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What is the battery life of the original MacBook Air in real-world usage tests?
Please note that the original MacBook Air has been discontinued. It was replaced by the MacBook Air (NVIDIA/Late 2008) models on October 14, 2008. For more recent battery life Q&As, please refer to the main MacBook Air Q&A page.
Officially, Apple reported that the original MacBook Air provided five hours of battery life "with wireless activated". This is a rather remarkable claim, as Apple more modestly stated that the "regular" MacBook models available at the time could provide "up to six hours" of battery life, but acknowledged that it was "up to 2.5 hours of DVD playback" and "up to 3.5 hours with wireless turned on".
Those who follow the computer industry are used to companies reporting "optimistic" numbers regarding battery life, and consequently, only real-world usage tests can provide a realistic estimate.
In extensive reviews, both MacWorld and ArsTechnica reported problems with extremely long battery charge times, and in follow ups each noted that this seemed to change somewhat over time, but they still found that the battery in the MacBook Air was slower to recharge than the one in other Apple notebooks.
As a result of battery problems, MacWorld declined to publish a battery life estimate in its initial review, but in its follow up, the publication noted that "the MacBook Air tended to run out of juice about 30 to 45 minutes sooner than either the MacBook Pro or the MacBook."
I'll cut to the chase here: the MacBook Air's battery life sucks. A lot. I found it to be a pretty big disappointment, holding it to my admittedly-high standards. I ran down the battery from full charge four times and came out with an average of two hours and 33 minutes. . . Yes, Apple sacrificed some battery life for the bigger screen that I love so much, but it also advertises a battery life with wireless productivity that's more than double my actual average.
In a follow up, the site reported that:
In the discussion thread for our MacBook Air review, many readers questioned whether my (average) 2.5 hour battery life was legitimate. . . here at Ars, we believe in real-world battery tests, not just turning everything off and pretending the thing isn't on just to see how long it will last while looping a song. My times ranged from 2 hours and 19 minutes to 2 hours and 44 minutes, depending on what I was doing during that time span.
Speaking to others about the battery life of the Air, my averages turned out to be, well, pretty average. Based on actual use, users I spoke to were getting between 2:00 and 2:45 depending on screen brightness and levels of disk activity.
Apple's 5 hour claim is laughable but not as much as I expected. If I wanted to I suspect I could hit 5 hours by making the web browsing test less stressful, but my focus was on real world usage scenarios, not proving Apple correct. Regardless, 4 hours and 16 minutes doing what I consider to be the intended usage model of the Air is respectable. It's not great, but it's not terrible either. . .
And then we have the multitasking scenario [XivD playback, web browsing, heavy downloading]. At just under two and a half hours, this isn't your do-everything notebook.
Apple claims a 5-hour battery life for the MacBook Air, but that's optimistic at best. We never achieved it and haven't found anyone else who has either. . .
Under the conditions [of writing a review], the MacBook Air ran unplugged for about 3.75 hours, until it warned "You are now running on reserve battery power". That's pretty reasonable, but still more than an hour from Apple's claim. And we saw the battery drain even faster when playing full-screen videos.
Historically, Apple's battery life claims have been pretty realistic, so perhaps the expensive SSD drive is the key to getting the claimed five hours. Or, perhaps there is a reason that Apple has removed the text "5 full hours" from the MacBook Air's technical specifications web page since it was introduced.
Ultimately, "five hours of wireless productivity" is an overly optimistic claim of battery life -- and based on real-world usage tests -- two and a half to four hours with wireless turned on, depending on individual usage patterns, probably is more realistic.
Also see: How does the performance and battery life of the MacBook Air with a hard drive compare to the SSD version? Is it worth the extra cost?