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!

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