Watts: Keep Your Mac’s Battery in Tip-Top Shape

You don’t need this app. There are good guides available on the Apple website to help you get the best performance and extend the life of your Mac laptop’s battery. You can even download from that page an iCal file that will add periodic reminders to your calendar, so that you’re more likely to remember to calibrate your battery. Follow that advice, and respond to the reminders, and you and your computer’s battery will be fine.

I’m on the second battery in my MacBook (which is coming up to its fourth birthday this week). Apparently it’s in quite good health at the moment, though it’s lost 18% of its capacity. You see, I’m not so good at remembering to calibrate it, and because I tend to use it all over the house, it’s constantly being plugged and unplugged, and is drained completely on most days. I’m not so hot on looking after batteries…

And so, though I know I don’t need it, I think Watts is well worth having. Read on for an introduction to this little app that could make it easier for you to look after your laptop’s battery.

What it Looks Like

Watts runs as a menu bar application – you can use it in place of the standard OS X battery monitor.

In the Menu Bar

In the Menu Bar

Click on the icon, and you’ll see a dropdown menu with a little more summary information:

Menu Bar Dropdown

Menu Bar Dropdown

The top section summarises your battery health and charge remaining, and the current battery state – whether or not your computer’s plugged in. The Show submenu lets you choose the form of the menubar information: you can opt to display the battery icon on its own, or add the time or percentage of battery charge remaining; or you can switch off the icon and show either the time or percentage on its own.

The Energy Saver Preferences link is useful for getting to the Preference Pane that controls your Mac’s energy use settings – you can also go there to turn off the built-in battery status monitor and opt to use Watts instead.

How it Works

The Calibration menu is where Watts gets down to its real work.

The Calibration Menu

The Calibration Menu

You’ll see that Watts remembers when I last calibrated the battery, and lets me know when I should do so again – six weeks after the last time. Click on the ‘Show Calibrations History Log’, and a new disclosure panel lists the dates on which the battery was properly calibrated:

The Calibration History

The Calibration History

The panel beneath that information changes as you go through the stages of calibration – in this screenshot, it’s showing what needs to be done in the first stage, though the information is greyed out since my machine’s not plugged in, so Watts knows that I’m not at that phase in the process.

As you follow the steps, notifications will pop up to remind you to move to the next stage in the process. I found this really useful, because I can never remember whether it’s three or four hours you’re supposed to let the machine rest after completely discharging the battery… Actually, it’s five hours, and you need to make sure it’s unplugged, which is the guidance given in step 5 of the calibration process.

Other Settings and Information

The other tabs on the interface let you see more detailed information about your battery: current number of charge/discharge cycles, battery capacity and current condition, and a textual summary of the same information:

Battery Information

Battery Information

The Notifications tab lets you set various kinds of reminders. Watts can work with Growl to let you know whenever the power cord is plugged in or removed.

This is worth knowing when you’re in the process of calibrating, since you need your machine to rest in either a charging or discharging state for various lengths of time, and Tiddles the cat can quite easily unplug a MagSafe power cord if he so chooses.

I also appreciate the reminder after 30 hours of plugged use that it might be a good idea to unplug for awhile and let the battery discharge a bit. And although I’ve not made use of the Long Term Storage reminders, I can see they would be helpful if you knew you were going to be away from you Mac for more than six months (*shudder*).

The final tab simply lets you manage how Watts works with the rest of your system – whether it starts automatically when you login, whether it uses a grayscale rather than a colour icon, and at what point after your last calibration it lets you know that it’s about time to run through another.

Preferences

Preferences

The Calibration and Information tabs have some useful information available from their help menus – click on the word ‘help’ at bottom right, and you’ll see (grammatically imperfect, but) clear explanations of various aspects of the app as well as top-tips for battery care:

Calibration Information

Calibration Information

These are nicely done – the information is clear and helpful, and some care has been taken in presenting it well.

In Conclusion

You don’t need this app. You will probably be fine without it, especially if you’re someone who remembers to do the right thing with your Mac’s battery. If you’re like that, I’m not like you, and I find Watts really helpful – and my guess is that many readers will be like me in this regard.

Watts is cheap and elegantly designed; it does a good job, and could save you needing to purchase a new MacBook battery a year down the line!


Summary

Your battery needs to be recalibrated from time to time to keep the onscreen battery time and percent display accurate, and to keep the battery operating at maximum efficiency. Watts helps you do just that!

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