11″ MacBook Air Review: 5 Hours of Battery Life is Easy

Apple claims that the 11″ MacBook Air can run for up to five hours on a single charge. Once again, Apple’s battery life claims are accurate and perhaps a bit conservative.

It’s hard to take most PC manufacturers’ battery life claims seriously. The problem is that manufacturers often advertise  battery benchmark results that don’t reflect real-world use. Configurations with expensive options (such as solid state drives) are sometimes used in testing to create a flattering number to slap on the entire laptop line.

It’s usually impossible to come close to realizing the advertised  battery life times, leaving many users frustrated. The problem is unethical and the the practice would be equivalent to running mileage tests by pushing cars down mountain highways with zero traffic.

You can read part one of my 11″ MacBook Air Review here.

MacBook Air Back

For the past couple of years, Apple’s actually delivered on its MacBook battery claims. Apple is straight forward with how it tests MacBooks’ battery performance and it’s very easy to realize these claims if you pay attention to how you use and setup your MacBook Air.

11″ MacBook Air Battery Life Test Setup

MacBook Air Battery Gauge

Apple's MacBook Air Battery Life Claim

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I’m reviewing the $1,199 version of the 11″ MacBook Air. It comes with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. It is very similar, if not identical to the model that Apple used in its own battery testing.

Apple tests the MacBook Air battery life by surfing the Internet with Safari, the MacBook Air’s built-in web browser. Apple’s tests cycles through 25 popular sites, though the company doesn’t disclose which ones. Apple used a MacBook Air configured with the base 1.6GHz Core i5 processor and not the speedier and power-hungry Core i7 processor in its testing. The testers set the display to 50% brightness.

Real-World MacBook Air Battery Test

To test the 11″ MacBook Air I charged it up, then unplugged it and restarted it. I set the brightness to 50% and went about a normal afternoon’s course of work, which involves reading a lot of online articles, writing, email and visiting countless websites.  I took a few breaks, closing the lid to put the MacBook Air to sleep and stopping the clock each time.

I finished working for the day (I thought) three hours and five minutes into the test and still had 45%  battery life remaining. I imported a couple of hundred photos that I took during a family vacation in New York. I edited a few of them and shared them with friends and family.  While importing and editing photos in iPhoto, the estimated battery life remaining indicator dropped significantly. Keep in mind that the five-hour claim is for web browsing, not for running processor-intensive tasks such as processing photos.

After editing photos for exactly half an hour there was 27% left in the tank. I went back to work, editing some web pages and catching up on some reading. I worked for another hour and seventeen minutes before the 11″ MacBook Air’s battery was dead.

I used the MacBook Air for a total of 4 hours and 50 minutes, just ten minutes shy of Apple’s advertised battery life. That’s with using multiple browser windows, putting the MacBook Air to sleep and waking it up several times, and editing photos. It’s very clear that the 11″ MacBook Air could exceed five hours of battery life if you just stick to web browsing.

All-day Computing? 

When I started working today there was 97% of battery life remaining and the meter read 5 hours and 48 minutes. That was with a single browser window open. As I write this article in one browser window and browse the web in another, the MacBook Air’s battery meter says I have 3 hours and 25 minutes remaining. I’ve been working for an hour and  46 minutes.

A lot of people want a computer that can last on a single charge for an entire work day while or a cross-country flight. That’s certainly a possibility with the MacBook Air if your work day involves working on a browser most of the time. Of course it’ll be a challenge to leave your charger at the office if your idea of a work day is plopping down at a table at a café and hammering away on your MacBook for eight hours straight. But if your work day involves running around town for meetings and taking breaks, you could probably get by on a single charge as long as you learn how to manage your MacBook’s battery life.

Five hours is easy to realize with the MacBook Air using Apple’s recommended settings. By dimming the display below 50%, turning off Bluetooth and making a few other minor tweaks you should be able to get close to six hours of battery life in the real world. If you really want to tune your MacBook Air and your usage habits, you could probably get close to seven hours out of it, but few users will actually go through the pain of turning Wi-Fi off when not in use or staring at a dim display for hours on end.

Keep in mind that your mileage will vary. if you run processor-intensive applications your MacBook Air won’t run for nearly the advertised time. If you boost the screen brightness up to the maximum you’ll also get far less than five hours. But if you use the 11″ MacBook Air in a similar fashion to how Apple tests their MacBooks you’ll be good to go for five hours.

A little truth in advertising goes a long way.

 

Comments

  1. Sebastian Egger says

    Hey Xavier!

    What kinf od pics did you import to iPhoto? Raw Files? And if so, how much Megapixels have they been?

    Cheers, Sebastian

  2. Anonymous says

    My Macbook Air isn’t getting anywhere near that. Are you counting only the time you have the Air on? Or are you counting the down-time that it’s shut off as well?

    When I’m browsing, I get somewhere closer to the 3 hour mark… maybe 3.5 hours at most. That’s with power saving settings on (lowest brightness, screen shuts off after 1 minute of not being used, backlit keyboard off, flash content blocked, etc, etc).

    • EternalLiberty says

      I’ve had similar results with Reading1241. I love my MacBook Air but was expecting higher battery life. Until seeing that another user had the same results as me, I thought mine was possibly defective or needed to be calibrated. 

      • Xavier Lanier says

        That’s the time with the MacBook Air actually on. Some suggestions 
        - Make sure to only use Safari. Using Chrome or Firefox will take a big hit. 
        - Set screen brightness to 50% or lower. 
        - Turn off auto-dimming/brightness, which will automatically increase brightness if the MacBook Air senses that it’s too bright in your room/office. 
        - Use one browser window at a time, especially if you browse sites with a lot of rich media. 
        - As I mentioned, your mileage will vary depending on the kind of sites you visit and which apps you have running in the background. 

        • Gboue says

          Xavier,

          Do you know a way to retrieve/calculate the actual time on which the mac ran on battery?
          Thank you,

          Gerard.

    • Gsdf says

      if i had to make a guess as to what was causing your problem, i would say you need to disable flash. i can guarantee apple did not have flash running when they were running the battery endurance test.

    • anonymous says

      I purchased the old macbook air 11″ a week before the new one came out.  I returned the one I purchased to get the new one.  I returned the new one after a few days of use because I was only getting around 3.5 – 4 hours of use out of it with the screen dimmed way down and the backlight off on the keyboard.  So, I returned the new one to get the older version back.  Now I can easily get 5 hours out of the old version, and when taking notes in class with the screen dimmed, it can last for 7 – 8 hours, and it runs much cooler than the new one.  I am very happy with the older version and it was $170 less than the one that was just released.

        • Rich says

          That’s not so unbelievable. I have 7 lectures a day (each an hour long), and I use my air for histology and hospital placements. It’s a pretty heavy day, but it can last in 1 charge.

  3. Dale Strauss says

    Great picture there dad!  

    I’m looking at the 11″ Air for my daughter at grad school, but perhaps the slightly larger 13″ with more battery umph is the way to go for a student on the go all day. I’m beginning to wonder if the iPad, despite it’s limitations, isn’t the better solution for all day cruising between big iron sessions. Always get solid 8-10 hours out of it, and even if you have to carry the charger it is miniscule by comparison. With the addition of document support in iCloud for iOS5, this could be an education nomad’s ticket to success (especially with that Air tied to a 27″ screen). In fact, she has a perfectly serviceable 2009 13″ Pro right now, which could become a desktop computer with the iPad as teh mobile workstation during the day between classes and TA sections…hmmmmmm

    Where was all this computing goodness when I was in school? In SciFi writer dreams – we didn’t even have the Apple I back in those days!

    • Xavier Lanier says

      The iPad is a nice companion device for students, but I’d highly recommend investing in a notebook of some kind to get ‘real’ work done. I wouldn’t recommend writing term papers on an iPad. 
      The 13″ MacBook Air definitely has more power and much longer battery life. If she’s already going to be carrying around a book bag, the 13″ won’t be that much of a leap from the 11″. 
      The 13″ Is also better-suited to be a primary computer. The higher display resolution is really nice for multitasking. 
      One thing to remember- the MacBook Air’s charger is very small compared to the MacBook Pro’s. 

  4. Stuart Shelton says

    Are you sure about the Core i7 option draining more power?  Both Core i5 and Core i7 ave a 17W TDP, and my understanding was that Intel “bins” i’s processors so that ones which can operate faster within the thermal envelope have their multipliers locked to higher speeds, whilst ones which cannot sustain this and run hotter or are less stable have their multipliers locked lower.  Of course this may be a historical situation that, with today’s manufacturing processes, is no longer true…

    Regardless, my understanding of SpeedStep & Turbo Boost is that the processor will always run as fast as possible without exceeding it’s rated TDP – so you’d expect either Core i5 or Core i7 to run at just shy of 17W power dissipation under load, and for both models to clock-down to much lower than their rated speed when idle to hit the same minimal power usage as each other.  In between, the Core i7 may use more power per unit time, but it will also complete faster – with the trade-off likely in its favour.

  5. DS says

    Nice review, thanks. I’m eagerly waiting for my new custom 11″ MacBook Air (maxed out) to arrive. As a long term user of a 17″ 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, I regularly touch over 4 hours on a full-charge – so it will be interesting to see how the new little one performs.

    Thanks again for your review and power saving tips…

    :)

  6. Bob Scalise says

    Does anyone have battery life experience with new Macbook air 11 inch with i7 processor?

    • Erik R says

      Yes….I’ve got a maxed out 11in Air (i7, 256Gb SSD etc) ..I’m using OSX like one its advertised…2 desktops….7 or 8 open apps (Sparrow, iTerm, Mail, iCal, Reeder, Skype, Trillian, etc…..no MP3 conversions or anything heavy duty) BUT I’m getting TERRIBLE battery life…like maybe 2.5hrs? Also, I do have the brightness set pretty high….but what’s the point of having a great screen if it’s not really bright? I like a lot about my macbook but am VERY disappointed about the battery life. Is there an app that studies which process is killing my battery?

    • Erik R says

      Yes….I’ve got a maxed out 11in Air (i7, 256Gb SSD etc) ..I’m using OSX like one its advertised…2 desktops….7 or 8 open apps (Sparrow, iTerm, Mail, iCal, Reeder, Skype, Trillian, etc…..no MP3 conversions or anything heavy duty) BUT I’m getting TERRIBLE battery life…like maybe 2.5hrs? Also, I do have the brightness set pretty high….but what’s the point of having a great screen if it’s not really bright? I like a lot about my macbook but am VERY disappointed about the battery life. Is there an app that studies which process is killing my battery?

      • Jimmy Obomsawin says

        I’ve got the 13″ i7 and I’m only getting about 2.5 to 3 hours as well. I’m not giving it anything too intense. Pretty much just surfing the web, no video. My computer tends to run hot and the fan runs a lot. Hopefully a firmware update or 10.7.1 helps solve this problem.

  7. Anonymous says

    Interesting. Just read another article saying his test gave 2.5 hours before pooping out. I just got my MBA i7 with 256G SSD. Since this this is not my work computer I’ve only had an hour or two at a clip to play with it. Making it more difficult to evaluate is that my wife and I are sharing the MBA. Making it worse of course is that I’m going to be holding it up to my iPad as a gold standard (I know that’s not fair). But my general impression is that I should be able to get at least 2 or 3 hours out of it between charges without resorting to “hypermiling” techniques having to be employed. And that’s really what my expectation was. I was really torn between a MBA 11″ and a 13″ or even a MBP 13 due to battery life differences but my wife had a different agenda; she wanted to try to turn her iPad into an ultra book

  8. Space Toaster says

    Flash on the browswer is the biggest battery killer…..download ClickToFlash for Safari and rejoice.

  9. DMC says

    That’s not even close to reality. You simply can’t get 5 hours with the Air, mine (2011 11-inch same model as yours) with the screen dimmed down can’t last more than 2 hours. That’s it. There is simply no room for the battery.

  10. munchies17 says

    im looking to get the new MBA 11″. as long as i use recomended settings and safari, i should be fine in terms of battery life right?

  11. jack says

    i just purchased macbook air 13″ two days ago. i have a problem with battery life….it takes 2hours life only….im so pissed off….

  12. anonymous says

    I see a lot of negative comments about the macbook air and as someone who is considering buying one, I am not alarmed. I have had a old macbook and it run in battary for as long as I wanted. Although, its battary ran out of life in about two years, there is only me to blame for that, I think that macs are great. The fact of the matter is that, with making the best practices and not running intensive processes, you can use a macbook for five years before the software of the day needs more than your macbook can give.

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