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A defensive look at the MacBook Air battery

Batteries in laptop computers yearn to be free.

The new MacBook Air laptop has one killer feature, the non-removable battery. Killer as in deal-killer. As in why would anybody use a laptop that has to be shipped back to the vendor to replace the battery? It boggles the mind. Here's why.

Have any sensitive files on your computer? Files you'd rather other people not see. Many of us do. Do you like the idea of your sensitive files sitting in a package on a UPS truck? Or being in the hands of a company Apple sub-contracted repairs to? Of course not.

Remembering to remove all the sensitive files from a MacBook Air before mailing it is only the first problem. Problem two is not making a mistake and missing a couple files.

Speaking of a UPS truck, laptop computers are fragile. And, computers disappear during shipping. Defensively speaking, I'd make a disk image backup of the hard disk before mailing back a MacBook Air.


What if your perfectly working MacBook Air gets damaged on its way to Apple? According to the company:

"Service may not be available if your MacBook Air has been damaged due to accident or abuse. Please review Apple's for further details."

But suppose all goes well. The MacBook Air gets shipped to Apple for a battery replacement and arrives in perfect condition with all sensitive files removed. You can still get screwed. On their Apple says:

"Will the data on my MacBook Air be preserved?
Don't rely on it being preserved. Many repairs require Apple to replace or reformat the hard disk, which will result in the loss of your data ... Apple and its AASPs are not responsible for any damage to or loss of any applications, data, or other information stored on your MacBook Air while performing service."

To me this means you not only need a disk image backup before sending a MacBook Air back for a new battery, you also need a backup of the backup.

Apple now charges $129 in the U.S. to replace the battery on the MacBook Air. Who cares? No one needs a battery replaced now. The question is, what will Apple be charging in two years when the first Air users need a replacement? Apple may decide to charge whatever the market will bear, which could well be more than $129. Air owners will have no leverage, they'll have to pay whatever Apple feels like charging in their time of need.

Some people use their computers for a long time. Will Apple still offer to replace the battery in 6 or 7 years?

While the battery is being replaced, you have no laptop computer.

Finally, there is the obvious.

The whole idea of a 3-pound laptop computer is to use it while traveling and this often means computing for hours away from electrical outlets. Many people carry an extra battery. Fellow CNET blogger, Gordon Haff recently wrote that he carries two extra batteries when he travels with his ultra-portable laptop. As a Seinfeld fan, let me put it this way: no spare battery for you, MacBook Air owners.

All in all, the non-replaceable battery seems like a really bad idea.

Update. January 24, 2008. I left out another drawback. There are times when a laptop computer gets so screwed up that the only way to reset it is to remove the battery. No can do with the Air.

Update. January 21, 2008. A fellow CNET blogger, one who refuses to provide his/her name had this to say about the battery in the Air:

Let's face it: Apple's done letting you get a new battery when the stock one won't hold a charge anymore and having you milk your device. Their philosophy is that you should be turning these suckers over every two years or so, partially because that's the rate of significant advancement for components. In two years, it's going to be out of date. You may not like that philosophy, but the Macalope's found it fits his personal buying pattern anyway so no big whoop.

Wow. Talk about drinking the Kool-Aide.

See a summary of all my Defensive Computing postings.