Apple’s MacBook Pro No Longer Recommended By Consumer Reports Due To Wild Battery Life Fluctuations

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It seems as though Apple’s 2016 MacBook Pro refresh just can’t catch a break these days. When the notebooks were first unveiled in October, Apple fans complained about the lack of Kaby Lake, the 16GB RAM limit, lack of legacy ports like HDMI and USB 3.0, high price tag and the reduction in battery capacity in order to satisfy a never-ending quest for thinness.

It appears that the last bullet-point was the tipping point for Consumer Reports’ decision to no longer recommend the MacBook Pro. In fact, this is the first time that the organization has denied Apple’s MacBook Pro a “Recommended” rating. After hearing various reports online and numerous customer complaints regarding MacBook Pro battery life, the publication decided to purchase three off-the-shelf models to conduct its own testing — a 13-inch MacBook Pro, 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

Despite Apple’s claims that each model would consistently get over 10 hours of battery life, the publication’s testing showed widely fluctuating runtime figures. “For instance, in a series of three consecutive tests, the 13-inch model with the Touch Bar ran for 16 hours in the first trial, 12.75 hours in the second, and just 3.75 hours in the third,” writes Consumer Reports. “The 13-inch model without the Touch Bar worked for 19.5 hours in one trial but only 4.5 hours in the next. And the numbers for the 15-inch laptop ranged from 18.5 down to 8 hours.”

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Consumer Reports says that it usually only finds a roughly 5 percent variation in runtimes between battery runs using its testing methodology, with the final score given being an average of those measurements. “However, with the widely disparate figures we found in the MacBook Pro tests, an average wouldn’t reflect anything a consumer would be likely to experience in the real world,” it continues. “For that reason, we are reporting the lowest battery life results, and using those numbers in calculating our final scores.

“It’s the only time frame we can confidently advise a consumer to rely on if he or she is planning use the product without access to an electrical outlet.”

Consumer Reports conducted its tests using the default browser in macOS 10.12.2, Safari, and downloaded 10 web pages sequentially from an internal server over Wi-Fi. Display brightness was set to 100 nits and auto-brightness was turned off. Interestingly enough, testing found that the MacBook Pros achieved higher battery life figures when running Google’s Chrome browser instead of Safari. The thought of perennial resource hog champ Chrome winning out in a battery life test tells you that something incredibly wonky is going on in Cupertino.

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Concerns over MacBook Pro battery life were brought up almost immediately after the notebooks were first announced in the fall. Apple's Phil Schiller was asked why the new MacBook Pros top out at 16GB of memory, and responded that it was in part to preserve battery life (although it’s also a limitation of Skylake). “To put more than 16GB of fast RAM into a notebook design at this time would require a memory system that consumes much more power and wouldn't be efficient enough for a notebook,” wrote Schiller. “I hope you check out this new generation MacBook Pro, it really is an incredible system.”

We must also consider that these new 2016 MacBook Pros come with dramatically lower battery capacities compared to their predecessors:

  • 15-inch MacBook Pro (2015): 99.5 WHr battery
  • 15-inch MacBook Pro (2016): 76 WHr battery
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (2015): 74.9 WHr battery
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (2016): 54.5 WHr battery
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (2016): 49 WHr battery

All of this begins to make sense when you couple this information with Mark Gurman’s report about turmoil inside Apple’s Mac division. “Apple engineers wanted to use higher capacity battery packs shaped to the insides of the laptop versus the standard square cells found in most machines,” wrote Gurman. “The design would have boosted battery life.”

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However, this new battery failed to meet performance targets during internal testing, so Apple decided to go with an older design rather than miss the critical holiday shopping season.

One last note; Apple received so many complaints from customers about battery life on the 2016 MacBook Pros that it decided to take action with the macOS 10.12.2 update. But rather than make software optimizations to address the underlying issue, Apple simply removed the “Time Remaining” meter from the Menu Bar.