Thursday, November 20, 2008

Caution! Avoid Exploding Notebook Batteries & Geniuses!

I am sure some of you may have already heard stories about this. I have heard them as well and thought that it would never happen to me. Well, it did. Most voice over talents use laptops. Statistically speaking, it will happen to more than one of you. This is story of my MacBook Pro, of how its battery almost exploded, and how it didn't because of pure luck. It is followed by a list of tips on how to avoid this from happening to you (if you only care about the list, jump to the last paragraph).

I recently switched to Apple. I used to be a "PC" guy. I have enjoyed using my new Mac laptop for many months already. Most of the time, I used it at one of my two desks (at home and at the office). I am into ergonomics. As such, I always place my laptop in a metallic base that raises the screen to my eye level (more on this later on). The only complaint I had with my laptop is that, sometimes, it used to get very, very hot. This only happened, though, when I would put the notebook on my lap (I use it while in bed). It would get so hot that I couldn't stand it, even though there were several sheets between the notebook and my lap. I used to solve this issue by placing a pillow underneath it. Also, every now and then, when overheated, the laptop would shut down and I would lose my work. Those issues were not a big deal to me, though. That was until last week...

Last Friday, the trackpad of the notebook suddenly stopped working. It wouldn't click. I didn't care too much as I commonly use a regular mouse. Yesterday, while in a meeting and not at my desk, I noticed that my laptop wouldn't sit stable on the table. I checked the bottom of the laptop and I was very surprised to see the battery had swollen and it was popping out of the notebook... significantly. I shut down the computer. I then tried to remove the battery. I could not do so.

It was so hot that I burned my fingertips. I jumped to another computer and did some research. I found that, in fact, Apple is known for having issues with notebook batteries. I also found out that the trackpad of my notebook wasn't really damaged. What actually happened is that the battery, as it swelled from the heat, pushed its way into the laptop and pushed away other components, causing a malfunction (picture below). There is more. I also discovered that the laptop battery had swollen so much that, by now, it should have exploded or caught fire. This picture shows the faulty battery (foreground) and a battery in good shape (background).

All this time, all these months, I had a faulty battery. It could have caught fire, toasted my laptop, and burned who-knows-what in my home or office along with it. But, why didn't it fail before? After some brainstorming, I figured it out.

It didn't fail thanks to the metallic bases I use to rise the computer. They were actually absorbing the heat, in turn, helping the battery cool off! How? Imagine you have a car that has a faulty radiator, no water in it, and doesn't tell you that it is overheating. You have been able to use it for many months just because you always drive at 100 MPH and the wind is enough to cool the engine. Well, that was my notebook... a fire waiting for its 15 minutes of fame. Anyway, that is the reason why my laptop would work great while on the desks, but it would overheat almost anywhere else.

What comes next surprised me even more.

I wanted a new battery quick and I knew that Apple had issued many battery recalls. Fortunately, I live in the city that never sleeps. I decided to go the 24-hour Apple Store in Fifth Avenue to talk to one of their "Geniuses" (that is the name they use for their tech support team), and get my battery replaced. I went online to book the appointment. To my disgrace, I found out that the only available slots at any given time were for four days later. I decided to go to the store anyway. After all, switching the battery wouldn't take them too much time and it was, obviously, kind of an emergency. I arrived there yesterday, right before midnight... (Before I continue, I must clarify that going to an Apple store in Manhattan is not like going to any other store from any other company. Going to an Apple store in Manhattan is like 'the Studio 54 of Geek Stores', the trendiest club in town where most of the times you have to make a line to get in, and you can only skip the line if "you know someone", and once you are inside the attention you get from their personnel is directly proportional to how cool and hip you look. I just came from seeing the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall...maybe I did not look trendy enough?)

So, I got to the Apple store right before midnight. I showed the battery to the Apple "Concierge". He looked at it with certain level of amazement (it is swollen more than others right before exploding). I asked him if they would replace it. He said "Sure, but you may have to wait around an hour before you can be helped by a 'Genius'". So I waited....and waited. I was later assigned to 'Genius' Sean. I asked Sean why there are so many battery recalls. He explained to me that, for my laptop, the batteries were being recalled because they would overheat and eventually become a fire hazard. I was happy. My research findings were right on the spot - I was now 'Genius' Alex! Sean also checked my computer, typed in some numbers and then said something along these lines of, "Unfortunately, the serial number of your battery shows that it is not one of the batteries that was recalled" (even though my battery was also swollen and, obviously, a fire hazard. "As such, we cannot exchange it for you." He then smiled and said "You can buy a new one for $129 plus tax right away if you want, but keep in mind that Apple doesn't offer any type of warranty on batteries". My jaw dropped. I had never heard a genius speak before and this was beyond any of my expectations. I know I am being sarcastic as I write this, but I am sure you can understand how I felt. I am not a genius and, as such, it is out of my capabilities to understand their complex levels of reasoning. I felt like a five year-old in a quantum physics class. As I didn't want to show how inferior my reasoning was compared to them, I quietly went on to buy the new battery. But wait! It gets worse. As I purchased the new battery I asked them if they would take the old battery and recycle it. The answer, "No. We don't recycle batteries in here."

Okay. I have now made public my frustration. I now feel better and I can give you my tips in how to protect yourself from, potentially, exploding batteries:
  • Never leave your laptop unattended in surfaces that are highly combustible.
  • Configure your laptop so that it goes into sleep mode automatically after a few minutes of inactivity. Theory says that sleep-mode consumes less power. Less power equals less battery heat.
  • When you feel the laptop is getting too hot, plug it into the wall. Most laptops don't use the battery while they are plugged to the wall.
  • If your laptop is getting very, very hot, call the tech support of the manufacturer. Something may be wrong with it or its battery.
  • Regularly check the physical appearance of your battery to make sure it looks okay.
  • Optionally, get a base for your laptop (it may help you ergonomically as well).

Voice123 - The Voice Marketplace
by Alex Torrenegra
Leader and Co-founder

Disclaimer: Alex Torrenegra is a college drop-out that studied engineering but never graduated. His tips, and burned fingertips, are not 'Genius' -certified tips. Always follow the instructions of your local fire department, manufacturer of your laptop, physician, skincare specialist, and avoid 'Genius' Sean, if possible.


Julie said...

Wow. I am planning to buy an Apple laptop. I will definetely consider all of your recommendations. Question: have you looked for other people in the same situation to yourself? Open a facebook group or something so the battery IS recalled?



Anonymous said...

I just called Apple because my battery also exploded. It was not one of the recalled ones. They are sending me out a battery immediately and I do expect it here by tomorrow or the next day. My exploded battery is sitting beside me, I have my laptop plugged in and I am working on it as I type this. Batteries have a life span, longer than what the exploded models have, but still, a life span that is shorter than they should be. You should work with your lap top plugged in unless you are not near an outlet. I gave them a credit card number and when my bad battery is sent back to them, they will not use my card. I have not and will not be charged. They stand by their work. I have found that the genius people should be re-named arrogant.