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What is the "real-world" battery life of the "Mid-2012" and "Early 2013" 15-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro? How does the battery life compare to the "regular" Mid-2012 MacBook Pro and the models replaced?
Please note that all notebooks mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. However, this Q&A is up-to-date and can be quite useful for anyone buying or selling one of these models on the used market. Battery life for the current "Late 2013" MacBook Pro line may also be of interest.
The "Mid-2012" and "Early 2013" 15-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro models (A1398) officially provide "up to seven hours" of runtime in "wireless web" use according to Apple provided test results.
Apple formally estimates the same seven hours of runtime for the "regular" Mid-2012 MacBook Pro models as well as the Late 2011 MacBook Pro line that proceeded it.
These Retina Display MacBook Pro models share the same integrated and glued "95-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery." By contrast, the "regular" Mid-2012 13-Inch and 15-Inch MacBook Pro models have an integrated, but not glued, 63.5-watt-hour or 77.5-watt-hour battery, respectively.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Retina Display MacBook Pro)
Official Battery Life Testing Criteria
In fine print, Apple explains that battery life estimates originally were determined using a preproduction version of the 2.6 GHz model and updated in January 2013 using a preproduction 2.7 GHz model. The company more precisely specifies that the "wireless web test measures battery life by wirelessly browsing 25 popular websites with display brightness set to 50%" but also disclaims that "battery life varies by use and configuration."
Apple's official battery life numbers were quite reasonable for the regular Mid-2012 MacBook Pro models -- and they have been reasonable in recent years in general -- but objective test results from third-parties still may be of interest.
Third-Party Battery Life Test Results
In particular, independent testing methodologies vary and can provide a solid idea of the battery life performance in different usage scenarios.
[The Retina Display MacBook Pro] lasted an excellent 8 hours and 2 minutes. This runtime is an hour longer than Apple's 7-hour claim. The non-Retina MacBook Pro from 2011 lasted a longer 8:23, but that notebook isn't nearly as powerful. . . the average thin-and-light [Windows] notebook lasts 6:18.
For our first battery test, we managed right around five hours of battery life while installing software, downloading updates, checking email and Twitter and generally pounding pretty heavily on the machine the whole time. There were some periods where we were downloading while the display went to sleep, but otherwise we used it pretty consistently. . .
The second time around, we primarily looped an DVCPro HD QuickTime file using QuickTime Player X from 8am until the MacBook Pro forcibly went to sleep around 12:46pm -- a pretty reasonable four hours, 46 minutes of constant use with the screen on the entire time.
Fire up the dGPU and even a light workload will get cut down to around 5.5 hours. Moderate usage will drop battery life to around 5 hours, and if you fire up the dGPU you’ll see that cut down to 3.5. The heavy multitaskers in the audience will see a bit above 2 hours out of a single charge. Note that all of these numbers are at 100 nits, drive the 2880 x 1800 panel at its full brightness and you can expect a tangible reduction in battery life. . .
I suspect most users will see around 5 hours of battery life out of the system compared to a bit under 4 hours out of last year's machine. At minimum brightness, typing a long document (similar to what I'm doing right now) you can significantly exceed Apple's 7 hour estimate. As always it really depends on usage model. Professional users doing a lot of photo and video editing aren't going to see anywhere near the max battery life, while the writers and general users will be quite happy.
Battery Life Summary
Ultimately, Apple's battery life numbers for the Retina Display MacBook Pro models are a realistic estimate of what one can expect in the "real-world" for light use. It's even entirely possible to exceed Apple's official numbers when not performing particularly "strenuous" tasks. However, battery life certainly will vary depending on use as the assortment of tests above demonstrate.
Also see: How do you replace the battery in the 15-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro? Is it even possible?