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How Important is a Removable Notebook Battery?

MacBookAlmost exactly a year ago, Apple (s aapl) introduced its unibody aluminum MacBooks. “Unibody” means that the case is a single piece, with the battery being sealed inside. My immediate reaction, shared by many road warriors and web workers, was horror: “They can’t do that!” Not only did Apple do it, but soon after, the range was expanded to include the 17” MacBooks as well. As of today, the only MacBook available with a removable battery is the legacy white 13” MacBook, whose days are believed to be numbered by many analysts.

So what happened when legions of Apple fans were faced with being unable to change out the batteries on their beloved notebooks? Did angry mobs descend on Cupertino? Not exactly. After the initial shock wore off, we began to ask ourselves how important removable laptop batteries actually were.

There are good arguments for removable notebook batteries, especially if you compute on the go a lot. Power outlets are frequently unavailable in locations such as conference rooms, convention centers and aircraft. Power access is improving in newer facilities but it is still easy to find yourself without power. Having the security of the second battery in your bag makes the quest for power a little less panicked. Also, replacing a battery that has outlived its hardware life requires no downtime.
A sealed battery has its advantages too, though. It can provide more power for the same weight/space as a removable battery, because you aren’t sacrificing some of the footprint to the hardware and case to make it removable. Your onboard battery will thus get you further with no need for extra power (or to carry around the weight of the back-up).

This debate was front-and-center in my mind when I purchased my latest computer, a MacBook, last April. My choices were narrowed down to a white MacBook with a removable battery, and the MacBook Air that has a sealed one. (Obviously these machines have a lot of other major differences, including their prices.) I was finally convinced to discard the battery difference as an issue when my geek husband pointed out that I rarely if ever used the backup battery that I had for the machine I was replacing. I realized that the spare battery was more of a security blanket that I hauled around than a necessity. Although I eventually purchased the white MacBook, I haven’t felt the need to buy a spare battery for it yet.

The reality is that only a small percentage of notebook users do purchase and use extra batteries. Apple seems committed to this path, and Dell (s dell) is also trying the concept out. Others may follow.

But heavy battery users are not completely out of luck, and we aren’t all doomed to a future of using our notebooks for four hours at a time. An accessory market has sprung up for external batteries for MacBooks. While not as convenient to use as (and definitely more expensive than) an onboard battery, they do fill that need for people who must have additional power.

We should remember that technology advances. Batteries will continue to improve and soon will be easily capable of getting a notebook through an entire workday. New aircraft are being built with in-seat outlets to power passenger electronics through long flights. Maybe Apple will even realize that there is money to be made by offering its customers the option of a battery upgrade at purchase.

Do you have a spare notebook battery? Do you use it?

18 Responses to “How Important is a Removable Notebook Battery?”

  1. i never ever had the need to carry spare batteries or replace them myself. I also got teh replacements at Apple, and somehow, most wherever you go, you find a sharging point nearby. at home my Mac is almost always plugged in, so the moment I leave hgome, I have 100% charge.i think a bigger problem with the nee MacBook Pros is the glossy display. I can never wear a light coloiurted shirt next to a window again!

  2. Indeed, I’ve never carried my extra battery on trips. I “fill” up at the airport before hopping on a plane. But I live in Chicago so none of my flights are too long.

    I think folks whose jobs require continuous travel might have trouble with unibody laptops.

    The availability of external batteries would seem reasonable for emergency backups in most situations.

    • One of the few times that I was glad I had my 2nd battery on my previous machine was the trade show trip I make once a year that requires flying cross-country. The ATL-LAX leg of the trip is 4 or 5 hours depending on which direction you’re flying. That’s too long for one battery.

  3. This reminds me of the discussion some years ago about how many PCI slots were needed in a computer. Yes, you could make an argument for more slots, but in reality very few people used any ports at all. This is where we are headed with batteries. Machines will be sold for the 95% of us that don’t carry extra batteries and third parties will develop solutions for the rest.

    I used to carry extra batteries but gave that up about 5 years ago. It is just not that critical.

  4. I went through a similar thought process before I bought My new Macbook a few weeks ago.

    I was seriously considering getting one of the last generation 15″ mainly for the removable battery and the Expesscard slot.

    In the end, after looking at how often I’m away from a power point for more then 3 hrs I finally decided to go for the new 13″ Unibody MBP as the trade-off was not worth it in my specific case.

    Also the availability of HyperDrive’s, Hyper Mac External battery pack means that if down the road, I need access to more power, I can always add one of these, which will anyway be lighter and have more capacity then carrying one or two extra battery’s.

      • I Agree, The Price is pretty steep, especially as its Apple only.

        If I could use it to charge other notebooks as well, then I would probably have ordered one already as I would be able to power any of my notebooks, or those of my team if needed (And had the correct tips).

        I’ve been looking for an alternative, and while APC used to sell something similar which worked with most Notebooks, It looks Like they’ve discontinued it as I cant find it anymore.

        Suggestions for alternatives would definitely be worth looking into, and possibly review.

  5. I personally have no need for it since I use my netbook at school, where I have ample access to power outlets, and my netbook’s battery lasts a solid 6-7 hours with the amount of work I do on it. An extra battery is overkill for what I do for it.

    I understand the need for it, but if my netbook didn’t have a removable battery, I wouldn’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

  6. The original unibodys had removable batteries. The first sealed battery unibody was the 17″ in January. The 13″ and 15″ models sealed models were introduced only three months ago at WWDC.

    Honestly, one could argue the first sealed battery unibody was actually the MacBook Air, released January 2008.

    I don’t claim the above invalidates your article; just trying to set the record straight. :)

    • I think you are right…I was remembering my reaction to the MacBook Air. Because it was obviously designed to be an ultra-portable machine and yet it didn’t have what to me was a key component for a portable – a swap-able battery.

  7. I couldn’t care less about the battery being removable so I can have two. I want it to be removable so I can replace it when it dies. I have never had a battery last more than about half the life of the machine itself.

    • It is replaceable – it just doesn’t have a cover that pops off. Apple recommends having Apple replace it ($179), but it is easily replaced by someone who is comfortable opening up their computer.

      Why would you think it is not replaceable?

      • Well, the phrases “unibody,” “sealed” and “made from a single piece of aluminum” do suggest not being able to get into the machine—that was my assumption also. I’ve had my older-model MacBook Pro for about 3 years now–and it’s about time for battery replacement #2. So the idea of not being able to replace a laptop battery does kinda suck…