Sure, you may have had your Windows or macOS laptop for years and years, but have you actually explored every utility and feature it’s got to offer? Take a trip off the beaten track to some of the lesser-known features and options available to you—from expanding your screen space, to improving system security.
1) Go dark
Dark mode is everywhere these days, pretty much, and Windows and macOS have joined in. Automatic dark-mode-on-a-schedule is arriving later this year in macOS Catalina, but on macOS Mojave you can enable it manually by opening System Preferences from the Apple menu, then choosing General and Dark.
Windows user? Click the settings cog on the Start menu, then select Personalisation, Colours, and Dark (under the Choose your default app mode heading). These changes should affect both the operating system and the various apps running on top of it, at least in most cases.
2) Stream games from your console
Laptops have been able to stream games from a PS4 or Xbox One on the same wifi network for a long time (way before Google Stadia arrived). We’ve written about this before in detail but essentially all you need is the right bit of software on your computer—you can be up and running and streaming in minutes.
If you own a PS4, that software is the PS4 Remote Play app for Windows or macOS, which is free to install and use. If you’re in the Xbox camp, you need either the Xbox app that comes as part of Windows, or OneCast for macOS, which will cost you £20 after the free trial has expired.
3) Pin websites to the dock or taskbar
As well as pinning apps to the dock or taskbar (delete as appropriate), you can also pin websites that you frequently visit for speedy access—a sort of upgrade to the bookmarking system already available in your browser.
Mac users can just drag down a URL from the address bar in Safari to the far right-hand side of the dock. If you’re on Windows, it’s most easily done from Microsoft Edge: Open the program’s menu then choose Pin this page to the taskbar. In the new Edge, it’s under More tools and Pin to taskbar.
4) Send messages through your phone
This will be second nature if you own a Mac and an iPhone—all you need is the same Apple ID and the Messages app—but it’s also possible to send SMS messages from Android through the Your Phone app that’s part of Windows (search for it from the taskbar). Put the companion app on your Android device and you can read and send messages from the desktop.
If you need to send texts from Android on a Mac, the Android Messages web interface is probably your best option. When it comes to sending texts from an iPhone on a Windows laptop, you’re out of luck—but remember that WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Signal, and Telegram all have web or desktop apps.
5) Spread out across multiple desktops
You don’t need to invest in another monitor to give yourself more room in Windows or macOS, because you’ve got software options for doing this too. On macOS it’s called Spaces, and you can add one by hitting Ctrl+Up or swiping up with four fingers on the trackpad, then clicking the plus icon to the top right.
On Windows they’re just called multiple desktops, and you can add a new one by clicking the Task View button (to the right of the search box on the taskbar), then the New desktop button. Whichever platform you’re on, you can now give your open app and browser windows a bit of breathing space.
6) Install dynamic, changing wallpapers
You’re not still using still, static wallpapers are you? Both Windows and macOS support dynamic, animated ones if you prefer: On macOS open the Apple menu then choose System Preferences, Desktop & Screen Saver, and Desktop photos, then pick a Dynamic Desktop (you can find more here and here).
Adding moving wallpapers on Windows isn’t as easy as it used to be—you now need a third-party app for the job. Desktop Live Wallpapers will do it for you (free with optional paid extras), as will DeskScapes (yours for £4) but with a free trial available so you can see if you like it first).
7) Set up Do Not Disturb
Do Not Disturb isn’t just for phones, it’s for laptops too. On Windows, click the cog icon on the Start menu, then choose System and Focus assist to configure how notifications and notification rules work—the mode itself can be launched from the Action Centre (click the notification icon to the right of the taskbar to find it).
When it comes to macOS, open up the Apple menu, then choose System Preferences, Notifications, and Do Not Disturb to schedule the feature. Alternatively, hold down the Option key then click the notification icon (on the far right of the menu bar) to temporarily turn on Do Not Disturb until you turn it off again (or the clock turns midnight).
8) Annotate your screenshots
You’ve got a plethora of options when it comes to taking screenshots on Windows and macOS, but both Microsoft and Apple have now added annotation options to the native screengrabbing tools. Depending on what you want to do with your grabs, you might not need to use any other utility.
On macOS, hit Cmd+Shift+5, and make sure Show Floating Thumbnail is selected on the Options menu—you can then click this thumbnail to add annotations whenever you take a screenshot. On Windows, hit Win+Shift+S, which brings up the recently added Snip & Sketch tool once you’ve captured your image.
9) Copy between devices
The humble clipboard isn’t restricted to just one device anymore. In Windows, click the settings cog on the Start menu, then go to System and Clipboard to sync your copying and pasting across multiple devices (linked by your Microsoft ID). You can also turn on the option for the clipboard to remember multiple items from here.
Over on macOS, the “Universal Clipboard” just works across every device that you’re signed into with your Apple ID—you don’t need to configure anything to get it working. Just make sure Allow Handoff is ticked under General in System Preferences (accessible from the Apple menu).
10) Mirror your screen wirelessly
If you want to get your Windows laptop display up on a big screen, you don’t necessarily need a cable. Open the Action Centre (click the notification icon on the right of the taskbar), then choose Connect to see a list of all wireless devices supporting Miracast (like Roku dongles, for example). You can also cast the entire Windows desktop using the cast feature built into Chrome.
Over on macOS the protocol you have is AirPlay. Click the AirPlay button on the menu bar to see available Apple TVs and other compatible devices on the same network as you. Again, the Chrome browser can help here too: Click Cast from the Chrome menu, choose Cast desktop from the drop-down, and you can mirror your Mac display to any Chromecast or Chromecast-compatible screen.
11) Speak to your laptop
To save you from typing, you can dictate text to your laptop too. On Macs, open the Apple menu then choose System Preferences, Keyboard, and Dictation to set this up. The default keyboard shortcut for turning dictation on is two presses of the Fn key, or you can choose Edit and Start Dictation from whichever app you happen to be in.
When it comes to Windows, dictation is set up through Ease of Access then Speech in Settings (click the cog icon on the Start menu to find it). Then it’s just a question of hitting Win+H whenever you want to dictate some text instead of typing it out.