'Consumer Reports' retests MacBook Pro, adds it to 'Recommended' list of laptops

Influential bloggers pan magazine's battery testing

Consumer Reports gave Apple's latest MacBook Pro laptops its envied "Recommended" label last week after retesting the notebooks, ending a month-long dust-up between the magazine and some Apple defenders.

"Now that we've factored in the new battery-life measurements, the laptops' overall scores have risen, and all three machines now fall well within the recommended range in Consumer Reports ratings," read an unsigned Jan. 12 piece on the consumer advocacy organization's website.

In the publication's original testing conducted four weeks ago, the MacBook Pro models -- introduced in October -- failed to make the Recommended list because battery tests returned results that "varied dramatically from one trial to another." For example, the 13-in. laptop with Apple's new Touch Bar ran 16 hours, 12.75 hours and 3.75 hours in three consecutive tests; the 15-in. Touch Bar notebook gave battery times between 8 and 18 hours.

At the time, Consumer Reports said that if Apple updated its software with changes to battery performance, the publication would retest the computers.

Both Apple and Apple stalwarts disputed the initial results.

In statements made to several outlets, including the Apple-centric blog, The Loop, the company said Consumer Reports' tests had relied on a developer-only setting in the Safari browser. "This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage," Apple said. The firm then blamed a bug triggered by that setting for the inconsistent battery results.

Some users, including Consumer Reports readers, seemed to confirm the magazine's findings when they related short battery lifespans on their just-purchased MacBook Pros. Widespread user reports earlier in December, for instance, cited rapid depletion of their notebooks' power and incorrect readings of the on-screen battery-time-left indicator. Apple responded to the complaints by dropping the time-remaining estimate. Instead, users were given only the option to display the remaining charge estimate as a percentage.

But others, including some influential Apple bloggers, took Consumer Reports to task.

"It's clear now that [the Safari bug] didn't justify the initial sensational ... report," wrote John Gruber of Daring Fireball. "There's no way they would've published that rushed initial report for a laptop from any brand other than Apple. Clickbait, pure and simple."

Jim Dalrymple of The Loop also weighed in, calling Consumer Reports "irresponsible" and concluding, "I don't trust a word these people say about anything."

Consumer Reports has drawn the ire of Apple before. In 2010, the publication refused to recommend the then-new iPhone 4 because of reception issues when users touched the external antenna. Four days later, CEO Steve Jobs held a hurriedly-called press conference to defend the smartphone, and took shots at media reports that had called out the iPhone 4's issues. "This has been so blown out of proportion that it's incredible," Jobs said.

After battery tests were rerun, Consumer Reports scored the new Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro notebooks at 75 (13-in.) and 74 (15-in.), comfortably in the Recommended range but lower than top-ranked rivals. In the 12-in. to 13-in. size category, for instance, the magazine gave 81 to the VAIO Z and 80 to an Acer Aspire; both were powered by Windows 10.

The fix for the Safari bug will be included in a future update for macOS Sierra, Apple has said.

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