Apple MacBook Pro now gets thumbs-up from Consumer Reports

The publication says a software update from Apple fixes the battery issues it found in earlier tests.

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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
4 min read

Apple introduced redesign MacBook Pro computers in October, the first major update in four years.

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Consumer Reports is doing an about face on Apple's MacBook Pro.

The endorsement reverses an earlier call by Consumer Reports telling consumers to avoid the new MacBooks, for the first time ever, because of big fluctuations in battery life. The publication on Thursday said a software update issued by Apple has fixed the battery problems it found in earlier tests.

"With the updated software, the three MacBook Pros in our labs all performed well, with one model running 18.75 hours on a charge," Consumer Reports said. "Now that we've factored in the new battery-life measurements, the laptops' overall scores have risen, and all three machines now fall well within the recommended range in Consumer Reports ratings."

Apple plans to roll out the software fix it gave Consumer Reports to all users in several weeks, the publication said. Users enrolled in Apple's beta software program already have access to the update.

Apple referred CNET to its comment from earlier this week about the Consumer Reports battery test. It said, in part, that the setting used by the publication to test the MacBooks "is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage." It also said it had fixed the bug found in the test and that "this is the best pro notebook we've ever made, we respect Consumer Reports and we're glad they decided to revisit their findings on the MacBook Pro."

Apple's new MacBook Pro, unveiled in October, was the first major update to its high-end laptop in four years. Apple executives, speaking in an exclusive interview with CNET before the launch, dubbed the changes -- including a thinner design and a Touch Bar above the keyboard -- a "milestone" and a "big step forward" for its top-of-the-line notebooks.

The MacBook Pro was redesigned as people start to take a second look at PCs, many of which employ full touchscreen monitors, foldable bodies that let them turn into tablets and -- most importantly -- competitive pricing.

These Macs were meant to show Apple still cares about its computer lineup, given how much attention it's focused on its top moneymaker, the iPhone. Sales of the phone, which turns 10 this year, make up about two-thirds of Apple's revenue. But demand for the iPhone is slowing, which is why Apple needed to please some its long-time core customer base -- designers and creators who rely on the Mac.

It didn't take long, though, for people to complain about everything from the pricing, the lowest option for a Touch Bar version is $1,799, to the removal of the MagSafe charging port. Battery life quickly became a big issue, with many saying they got about a third the promised 10-hour battery life.

Watch this: Apple tries the second-screen approach with the MacBook Pro Touch Bar

One thread about the topic on Apple's support site has had more than 30,000 views and over 500 comments since it was first posted in late November.

CNET, for its part, didn't see any battery issues in its many tests of the new MacBook Pro. Reviewer Dan Ackerman gave the 13-inch Touch Bar model an 8.6 rating (out of 10) and said, "Apple's smart, useful Touch Bar makes it well worth splurging on the step-up version of the streamlined 13-inch MacBook Pro." CNET tests laptop battery life with a looping video playback, while Consumer Reports uses a browser-based benchmark. CNET's tests showed battery life in line with Apple's numbers.

Battery drain

In December, Apple removed the "time remaining" battery life estimate from its Mac software, saying the number has been inaccurate and the percentage remaining tally was a better measure. Consumer Reports' first findings from its MacBook Pro battery test came out nine days later.

"After factoring together our complete test results, Consumer Reports finds that all three MacBook Pro laptops fail to meet our standards for recommended models," the publication said at the time. "This is a real departure from past MacBooks."

The publication re-tested the machines after Apple identified an issue with the Safari browser that appeared to affect battery life during the publication's proprietary benchmarking tests. Apple released a software update to fix the issue on Tuesday.

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016)

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Even though Consumer Reports now recommends the new MacBooks, Apple hasn't escaped unscathed.

"Bottom line to me is that this news itself does not do any good for Mac, whether or not a battery issue exists," Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa said. "Even if there were no battery issue, it is hard to recover the product reputation as this news can stick to [a] consumer's mind."

And there are still plenty of people experiencing battery issues.

Jeff Geerling, a St. Louis, Missouri-based web and app developer, published a lengthy blog post Tuesday on why he returned his new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar in favor of one with normal function keys. "The battery is the straw that broke this camel's back," the 31-year-old wrote. "After two times using the Touch Bar model on the road without power nearby, I nearly lost it when my laptop was under 10 [percent] battery remaining after only three hours of use."

Geerling, a self-proclaimed Apple fanatic who has owned more than dozen Macs over the past 20 years, said he may think twice about buying a Mac in the future.

The battery issues he experienced "made me look elsewhere for the first time in many years," Geerling said in an interview. "If Apple continues to neglect the Mac while other manufacturers like Dell and Lenovo are catering to developers ... that's where I start to feel nervous about the future of the Mac."

Update, 2:55 p.m. PT: Adds Apple comment.

Does the Mac still matter? Apple execs tell why the MacBook Pro was over four years in the making, and why we should care. Read about it here.

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