3 free battery monitors for your MacBook

Apple’s battery technology is better than most rivals and MacBooks last longer than almost any other laptop. However, batteries do deteriorate over time and after a year or two, it may not be working as well as it did when it was new. Battery monitors can show the charge status, life left, recharge cycles and general health. Replace the OS X menu bar battery status with a more powerful version.

OS X battery status

OS X shows the current battery status on MacBooks in the menu bar at the right hand side. It shows a small graphic and the percentage. To see more detailed information about the battery status, hold down the Option key as you click the battery level meter in the menu bar.

OS X battery status

The drop-down menu shows the time remaining on battery power and the condition of the battery. Here you can see that it is normal and if it says anything else then there is a serious battery problem and it probably needs replacing. There isn’t a lot you can do to repair a battery when it fails.

Take note of any apps that are using significant energy. In the screen shot there aren’t any, but if you are video editing, watching videos or playing games, you might see apps appear in the list.

Although the OS X battery status menu is useful, there is actually a lot more information available about the battery and OS X simply chooses to hide it. Let’s turn it off and replace it with a better battery status display.

Go to the Apple menu in menu bar on the left and select System Preferences. Find and click Energy Saver and down in the bottom left corner is Show battery status in menu bar. Clear the tick and OS X removes the battery status.

OS X battery settings

Battery technology

Before looking at the battery monitors, it is worth mentioning here a little bit about battery technology. With most things, the more you use them, the faster they wear out. Batteries are the exact opposite and counterintuitively, the more you use them the longer they last. It may sound strange, but a rarely used battery can expire at any time. It is really bad for it to be left discharged and it isn’t much better keeping it fully charged. Use it or lose it.

Battery monitors show cycle counts and this is the number of times a battery has been charged and discharged. This is not the number of times you charge a battery.

If you use your MacBook on batteries and run it down to 75%, charge it up then run it down to 25% and charge it up again, that is one cycle and not two charges. You used 25% charge the first time and 75% charge the second time making 100%, which is one charge cycle. Basically you add up the percentage used each time and count the times you use 100% of the battery.

The number of cycles a battery can last varies with the MacBook model and not all are equal. A late 2008 MacBook Pro 15in/17in is expected to last 300 cycles (it is never exact, so you could get more than this). That is surprisingly low compared to Macbook Pros from 2011 on, which can run for 1,000 cycles. To find out how long your MacBook’s battery is expected to last, go to http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1519

Battery Diag

Battery Diag is a simple battery status replacement that has a modern interface that is reminiscent of iOS. The colour scheme and icons are all plain and simple, and it looks good. Click the menu bar icon and you can see the battery capacity, which is down to 95% of the original when the MacBook was new. The current power level is 62%. At the bottom is a health icon, a battery cycle count, and the time remaining on battery power.

Battery Diag for OS X

A menu button enables you to choose to start Battery Diag at login, and to show the percentage battery and time remaining in the menu bar. An i button displays detailed information such as the remaining battery capacity, full capacity, design capacity, battery temperature and so on.

Battery Diag looks good and works well. If you want a simple replacement for the OS X battery status indicator, this is worth checking out.

The Battery

In some ways, The Battery is better and it has a display that is packed with information, but it does not show anything in the menu bar apart from an icon. This means that you can’t see the battery status while you are working on your Mac. You have to stop, go to the menu bar and click the icon. This is a falw that needs fixing.

Click the icon and the screen has lots of useful information and at the top is a large battery graphic, the temperature in C and F, percentage remaining and power in mAh. What’s more, it shows the time remaining according to activity, such as internet browsing, playng music, watching a movie or standby.

The Battery for OS X

The batter health section shows the cycle count, design limit, cycle count remaining, maximum capacity, design capacity and more. The information is excellent and if it had a menu bar status, it would be perfect.

Coconut Battery

Coconut Battery is an unusual battery monitor because it can be used in two different ways. It can be run as a desktop app on demand and you just run it whenever you want to get a status report on the battery health. It can also be run in menu bar mode as a replacement for the OS X battery status.

Whichever way you run it, the information is the same and it is very detailed. It shows the current charge, maximum and design capacity, temperature, usage, age in days, manufacture date, serial number, manufacturer and so on. It has a history tab that records battery usage and charging, and this enables you to monitor the battery health over time.

Coconut Battery for OS X

Another unusual feature is that the menu bar information is configurable and you can choose what information to display and in what order. For example, you can show the charge percentage, Watts and charging/discharging status.

Coconut Battery is a great utility and because it can be used as an app, you can use it alongside another battery indicator such as Battery Diag. Keep Battery Diag in the menu bar and just run Coconut Battery when you want a detailed report of the battery status.



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