Battery life tests: Go all day with Apple's Mac laptops

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At a Glance

A big part of evaluating laptops is battery life. Since the tests take so long, our reviews of the new MacBook, 13-inch MacBook Air, and 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro posted without hard data for battery life (the MacBook review had Jason Snell’s observations while working day to day).

Battery life is one of the most common concerns by readers when Apple releases new laptops. It’s an important data point; no one wants to be stuck with a dry battery, and Apple uses batteries that are not user replaceable.

I ran two different battery tests on the new MacBook, 13-inch MacBook Air, and 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. The first test I ran produced results that jibe with Apple’s specification. The second test produced results that fell quite short, but there are a lot of factors that influence how long a battery can last.

In case you are interested, the three laptops had the following settings:

  • Screen brightness set to 75 percent (starting at zero, press the screen brightness up button on the keyboard 12 times)
  • Automatically adjust brightness off
  • Wi-Fi off for the iTunes movie playback test
  • Notifications off
  • In Energy Saver system preference (Battery Tab):
    • Turn display off after: Never
    • Put hard disks to sleep when possible: Checked
    • Slightly dim the display while on battery power: Unchecked
    • Enable Power Nap while on battery power: Unchecked

Battery test: iTunes movie playback

iTunes movie playback battery life results: 2015 Mac laptops

Longer bars are better. Click to enlarge.

The first test I ran was a looped playback of a HD video in iTunes. Apple’s specs for iTunes movie playback are:

  • 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Up to 12 hours
  • 13-inch MacBook Air: Up to 12 hours
  • MacBook: Up to 10 hours

The MacBook was the only laptop that didn’t meet its specification, but it was only about 40 minutes short. Still, you’re going to be able to watch several movies or maybe even a whole season of “Game of Thrones” on a trans-Pacific flight.

Battery test: Peacekeeper web use

Peacekeeper battery life results: 2015 Mac laptops

Longer bars are better. Click to enlarge.

The second test I ran was the Peacekeeper Universal Browser Test, which has a battery test component. I used this to test what Apple calls “wireless web” battery life. Apple’s specs for wireless web are:

  • 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Up to 10 hours
  • 13-inch MacBook Air: Up to 12 hours
  • MacBook: Up to 9 hours

The results for this test fell quite short of Apple’s specifications, but to be fair, this test is quite different from the one the company runs. Apple says its wireless web tests involve “browsing 25 popular websites,” and the company doesn’t get any more specific than that. Peacekeeper's primary purpose is to test web browser performance, so it has much more rigorous tasks that involve rendering videos, 3D graphics, web-based games, and more. Peacekeeper just happens to let you run it on a loop so that it acts as a battery test.

In real life, I’ve used each laptop for work during the day, and I’ve never had to worry about battery life. I spend a large amount of my day on the web, with periods using productivity apps.

With a new laptop, you’ll find that it has more than enough battery life to get you through a workday. Of course, your mileage may vary based on what you do. If you’re heavily into production and frequently need to perform processor-intensive tasks, your battery life will be affected.

Bottom line

Looking beyond the results and laptops here: Just how important are battery life test results to you, the consumer? In recent history, I’ve consistently seen a new laptop battery exceed Apple’s specification. Apple has also made great efforts to tell the consumer that they believe battery life is important, so the company seems to be doing what it can to deliver long battery life. Apple’s always going to make a laptop that can last a working day

As we all know, as a battery ages it doesn't last as long as it originally did. We won’t stop looking at battery life, but perhaps the results from a new laptop battery aren’t as important as the life you get from an older laptop battery.

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At a Glance
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