Consumer Reports slams new MacBook Pros’ terrible battery life

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2016 MacBook Pro
The MacBook Pro's battery life problems drag the laptop down.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Consumer Reports just unloaded a mighty smackdown on the new MacBook Pro lineup, citing “highly inconsistent” battery life as the reason the latest Apple laptops failed to earn a coveted recommendation.

It’s the first time the well-regarded reviews organization flunked an Apple laptop. And the test results should give serious pause to anybody who is considering buying a new MacBook Pro.

“Battery life is an important attribute for a laptop, and it it represents a significant portion of our overall score,” wrote Jerry Beilinson in a post explaining the surprisingly bad results. “After factoring together our complete test results, Consumer Reports finds that all three MacBook Pro laptops fail to meet our standards for recommended models.”

This is a big deal. We’ve heard previous rumblings of MacBook Pro owners complaining about battery life, but Consumer Reports’ in-depth testing gives substance to the random reports bubbling up in online message boards.

Consumer Reports test results for MacBook Pro batteries

Consumer Reports put all MacBook Pro models through their paces repeatedly, using a standard testing scenario used for all laptops. The results ranged from remarkable to horrible.

“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,” the publication said. “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.”

The testers set the computers’ display brightness to 100 nits. They tried at least two versions of macOS Sierra — including macOS 10.12.2, which took the unusual step of eliminating the “Time Remaining” indicator for MacBooks due to, ahem, inaccuracy. Consumer Reports ran the MacBook Pros through a thorough in-house testing regime used for hundreds of other laptops each year.

Since battery life remains a crucial barometer for the usefulness of a laptop, the new MacBook Pros’ wildly inconsistent performance could be a bigger negative than the laptops hefty price tags or their less-than-stellar specs.

There’s one ray of hope in Consumer Reports’ findings, though: When the lab geeks reran the battery tests using Google’s Chrome browser rather than Safari, the battery life results were “consistently high.”

That’s a total reversal of the usual scenario, in which Chrome turns out to be a consistent battery killer.

As Consumer Reports notes, that could point to a software problem rather than a hardware deficiency. If that’s the case, Apple should be able to sort out this problem. Let’s hope engineers are working overtime in Cupertino right now.

Are you experiencing MacBook Pro battery problems?

If you’re using one of the new MacBook Pros, are you experiencing wildly variable battery life or other problems? Let us know in the comments below.