading to Big Sur.

Let’s take a look at some of the reported issues with Big Sur.

One of the more frequently written about issues with Big Sur concerns Fast User Switching. MacRumors shares that some users report an occasional hiccup with this feature — when switching users, a screensaver might pop up, and to log back in, users have to open and close the lid of their Macs or light press the Power/Touch ID button.

9to5mac notes another issue with Big Sur — large background downloads by Apple News app. We are talking gigabytes. One known solution is unchecking the app’s iCloud sync. To do that, click the Apple menu and go to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud, uncheck News.

Most beta users seem to love Monterey and enjoy the new features brought by the coming macOS update. There are a few shortcomings we’ve noticed being reported, so let’s take a closer look.

The first thing you need to be aware of if you are considering whether to stick to Big Sur or upgrade to Monterey is the features that are exclusive to M1 Macs. If you want to update for, say, Portrait mode in FaceЕime, you are out of luck on an Intel Mac. The feature is reportedly reserved for Apple Silicon only, just like 3D interactive globe view in Apple Maps, offline dictation and continuous dictation, and a few others.

Monterey is also not available for some older Macs whereas Big Sur is. For example, Big Sur is available for 2014 iMac, but Monterey is not. Big Sur also works on 2015 MacBook, 2013 MacBook Air, late 2013 MacBook Pro, while Monterey is set to become available for early 2016 MacBook, and early 2015 MacBook Pro and Air.

Lastly, a new OS can be more buggy at the beginning as any upcoming issues arise, while sticking to using the good old macOS that you’ve been working with for many months is a safe choice until any possible kinks get ironed out. Plus any apps that you’ve been using that have not been optimized for the new OS might end up crashing on you here and there.

So, is it worth to upgrade to Monterey?

While we love-love-love Big Sur, macOS Monterey looks like an exciting new expansion to the macOS collection. The new features are set to make the work on your Mac more seamless and smooth, improve your productivity and focus. This is something we try to do with our app suite Setapp, so we can definitely relate.

Monterey brings privacy enhancements, new features for Notes, Maps, Safari, FaceTime, new additions — Shortcuts, Focus, Live Text, and, of course, Universal Control.

Our verdict — Monterey is definitely a worthy advancement and we cannot wait for the new OS to arrive on our machines. And while we wait, we can explore all the productivity solutions for our daily tasks in the Setapp suite, a collection of apps that help improve your performance and tackle day-to-day tasks.

Monterey VS Big Sur infographic

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