Saturday, 31 May 2014

Battery Monitors - Forewarned is Forearmed!

My trip to the Apple Store in Leicester to sort out my MacBook Air battery proved to be well timed as I started a new contract this week and I’m back on the road quite a bit. So far, so good. I’m getting really good battery life while the laptop is unplugged. The machine isn’t on all the time but I’m not compromising when it is working and not letting battery life get in the way of what I need to do.

I use three tools to monitor my Apple laptop batteries; Watts, Battery Diag and coconutBattery. Watts (£4.99) and Battery Diag (free) are both available from the Mac App Store; coconutBattery is also free.

Battery Diag lives in the menubar, although there is an option to have a dock icon. The app is fairly minimal as shown in the screen shots below. If you want a no-nonsense and no-frills method for seeing the state of your battery, Battery Diag is great.

coconutBattery, now on version 3.0 goes a bit further by allowing you to maintain a historical record of your battery capacity, actual and potential. There is additional information about the battery itself, including manufacturing data such as manufacturer, date of manufacture, model and serial numbers. The history is only recorded when you elect to save it - data is not automatically saved at the end of a recharge for example - but you can export the history into .csv folder for analysis in in spreadsheet. The main screen is shown in my previous post.

Watts goes the extra mile as an all round battery management tool. Although it shows less detailed information about the battery than either Battery Diag or coconutBattery, it does enable you to set notifications to warn you about specific battery events such as low battery alerts, and reminders to unplug your laptop from the mains after a certain amount of time. In addition, Watts helps you manage your calibration cycle by providing details of what you actions you need to perform to keep your battery in tip-top condition. Watts also keeps a user driven record of the battery's capacity, but you can't do anything with it, except look at it! Watts is a bit pricey but given the cost of fitting a new battery, an extra couple of quid may prove a sound investment.

The four Watts screens

As is the case with many utility type programmes you sometimes need a couple of tools to get the best mix, and these three apps have served me well enough over the past few years. As I was writing this, I came across another battery management offering called FruitJuice which I'm running as a trial. FruitJuice seems to be very similar to Watts, but is even pricier at £6.99 on the App Store. The main difference appears to be a rather natty graphical display of battery history but I've not used it long enough to generate a graph yet! I think I'll be sticking with Watts after the trial is over.

I genuinely believe that it is worth paying attention to your battery and how it performs over time. Good battery management pays off in the long term - and let's face it - any laptop with a dodgy battery is of little use to man nor beast! Especially when you're on the road without a power supply to hand!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Power to the People! Battery Highs and Woes...

Amongst all the amazing technology advances that have taken place during my lifetime, it’s easy to forget that the majority of gadgets need electrical power and that portable gadgets need portable power supplies - batteries. Battery technology has improved over the years, but not at the same sort of rate as, say, CPU chip technology.

Devices last much longer than they used these days, but it is questionable about how much of that improvement is because of the battery and how much is down to the more efficient components.

I’ve been a bit concerned about the battery in the MacBook Air for a few months now. I tend to keep a close eye on my laptop batteries, recalibrating them once a month and never going more than 12 hours without removing them from a mains outlet. But the internal battery of the 2011 MBA has been steadily going downhill for the past 12 months. According to my coconutBattery records the battery had gone through 96 full recharge cycles and was down to 68% of its original capacity - meaning I was struggling to get more than a couple of hours out of it when on the road, even running with just about everything turned off - no wireless, bluetooth, single applications, low brightness, etc. Apple’s published battery life for the 13” i7 model was 7 hours. To add to my concern, the battery health status always read “Check Battery”.

Since my AppleCare agreement for the MBA was coming to an end in the summer, I decided to take it in to the Leicester Highcross AppleStore for a health check. It’s a four hour round trip for me so I booked a genius bar appointment for 11:15 a few days previously with a comment about the problem and the likely outcome - a new battery. AppleCare doesn’t support replacement batteries unless they are deemed to have “manufacturing defects” so I wasn’t expecting a free battery - but figured the labour costs might be covered.

On arrival at Highcross I managed to get myself registered fairly quickly despite the place being in chaos. Almost all their support systems had crashed so they were relying on bits of paper and good memories. Luckily the extended diagnostics suite that the Apple techs use was available and within a few minutes confirmed that my battery was indeed “pooped”. My 68% was well over-optimistic - the diagnostic indicated a figure below 60% of capacity.

Because of the systems problem they couldn’t check the part numbers required and therefore couldn’t tell if they had one in stock, but they did say that they’d replace it free! I left the laptop with them and went for a walk for a couple of hours as they suggested.

By the time I got back all the systems were back on line and no batteries for that model were in stock, but one had been ordered for me and they’d mail me when it was available. I got an email the next evening, went back to the store the following day and 90 minutes later had a new fully functioning battery. Which, by the way, should have cost £114.83, including fitting and VAT!!

I was travelling yesterday so got the chance to put the MBA through its paces. In a normal operational mode - that is, with wireless, bluetooth and multiple apps running, I got two and half hours of use and there were still nearly three and a half hours left on the clock - a threefold improvement. In fact the time remaining indicator was increasing, so I may well have been approaching the 7 hour mark if I’d still been checking it.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the battery monitors that I use - coconutBattery, Watts, and BatteryDiag. Until then, thank you Apple - you have completely vindicated my decision to take out AppleCare!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

5 Years and 100 Posts...Happy Anniversary to the Apple Harvest blog!

I published first Apple Harvest blog post in July 2009, and, today, just under five years later I’m posting the 100th entry. I might not be the most prolific blogger in history, and I’ve never made a cent out of it, but I’ve had a lot of fun writing the posts, and I hope a few people have enjoyed reading them. Maybe some of you have even been able to resolve a problem or decide on a purchase as a result of what you’ve read here. That would be a real bonus. I’m looking forward to writing the next 100 posts - though I hope it might not take so long this time.

Since that first post the Apple Harvest has been through quite a lot of change. It has had temporary HQs in Derby, Zurich and New England. Posts have been written on 4 different Macs - the original 2007 MacBook Pro, the 2008 iMac, the 2011 MacBook Air, and the 2012 iMac. All of which are still going strong.

I’ve also read the final published blog on my original iPad, my iPad 3, original iPad mini, iPhone 3s, iPhone 4 and iPhone 5. Along the way I’ve also listened to music on my original iPod touch and an iPod Classic. Network support has come from various Airport Express devices, an Airport Extreme and a Time Capsule.

There are probably enough cables to stretch the length of the UK and enough external hard disks to store every episode of Coronation Street (approaching 8500 at the time of writing), Eastenders (nearly 5000 episodes) Neighbours (nearly 7000 episodes) and a bit of room left over for Dr Who (900 episodes).

My downloaded media library has grown from 0 bytes to 1Tb (previously everything was on CD or DVD), and I’ve read just about every book about Apple and Steve Jobs that has ever been published (before 2007 I’d read just about every book about MicroSoft and Bill Gates!). In order to get those downloads, the internet speed into Apple Harvest HQ has gone from about 3Mbps to 130Mbps, and a lot of those downloads have been watched through the 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TVs.

Who knows what changes we will experience over the next 5 years or 100 posts, but I’m sure it’ll be exciting, and the Apple Harvest will be here to witness and document it - hopefully by thought control!!!

A huge and heartfelt “Thank You” to all the Apple Harvest blog readers for taking your time to read my ramblings - and for making the effort so worthwhile!