Keynote (for Mac) review

Pros

  • Clean and intuitive interface
  • New animated charting feature
  • Full compatibility with iOS version

Cons

  • Temporary loss of some advanced features

Apple's Keynote (which is £14, but now comes free with new Macs) started out ten years ago as the best presentations app on the market, and it's never ceased to impress. Microsoft's PowerPoint has far more users, because it ships with the ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite, but Keynote takes the lead in terms of features, ease of use, and general graphic pizzazz.

Keynote’s tight integration with the long-established media library features in OS X, including iPhoto and iTunes, is a major advantage, as are its beautifully designed animations and other graphic effects. However, Apple's new version of Keynote, like the new versions of Pages and Numbers, is partly a step backward, because it sacrifices some features that may or may not return in future versions in exchange for a few different features, along with full compatibility with iOS and web-based versions of Keynote.

Surprising subtractions

Many advanced users, venting their displeasure in Apple's user forum, are dismayed by the new version, especially by the loss of the "smart build" feature that automatically applies animated transitions to all slides. They’re also miffed by the clumsy implementation of other features like the "build order" menu that no longer tells you exactly which object on a slide has a specific animation attached to it.

Apple has promised "improvements" to the presenter display and other features in the next few months, but it's not clear when or whether all the standout features in the old Keynote will return to the new version. Some temporarily missing transitions and other features have already returned in an update – but complex presentations created under the old Keynote may not perform exactly as expected with the new one.

Some conveniences available in the old version of Keynote have disappeared. For example, in the old version, the thumbnails of master slides also displayed their names, so you could distinguish between two different masters that looked similar in thumbnails but actually contained different elements. In the new version, the gallery of thumbnails doesn't display names, so you have to guess between similar-looking thumbnails, apply the one that you hope is right, and then repeat the operation with a different thumbnail if you got it wrong the first time.

Encouraging additions

In exchange for the missing features, the new Keynote provides the convenient new iWork layout, with all formatting features accessible through a panel on the right. New features available from the formatting panel include prebuilt typeface styles like the ones available in the Pages word processor, and the ability to create a soundtrack for a presentation that includes multiple sound files or iTunes tracks, not just one. Text styles are a snap to modify, so it's finally easy to take Keynote's dazzling built-in templates and transform them into customised templates that will let you create presentations that don't look exactly like everyone else's.

My favourite feature in the new version is the ability to use the iWorks suite's new interactive charting feature. For example, an interactive chart can include a slider that allows you to move from month to month. As you drag the slider, the chart displays, say, sales figures for the currently selected month. In a Keynote presentation, an interactive chart appears as an animation: When you present a slide that contains an interactive chart, you press the spacebar to make the chart animate itself, showing the data changing from month to month. This kind of animation is almost impossible to achieve in any other presentation app.

Verdict

While Keynote retails at £14, like the rest of the iWork suite, Keynote is now free to anyone who buys a new Mac, and it’s a free upgrade for anyone who owns an earlier version. When you download it from the App Store, your older version (if you have one) is saved in a folder named iWork '09.

Whichever version you work with, Keynote remains the best and most integrated presentation app on the Mac, and the only good reason to use anything else is if you need to create or edit presentations on Windows as well as the Mac – in which case you can't go wrong with PowerPoint.

Keynote's new incarnation brings a serious case of hiccups to advanced users of the older version, but new users – and many experienced users – will be delighted by the new Keynote.