A Day in the Life of the M1 MacBook Air’s Battery


Apple’s M1 chip has signalled a brand-new era for computing on the Mac. Seemingly gone are the days of “My RAM’s bigger than yours”, and endless arguments over who to blame for the slow progression of MacBooks (was it really always Intel’s fault?).

It has also revealed what many have claimed to be colossal improvements in battery life for Apple’s laptops.

I’ve been among them. I’ve referred to battery life as the M1 MacBook Air’s “best feature” and regularly call it “biblical” when answering comments on my YouTube channel.

However, recently, I stopped halfway through a morning of working solely on the M1 Air and found myself asking a rather simple question.

Is the battery life on these M1 MacBooks really that good?

Something had sprung a doubt in my mind. Maybe it was a cursory glance at the battery percentage which was lower than normal for that time of day, or perhaps it was because, deep down, I’m concerned that my opinion of the battery life has been shaped my marketing hyperbole and reviewer praise.

After all, is leaving a laptop to compile a bunch of code while unplugged really a decent reflection of how awesome its battery life is versus the outgoing model?

So, I decided to conduct my own M1 MacBook Air battery test. And the results were absolutely fascinating.

M1 MacBook Air battery life test: the rules

As always, I have zero interest in benchmarks. I want to know how the battery life translates to real-world productivity and convenience.

Thankfully, that made this particular test pretty straightforward. I’d simply pick a random day and use the Air for every task I needed to carry out that day.

I wasn’t allowed to tailor the tasks to push the battery, nor adjust my use of the laptop to either try and run it down more quickly or preserve the battery life. I would simply use it as though it was a desktop machine.

That meant forgetting about screen brightness, leaving apps open if I wanted to, and neglecting to close the lid when walking away from my desk.

So, the Air was charged overnight to 100%, and that’s where I started the journey early one Wednesday morning.

The test

I start work ridiculously early, but that has always afforded me plenty of time to cram loads of work into one day. It also means I can grab a coffee, sit on the sofa and undertake relatively basic admin tasks before everyone else wakes up.

This particular morning, I had the usual round of YouTube comments to catch up on and reply to, a few emails to deal with and a bit of blogging to undertake.

Standard stuff. No hassle for the Air, which remained at 100% for at least the first 30 minutes of that initial work period.

That 9% of battery life was lost almost solely to web browsing and email.

When I say “web browsing”, I’m often referring to web apps too, such as Notion and Google Docs. I’m conscious these often cause Safari to chew through more battery but nearly two hours worked and 9% down didn’t feel too bad at all.

However, I’m one of those people who experiences that entirely unreasonable feeling of disappointment when a battery’s level dips below 100% for the first time. It’s confirmation that, actually, this battery is fallible, after all.

Just over an hour later, I’d again undertaken a fair normal variety of work, although, this time, it included some time in my members’ Discord server.

During that time on Discord (I was running the app, rather than the web service, which I feel it’s worth mentioning), a member known as Telly asked how the test was going and, specifically, what the screen brightness was set to.

So, I checked and discovered it was bang-on 100%. I didn’t feel like lowering it, either, and that’s an interesting aside if you’re currently considering between the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro. The latter has a slightly brighter screen, and it’s during bright days like the one I’d chosen for my test that it might be more useful.

Incidentally, if you need further help choosing between the two, I recently published a video guide:

It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you get up early, right? At this stage, I’d near as dammit worked half a day’s ‘normal’ shift (whatever that is), and the Air’s battery still had comfortably more than half left in the tank.

By this time, I was conscious of how I was using the laptop and, specifically, how many apps I was leaving open.

At this time of the day, the active apps on my dock looked something like this:

Add to that a couple of Safari tabs, and it was a fairly busy machine. Although, I won’t lie – the battery life was starting to make me question whether the Air would make it to a 17:30 finish.

I had to remind myself at this stage of how far I’d come. I was now approaching five hours of work and the battery still hadn’t hit the 50% mark. That’s pretty impressive, by any measure.

However, it’s at this time of the day that I usually open and use Microsoft Teams. I’ve heard about its tendency to leak memory like water through a sieve, but I’ve never really paid much attention to its impact on battery life.

It felt like this was a pivotal moment for the M1 Air. How would it handle Teams running for the rest of the day and an impending – although admittedly simple – Final Cut Pro video edit?

Reflecting on the morning’s work, it had been completely non-intensive – as far as the MacBook Air was concerned. I never once pushed the CPU or asked it to do anything more than track the cursor on the screen and respond to text input.

The afternoon would be different, owing to the fact I had some Teams calls to join and the aforementioned video edit to take care of.

After lunch, I returned to the Mac, having closed the lid out of habit. It had somehow lost 2% in that time, which may be due to the number of apps I had left running in the background, but it’s still pretty impressive nonetheless.

I must admit, being able to happily leave a laptop unplugged for an hour with little worry about how much battery will be left when you return is rather lovely.

Fairly big drop that, right? Less than an hour worked and 10% gone.

Something was different. It was beginning to feel like the battery was draining quicker during the afternoon.

This prompted me to have a quick scan of the menu bar to assess what background tasks might be running. They included Dropbox, Day One, Toggl, Creative Cloud and Fantastical’s helper app. Not particularly strenuous.

Six hours of work and 60% battery consumed isn’t bad, but it isn’t “biblical”, is it?

More pressingly, I had a couple more Teams calls on the horizon and that video edit to undertake. Not to mention three and a half (at least) hours of work remaining.

Things were suddenly beginning to look rather bleak on the M1 battery front.

Due to the perennial problem of having to wait on other people, the video edit was still on my to-do list. However, in a little over one hour and 15 minutes, the M1 MacBook Air had chewed through 18% of its battery, and all I’d done was open and close Final Cut Pro and continue working in apps like Ulysses and Safari.

Surely, this thing wouldn’t hold on until the end of the day?

If you’ve ever watched the Top Gear episode where Jeremy Clarkson attempts to drive the length and breadth of the UK on a single tank of fuel, you’ll know how I felt at this stage.

Fourteen percent is dangerously low. I know that at 10%, macOS issues a battery warning and, at that stage, it’s pretty much game over – you have to plug in if you want to avoid losing anything.

During the 30 minutes since the previous update, I still hadn’t undertaken the video edit and had continued the very basic work (as far as the Mac is concerned) which had defined my day.

I’d plugged in an external USB drive for the video footage, but that’s pretty much the only sizeable change in state during that time.

Game over. Nearly eight hours into my workday, macOS signalled that now really would be a good time to plug that charging cable in, if I valued my work and livelihood.

I never got as far as the Final Cut Pro edit and I couldn’t risk trying it on 10% battery.

The party was over. The M1 had been defeated in less than my working day.

Conclusion

I immediately jumped onto my Discord server and asked members to guess how much battery I had left, nearly eight hours in.

They were shocked when I explained that the red battery indicator of death had appeared. And I kinda see why – I was disappointed, to be honest.

Then, someone (hey, Justin!) pointed out that I’d been Teams running for a large portion of the day and that it would be worth testing again without it spewing its memory leaks all over my pristine M1 MacBook Air.

So I did exactly that yesterday, and… well, the results were worse. I reached the dreaded 10% mark at 15:45 with nearly 7.5 hours worked. The only difference in terms of workload was a brief bit of time spent in Lightroom, but the rest of the day was the normal, processor-lite stuff I’ve noted before, and I didn’t once open Teams.

My use constitutes ‘normal’ business stuff, right? Is this the reality of the M1’s battery capabilities?

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About the Author: Mark Ellis

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31 Comments

  1. Yeah. My Macbook M1 experience has been roughly the same. It seems like the battery is drained halfway through the day and I am not a heavy user at all. I am basically just running word and internet browser. I am really questioning the legitimacy of the battery life claims and wondering what is causing this – defect or software?

    • I found that it was my screen brightness. Turned down a few notches and now the battery life is stellar.

      • Hei, when you turned down you screen brightness, on what level is that exactly? And what time of usage you get when turned down that screen brightness?

        • About 50%. Haven’t timed it yet, but well beyond the 8 hours during this test.

  2. Finally I see someone with the same battery life!. I get 6~7 Hrs with daily tasks. 100% to 20% [20% means death for me!]
    Can you please post a video on how to improve battery? [I dont think I have a defective battery]

    I did check with Apple Support, they say first 48Hrs it will take more battery for indexing and identifying usage pattern.
    But after 2 weeks its the same.

  3. But, Yes, I need to take a look into the brightness levels.
    Another thing – How long it does take from 0% to 100%? For me it took whole 2.5Hrs.
    Please post a video covering all these

    just forgot o add in previous comment
    Thanks for all your review videos and blogs. They are really a honest! thanks lots

  4. I also in the same boat with my M1 Macbook air. While I did not document how many hours I’ve been using it, I know for sure that it has been less than 2 hours over the course of an entire day with 50% brightness and the cover closed when I am not using it. So 12 hours after I first turned it on and less than 2 hours actual usage, my battery is down to 45%. I have safari open (with about 45 tabs), Firefox, Notes and Preview. I do notice that each time I open the computer up to do a simple email check, the battery is down a couple/few percent. This never happened to my intel macbook pro. Very little drain – if any when the computer is not in use. I’m quite disappointed. It’s a fast computer but I mainly purchased a “lesser” computer to replace the 16″ macbook pro just for the “stellar” battery life which to me is very similar to the intel.

  5. Hi Mark,
    Have you considered making another video with the brightness at 50% ?

    For me, the battery life would be a reason to purchase but if it’s not that much better it’s a big downer. I was surprised by the length in this video (disappointed really).

    However when I put a test machine to 100% brightness it’s so bright I would never use it at that level. I’m using it now about 35% (can’t tell exactly).

    This test machine arrived on Thursday (it’s now Sat morning). It’s been used heavily for one night (4-5 hours) writing software and is at 55%.

    I’ll do the same test you have done and report back here. If others do that you would be in a far better position to judge real world use (I also don’t really think benchmarks prove very much).

    • Yep, I did, and it made a huge difference! Look forward to hearing your experience.

    • I have similar issues , but only when connected to an external monitor via HDMI convertor. Sometimes I lose around 30% battery in a day by just connecting the monitor via HDMI.
      I have weekend zoom calls of about 3 hrs and 3 hrs of design work with an external display. I get about 6 hrs of battery life. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but based on apples presentation I expected more.

    • Also bought it for battery life and thought I could use it more for work during the day. I am fairly disappointed.

      • If you haven’t already, try lowering your screen brightness – makes a big difference.

  6. I’d be interested in knowing the current Max capacity of your MBA. According to Battery Health 2, the max capacity still reads 4382, but after a full charge I only get up to 4270 – down about 2.5%. I’ve only had the laptop for 2 weeks and am concerned that the battery is not up to spec.

    • MacOs to Protect ur battery doesnt charge it fully. Tht is good

  7. Same situation for me, averaging about 8 hours in total for my 16GB/1TB M1 MBP. Been back and forth with apple support and they’ve given me a diagnostic app to run in the background that scrapes the data before I send it back. Be interesting to see what they say is the issue for me.

    • I’ve got some more thoughts on this which I’ll be publishing soon – stay tuned.

    • So, what happened with that? Did they find anything out of the ordinary?

  8. What I found as the larger battery drainer is Google File Stream (just Google Drive now). Do you have it too?

  9. I had the same thing, that’s why I am here. 5-6 hrs from 100 to 20% .. included browsing, 2 hrs zoom meeting, 1 hr video, downloading update, and other minor things .. is it defected ?!

  10. I just Bought my MacBook two weeks ago and I charged it may be like three times since then. I thought it could go up to 9-10hrs and was thrilled by the idea of bringing it to a class without having to charge it on the eve. But I noticed the battery drains fairly quickly after reaching 70% i have only browsed and done reading so far. ( not much streaming and online tv/music) so I don’t think it’s any better than the macbook retina in battery life or quality.

  11. One of the biggest battery drainers is not the software but the screen brightness. People take screens too much for granted.

    If a Intel + Screen uses lets say on average 4 + 6W for each, it does not matter if your M1 does 2W + 6W, your still draining at 8W / H vs 10W/H. So it looks like your battery gain is a lot less special them it really is.

    The advantage of the M1 is on the CPU/SOC and pushing a Intel/AMD will result in a power usage 4 to 5 times higher then a M1. But most people do not push their system and simply drain their battery with the screen. ESPECIALLY if you put a screen at 100% brightness.

    Take a monitor and put it on a power meter. Then monitor the difference between 20,50,100%, now calculate this over X hours. That is like having your CPU run a medium workload over X hours. I wish that people better understood that screen brightness is one of the major killers of battery, not just the CPU/SOC combination. Also external peripherals can really drain batteries ( also overlooked ).

    The M1 solves one issue but there are multiple ones. Notice how the tests on notebookcheck are done at only 150nits. Or Apple used “8 pushes up from Zero” for their tests.

    Also what monster uses 100% brightness inside on a screen ( you like to ruin your eyes? It stresses eyes a lot ).

    A better question is if the new mini-led screens are more energy efficient ( this may also be a reason why Apple is going miniled for the new 14/16″ ).

  12. Using Microsoft Teams use more battery? 90% to 56% for about 3hours 30 minutes.

  13. Hey, I just bought an m1 air and I think that I am getting low battery life. I mostly use zoom, youtube, and Netflix with 50% brightness and I sometimes get like 13 hrs and 30 min of battery but sometimes I get less battery life with the same usage. Also I there was a day when the weather was very hot and I got bad battery life like 40%-50% of my battery was gone 4 hrs of zoom call but the next day I restarted my mac and the battery life was better. Do I have a defective mac?

  14. I have mine SideCar’d to my iPad Pro, have a Anker hub, and am using a Magic Mouse with mine. Usually running screen at 45% brightness… Currently I’m at 61% after 4 hours. And that’s pretty much most days. I do better when uncoupled for peripherals, but not by much. I too was wondering if I got a bad battery.

  15. Did anyone tried to see how long the MTG Arena will last on the battery, please? Business is business but Apple advertise this M1 as an everyday device for everyone, so I’m courious if the battery will last more than 3hr as comparable to an average 11th gen Intel.

  16. I am writing this in my 15th hour of usage with full-time video running in the background.. My brightness is way down in a dark room literally on 2 squares. Its really important to break in a battery correctly. First charge to 100% and then run unplugged until the computer shuts itself down. THEN fully charge it again and run it unplugged until the computer shuts itself down. Charge it up then and use it as you normally would.
    My laptop is plugged in 90% of the time. I do a full cycle to shut down 1 per month

  17. Normally get 10 hours, down to 15%. web/video
    We’re you on wifi, my usage seems a lot lower via cat5e. I have not finished testing yet, numbers above were via wifi.

  18. it’s not actually a good advice. Current lithium batteries don’t need a ‘break in’ that you mentioned in your comment. on the contrary, better keep your charge level between 20-80 percent to avoid fast degradation.

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