I admit that I’m among the many people who have celebrated the M1 MacBook Air’s battery life.
In fact, I got so excited about it that I decided to test the battery for a day and see how much I could really get from it. The results were pretty interesting.
As many pointed out, one of the key reasons I experienced less than stellar battery life during that test was likely due to the 100% screen brightness (although, in my defence, it was actually set to auto). So, I ran the same test a day later, albeit with 50% brightness, and I sailed easily through a working day with plenty to spare.
However, since then, I’ve once again started to question my original assessment of the battery performance on the M1 MacBook Air.
I think I’ve worked out what’s going on.
The M1 MacBook Air’s battery is great, but there’s a “but”
Don’t get me wrong – the battery life on the M1 MacBook Air is superb for a modern laptop. The same goes for the M1 MacBook Pro, which manages to squeeze an additional two hours out of the day.
However, we should keep in mind that Apple’s laptops have enjoyed great battery life for a number of years now. Even my 16” MacBook Pro is pretty decent in that regard – until you start doing any form of heavy-lifting.
What has increasingly bothered me about the M1 MacBook Air is how you need to use it in order to extract the impressive battery performance cited by every reviewer.
That’s the issue. That’s the big “but”. You have to think about your usage if you want to be impressed by the battery life. Because, as I’ve discovered, if you use it normally, it only drains slightly slower than Intel generation MacBooks.
”It’s the apps you’re using”
When I published both the written and video versions of my M1 MacBook Air battery test, lots of people commented on the apps I was using.
“Teams is a real battery hog. Why are you using that?”
“It’s because you’re using Trello. Don’t bother – it’ll kill the battery.”
“Spark Email is known to be a real resource hog on Macs. Use something else.”
“Did you have Slack open all day? That’s probably why.”
“You’re using Outlook? Don’t.”
If I acted on every piece of advice offered for improving the battery performance, I’d be left with Apple’s stock apps. I’d also have to ditch one or two apps I need in order to run my business.
Instead, I decided to switch from desktop to web app for platforms like Trello. But that didn’t help either, because Trello, like many web apps, regularly forces Safari to sit within the ‘battery shaming’ list offered by macOS when you click the battery icon at the top of the screen.
The other option? Close those battery-hogging apps whenever you’re not using them. But that’s a pain in the backside, and one of the best things about the M1 chip is that you can seemingly leave as many apps running in the background as you like with zero impact on performance (yes, even with 8GB of RAM).
That’s what I’ve been doing on the M1 MacBook Air. I daren’t leave Teams open. Trello (I’ve reverted back to the desktop app simply because it’s more convenient) gets closed as soon as I’m finished with it. I use Chrome occasionally, and I treat any foray into that environment a bit like I would a super-fast visit into a walk-in freezer; in, out, shut it off, don’t open it again until absolutely needed.
The issue with this approach is that you’re forever “thinking battery”. And it’s draining, if you’ll excuse the pun. It slows me down, too, and, on occasion, has resulted in me missing notifications via the apps which I’ve decided to close in order to preserve battery life.
This isn’t a problem
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve realised that it isn’t actually an issue.
If your M1 MacBook usage consists mainly of stock Apple apps, you will experience incredible battery life. That’s what this battery is made for – it’s how Apple achieves its quoted performance figures and why most benchmarks have been so impressive.
On the subject of benchmarks, as I’ve noted before, we’ve seen impressive results there simply because they’ve consisted of people leaving one solitary task (be it a video render or code compile) running overnight. Of course the M1 is going to deal well with that when it comes to the battery.
But if you’re like me – if you hop from one non-Apple app to the next and have got used to leaving them open for quick access, the battery life on the M1 MacBook Air is… ok. It’s perfectly adequate, but not life-changing.
However, I think we’re looking at this wrong.
The real star of the show is the standby time
I’ve noted before that the unsung hero when it comes to the M1 MacBook Air and Pro is the standby time.
Regardless of which apps I’m using (or, indeed, have left open in the background), the standby time on my Air is incredible. It’s easily the best I’ve experienced on any laptop.
Come to think of it, it’s the best standby battery performance I’ve experienced in a mobile device, period.
I occasionally charge my Air overnight. This is largely because I use it for a limited portion of the day (my M1 Mac mini is the daily driver) but also because it spends most of its time on standby and the battery simply isn’t touched. I genuinely don’t think it sucks away any more than a percentage point if left for 12 hours.
This completely trounces the in-use battery life for me, and it’s another reason the M1 is such a game-changer.
Just don’t expect the other-worldly claims if you use anything other than Apple’s own apps.
What have your experiences been? Let me know below.