The Energizer Bunny would be dismayed.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
Battery meters with real muscle
June 3, 2012
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard
I've never been happy with the way computers report battery life.
I don't know what's wrong with the software experts at Microsoft and Apple, but I do know they're asleep at the keyboard when it comes to showing me two simple pieces of information -- how healthy the battery in my laptop is and how much longer it will keep going before it needs to be recharged.
The Energizer Bunny would be dismayed. Fortunately, you can bang the bunny's drum yourself without paying a cent.
The solution? Put a real battery meter on your screen in place of that toy one from Microsoft or Apple. My recommendations are BatteryBar for Windows PCs and SlimBatteryMonitor for Macs.
Get BatteryBar from www.osirisdevelopment.com. Get SlimBatteryMonitor from www.orange-carb.org/SBM. Each one is free. (If you see a choice for a "pro" or paid version, skip that option.) If you have never downloaded or installed a program, ask a friend or neighbor for help first.
(I had trouble going to the free Battery Bar page. There's a Pro version that you don't need; it costs money. Don't give up if you get a runaround on the Battery Bar site trying to find the free version. I wish I had the power to force Internet companies to stop this kind of behavior.)
BatteryBar is impressive. I tested it on my Windows 7 netbook, so I can't tell you whether it looks the same on another version of Windows. But on Windows 7 it's probably the best little advertisement for the Mac-style dock Microsoft added to Windows; the icon itself, sitting in the dock (the Taskbar, in other words), shows your battery's remaining time in a clear, unmistakable manner. It's a "live" icon, just like the ones in the Mac's own dock.
Hovering your mouse pointer over the dock icon shows six main details of the battery's condition. I was surprised that all this information is even available on my PC. (That was my first thought. My second was "Why in the world doesn't Microsoft show that to me in its battery meter?" Some things, I guess, are just inscrutable.)
You'll notice from the screen shot accompanying this column that the battery "runtime" is quite high. Normal laptops usually get only a few hours of life between charges, but my little netbook uses a third-party super-sized battery for a lot of running time.
My recommended Mac battery meter doesn't have the same easy-to-read display, but it has a lifesaving feature all such meters should have -- when your laptop's battery power drops to a dangerously low level, SlimBatteryMonitor throws a giant warning message on your screen that you can't possibly ignore. And you can tell the meter at what low-power point it should warn you.
This fixes a problem with my MacBook Air's supposedly inventive way of notifying me. The Air speaks to me, saying "You are now running on reserve battery power," when the battery level gets low. I don't know about you, and please don't tell my wife, but I'm all but deaf to spoken warnings and admonitions after decades of married life. A big, glaring message on the screen works much better.
As for the battery itself, I'm often asked if there are ways to get more life out of a laptop battery. The answer is yes. I'll talk about that next week.