The MacBook Pro (late 2016) Battery Problem.

As I write this it is 10:50pm and I have 16% battery life left on my 13" Late 2016 MacBook Pro (sans touchbar). I’m working via Safari with three tabs open and I have two other writing applications open. After running four close “Real World” yet unscientific tests I’ve decided that the battery life on the new MBPs fall short of the 10 hours Apple claims yet still I won’t be returning the machine before the return period ends.

It’s now 10:55 and I have 15% battery left.

Here’s my story and then I’ll fill you in on the tests I ran.

I opted to not get the Touchbar gimmick because I felt the price wasn’t worth the upgrade. I also had heard early rumors that the Macbook Pros with Touchbars were getting horrendous battery life. It made sense that powering an extra screen above the keyboard might do that. Why pay extra for a gimmick I don’t want if it also drains my battery?

I bought myself the MBP as a Christmas gift. I’d waited for this upgrade for years, waiting out the minor “refreshes” Apple put out on their MBPs each season. When the new machine was unveiled, the specs came in with fewer guts than any of us hoped for. Some go as far as to say that it is no longer a “Pro” machine and I imagine many photographers and video editors and developers will feel put out over this. But the new machine was also lighter and thinner and it came in gorgeous Space Gray. This machine was built, perhaps not for the “Pro.” But it was still a good machine that will hold up in years to come. I wrapped the “gift” when I brought it home instead of unboxing it. I put it under the Christmas tree for myself from myself. I was excited.

Then mere days before Christmas Consumer Reports posted their scathing review of the machine. Battery life was an issue. People on Twitter were complaining that they were only able to get 4 hours of battery life. I was concerned.

I opened my gift on Christmas but decided not to unbox it as I figured I’d most likely return it. $1500 is too much to spend on a machine that lasts 4 hours.

But when I learned I was still within my return period window I decided to unbox and test it out.

It’s 11:09pm and my battery is at 14%

Here’s what I learned:

  1. The Activity Monitor is your friend. Keep it open and learn which actions draw the most battery.
  2. Chrome is far better than Safari, but if you learn to work on Safari you’ll save a lot of battery.
  3. Apple’s 10 hour claim doesn’t quite represent my Real Life use. Though it does come close:
  4. I’m a light user (Word Processing, internet, music) and I averaged 8 to 9 hours on the machine before the battery was drained.
  5. Consumer Reports is full of shit. Whatever Consumer Reports did in their testing I didn’t find anything like their results in Real World use. I did not get 17 hours. I did not get 4 hours. I’m inclined to believe that their testing methods were compromised or their machines faulty.
  6. In exchange for a slightly diminished battery life you get a battery which charges from 0–100 in about 2 hours.
  7. Sleep. I found strange variation in the way sleep affected the battery. 1.5 hours of sleep would drain 2% of the battery, but so would 19 hours of sleep. Twice I found a 1% increase in battery life after a short sleep. The longest and largest drain I had was 21 hours of sleep for 6% drain.
  8. If you’re gaming or video or sound editing you should probably have your machine plugged in anyway.
  9. There is no way to measure true “Real World Battery Life.” Tests are entirely subjective. 2 hours of Word Processing is entirely different from 2 hours of FaceTime is entirely different from 2 hours of Photoshop while pushing Spotify through Bluetooth Headphones. Likewise scrolling Facebook for 10 minutes draws more battery than ten minutes on a NYTimes article. The Apple and Consumer Reports tests of refreshing web pages for 10 hours on end tells you nothing about how the battery will respond to your use.

The TESTS

These are not scientific. But also, see #9 above. If you want something super technical and scientific, visit ArsTechnica, they are smarter than me. I can give you a layperson’s understanding in layperson’s terms. But the conclusion I drew is similar to their recommendation: what you do with your laptop really matters. They cite technical specifics as to why what you do matters more on this machine than in previous machines.

I kept copious notes on the notes app. When I opened the computer I’d write the date, time, and battery life in the Notes app. When I closed the computer I’d do the same and write how I spent the time.

I took the time to do this because, for me, $1500 is a lot of money to spend on a computer. I don’t make this kind of purchase lightly.

What is detailed below is not exhaustive, I removed entries I found to be duplicate.

It’s 11:23pm and I have 13% battery left.

Test 1

100% — 3% in 7.5 hours over 5 days

This test was what I considered to be extremely light use. I installed a few apps, surfed the web using Chrome, which is a known energy hog, on Facebook, which is also an energy hog.

Screen brightness to 50–75% (though I discovered that the difference between 50% and 75% is about 1 or 2% additional battery drain per hour, which is well worth the extra 25%)

This is what I found in Test 1:

  • Light use of Chrome (no more than 3 or 4 tabs) web surfing yields a 9% battery drain every half hour. (So, theoretically, you can expect about 6 hours of Chrome web surfing on a full charge)
  • Pandora via Chrome pushed to Bluetooth yields 10% drain per hour
  • Pandora via Chrome alone yields 8% drain per hour
  • Streaming video via Chrome pushed to Bluetooth yields 10% drain every half hour.
  • Scrivener (Word Processing) yields 4% drain per hour. (Which would suggest a decent battery life for a writer).

I wasn't happy that my first rodeo on extremely light use yeilded 2.5 hours less than what Apple advertised. This machine is $1500. I wrote a tweet storm to Philip Schiller and Apple Support.

Here was his reply.

His reply was kind and nice and prompt, which went a long way. I’d never been a fan of Safari but I thought it’d be worth a try to switch browsers for my next test. Unfortunately, for a Chrome lover, the battery life improves a lot on Safari.

Test 2.

100%-3% in 11.25 hours over 5 days.

Also extremely light use. Though I switched to Safari for this. I found Safari to be much more battery friendly (though somehow Consumer Reports suggested that Chrome had a better affect on MBP battery than Safari, again something was rotten in Denmark with the CR tests.)

  • 5 Hours of Pandora Streaming via Headphone Jack = 28% drain
  • 1 Hour Pandora while Web Surfing = 9% drain
  • 25 minutes of Web Browsing = 4%
  • 25 minutes of Facebook and Twitter = 6%
  • Read a PDF in Chrome 2 hours w/ breaks = 10%
  • 1 Hour writing in Scrivener and surfing Chrome = 10%
  • Video Streaming in Chrome 30 min = 10%

11:30pm 12%

Test 3

100% — 4% in 7.7 Hours over 2 Days

  • 1.5 Hours FaceTime = 25% drain
  • 2.5 Hours message chatting on web platform for work = 20% drain
  • 40 minute Video Chat using a 3rd party client for work = 14% drain
  • 1 Hour writing and Pandora = 10%
  • 1 Hour Gmail and Pandora = 11%
  • 1 Hour writing in Notes app = 5%

11:38pm 11%

Test 4

100%-6% in 8.95 Hours over 4 Days

  • 1 hour NYTimes, Facebook, browsing via Safari = 5%
  • 10 minutes Facebook = 2% drain
  • 2 hours of Gmail “work” (occasionally leaving the screen to idle) = 16%
  • 1 Hour of Gmail and Facebook = 10%
  • 1 Hour of Pandora and Scrivener (Word Processing)= 8%
  • 25 minutes of YouTube = 6%
  • 1 Hour of Gmail and Byword (Word Processing) = 8%
  • 1.5 Hours on and off use of Gmail/Twitter/Facebook = 13%
  • 30 minutes of writing (Byword) = 4%

11:45 10%

Test 5

By the time I started running this test I’d determined that I was ready to keep the computer. And I’m in the middle of finishing that test currently. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • 1 hour and 15 minutes of streaming YouTube via Safari pushed to Bluetooth headphones = 16%
  • 30 minutes of Gmail/FB/browsing = 5%
  • 3.5 Hours (on and off, a few times screen was idle) Amazon/FB/Gmail = 23%

It is 12:01 a.m. and my battery life is at 8%. In a little over an hour I’ve used 8% of my battery writing on Medium (with a ten minute break in the middle). At this rate I should have one more hour left on the machine. And I should, theoretically, be able to write Medium articles in Safari with two tabs open and the screen at 75% for 12 hours if I had a full charge. I haven’t run that test. And I won’t. Because I’d never do that in real life.

Conclusion

I’m keeping the MacBook Pro. The keyboard is unexpectedly a joy to type on and this is coming from someone who loved the travel of the keys in previous generations. The screen is gorgeous. The speakers are great. And for a writer, the battery is adequate. It appears that I consistently get 1 hour for every 10% of battery used on Word Processing programs. If this were my only use then I could theoretically get Apple’s 10 promised hours. But either way I should be able to get an all day workday out of the machine.

The lack of ports doesn’t bother me. It’s the future. And while I agree we aren’t quite there yet, I find I almost never use my ports. And anyway, I Kickstarted the Hyperdrive, which looks like a great device if it delivers the way it is supposed to. I anticipate I’ll almost never use it, but in terms of dongles, it’s as sleek and as unobtrusive as it gets.

My advice for the potential consumer still on the fence is thus:

  1. If you need to depend on battery for coding or video editing, this is not your machine.
  2. If you have last year’s model or another model that still works and are just thinking about upgrading, wait. 2017 should bring Kaby Lake Intel processors and this may solve the battery problems.
  3. Buy Last Year’s Model. The base configuration on the Late 2016 runs about as fast as the 2015 model. The 2015 is a little larger and a half pound heavier. If you want the 256GB hard drive, however, it’ll end up costing the same price as the most current model.
  4. Go PC. For Mac people this sounds like heresy. But if Apple keeps moving at the snails pace it does on its Laptops, PCs will be the future anyway (and will cost less).

After editing and reviewing this, it is now 1:00am and I have 2% battery left. Indeed, I drew out another hour on the machine over the last 6% drain.