Netbooks have amazing battery life. This is a known factor, something which everyone assumes when buying a netbook. And it is, for the most part, true. Netbooks are rivaled only by certain ultra-low voltage processor equipped ultraportables, like the ASUS UL30A, when it comes to battery life.
But as someone who spends a lot of time looking at, handling and discussing netbooks I’ve started to get the sense that something very fishy is going on in the world of battery life. ASUS and Toshiba in particular has been making some rather insane claims about the battery life of their netbooks. According to ASUS even the 1001P, which has a small battery, can run for 11 hours away from a power outlet. Toshiba makes the same claim about its new NB305. The question is, do these battery life claims mesh with reality, or are they marketing white lies aimed to lure in consumers?
To find out I decided to take a look at a few popular, recently released netbooks and compare the battery life which the manufacturers claim these netbooks can achieve with the battery life which was actually achieved in tests by three well know review websites. I picked the Acer Aspire One 532h, the Asus Eee PC 1001P and the Toshiba Mini NB305 as my guinea pigs. What did I find?
- Claimed Battery Life: 8 hours
- About.com Review: 5 hours
- ComputerShopper: 6 hours 8 minutes
- PCmag.com: 9 hours 5 minutes
- Claimed Battery Life: 11 hours
- Laptop Magazine Review: 8 hours 40 minutes
- Notebook Reviews: 8 hours 1 minute
- Netbook Reviews: 8 hours 30 minutes
- Claimed Battery Life: 11 hours
- Engadget Review: 6 hours 30 minutes
- CNET Review: 7 hours 4 minutes
- Laptop Magazine Review: 8 hours 37 minutes
Ouch. The Acer Aspire One is the only netbook which seems capable of coming near its claimed battery life. In fact, in the PCmag.com review it manages to exceed its claimed battery life by over an hour. The ASUS Eee PC is able to keep things in the eight hour range, which is good. But it is still almost thirty percent less than ASUS claims. And then we have the Toshiba NB305, which only breaks the eight hour mark in one review. The actual battery life in the Engadget and CNET reviews is over 35% less than what Toshiba claims.
It has always been the case that manufacturers have been a little bold about the battery life claims in laptops and netbooks, but this is getting out of hand. I would love to know under what conditions Toshiba was able to achieve 11 hours of battery life. There are exaggerations, and then there are lies, and Toshiba’s claim is standing on the line between them.
It isn’t as if this behavior is a given, either. I noticed that both Samsung and MSI were much more honest about battery life, and Acer wasn’t too far off either. The Samsung N150, for example, is listed on Amazon.com as having seven hours of battery life. Most reviews show that the N150 obtains around six hours. It is still a little less than what Samsung claims, but the claim is at least plausible.
What’s also interesting is that, at least in the case of ASUS and Toshiba, the situation is getting worse. Here is the claimed battery life of two older products and the actual battery life found in reviews.
- Claimed Battery Life: 10 hours
- CNET Review: 6 hours 51 minutes
- PC World: 8 hours 11 minutes
- Laptop Magazine Review: 8 hours 57 minutes
- Claimed Battery Life: 9 hours
- CNET Review: 6 hours 14 minutes
- PC World: 9 hours 53 minutes
- Laptop Magazine: 9 hours 24 minutes
As you can see, the numbers here are much more realistic. ASUS is still a little overly enthusiastic, but two of the reviews found that it performed within 20% of its claimed battery life. The Toshiba NB205 in fact exceeded its claimed battery life in two reviews. Also interesting to note here is that the Toshiba NB205 appears to have better battery life than the newer Toshiba NB305 even though Toshiba claims that the NB305 lasts two hours longer than the NB205.
So why does ASUS and Toshiba now exaggerate the battery life of its netbooks by such a large margin? I think there are three reasons behind it.
The first is feature creep. New netbooks are supposed to be better than old ones, but Intel hasn’t upgraded the Atom’s performance, so netbook manufacturers have to find something else to thump their chests about. I’m sure Toshiba felt very embarrassed when they found their new netbook had worse battery life than their old one, but the marketing department wanted none of it. So 11 hours was slapped on the Toshiba and it was sent out the door.
The second is Pinetrail. Intel has made a big stink about Pinetrail, but as I’ve made clear before I think Pinetrail sucks. Pinetrail’s only real advantage over previous Atom processors is battery life, and it appears ASUS and Toshiba and took that idea and ran with it regardless of how large the actual battery life increases were.
But the most important reason why they’re doing this is because it works and no one is calling them out on it. Sure, enthusiasts know that battery life is usually exaggerated, but not everyone is an enthusiast. An exaggeration of 30% or more is a bitter pill, but many less-informed consumers will swallow it without knowing what they’re buying.
Of course, the purpose of this article is to call ASUS and Toshiba out on it, although I don’t know it will ever do much good. Still, someone has to say something. I know that companies are going to exaggerate. That’s what companies hire PR department for. But as I said earlier, there is a line between an exaggeration and a lie. ASUS and Toshiba are stepping on that line.
Do you have any theories about why this is happening? Or is there something I am missing? Let me know in the comments.