Wednesday , October 18 2017

Opinion: Battery life on mobile devices

This chart shows you the results of a battery life comparison conducted by Which.co.uk in July 2012. It shows the battery life of half a dozen specific handsets and an average of 101 further handsets.

Am I the only one that finds battery life on smartphones to be absolutely dismal? I doubt it. Let me tell you about a few phones I’ve used over the last twelve months, and my (admittedly, non-scientific) findings.

In the last twelve months, I’ve owned or used the following devices:

  • iPhone 4
  • iPhone 4S
  • iPhone 5
  • Blackberry Bold 9900
  • HTC One XL
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
  • Motorola RAZR M
  • Apple iPad 2 and Asus Nexus 7, though they’re tablets, not phones.

With one or two exceptions, the battery life experience on each and every single one of those handsets was absolute rubbish. I think most people can relate to the common experience of taking your phone off the charger in the morning before work/school/uni/whatever, and frantically scrambling around at midday or just after lunch for a charger, because your phone is just about flat.

The good old days?

Gone are the days where you might have a charger at home that you plug the phone into every other day. I had a number of different phones in the late 90’s and early 00’s, including a variety from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and even a Motorola STARTAC. Granted, they were fairly simple phones by today’s standards — monochrome screens, limited functionality beyond calls and SMS, and later maybe a rudimentary web browser. But one thing they had, and one thing they enabled, was freedom from the charger. You didn’t need to carry a charger in your bag, have one in the car, and have one at work and at home. One was enough, and if you found it every couple of days, you’d be fine.

Today, we use mobile phones and other mobile devices for just about everything. You can read emails, browse the web, access social media, share photos with your friends, navigate while driving your car, download and listen to music, watch TV shows, remote control your PC or a toy helicopter, irradiate your man- or womanhood and even make the occasional phone call. Who amongst us can remember a time when you could walk in a shopping centre, or go to a concert, or really go anywhere in public without seeing within a few metres at least a dozen people with their faces glued to their mobiles, ferociously tapping away to send a message or play a game?

It’s been awhile.

Phone usage today

Every day I see dozens if not hundreds of people walking around glued to their handsets, oblivious to life going on around them. Some of them even cross roads or board trains while studiosly examining the screens of their phones… blissfully unaware that they’ve barely been missed by an oncoming car, or that they’ve narrowly avoided falling into the gap between platform and train.

Social comment on all this aside, like it or not, mobile phones are everywhere, and they’re very useful — they do many things and simply many aspects of an increasingly complex modern life.

And yet, these trusted digital companions require feeding — feeding of electricity — at an increasingly rapid rate. If you don’t use your phone, it might last a day or two.

Making a smartphone last… and into a dumbphone

Take any handset. I’ll talk about an iPhone. If you use it just as a ‘phone’, ie to call people and maybe send a few SMS, you might be able to extract some pretty decent battery life from it. By using the iPhone just as a phone, I mean this:

  • Install, and use, no applications
  • Disable push notifications for apps, email, weather, and anything else
  • Don’t use the internet, in fact, turn off the data connection altogether
  • Turn down the screen brightness so you can’t really see it outside
  • Don’t connect to wifi or Bluetooth
  • Turn off 3G, and only use 2G

This might sound a bit silly — you’ve purchased a smartphone so you can do all of these things — access the internet wherever, at blazing speeds, and use your phone for everything apart from opening cans of corn. However, silly as it sounds, these are precisely the things suggested to owners of iPhones to save precious battery life. It’s not just iPhones either. All smartphone users looking to scrimp and save battery life are told to do all manner of counter-intuitive things to try to stretch out the meagre allowance of power allotted to us by the manufacturers.

In Android land, there’s apps like Juice Defender which will, sometimes, save you a bit of battery life, at the expense of things that your phone was probably purchased (in part) to do — disabling background data, turning of data completely when the screen is off, and limiting CPU power to muster a few extra minutes of battery life.

You see, while many are upset about the woeful state of mobile phone battery life, we’ve brought this upon ourselves. We reward manufacturers who produce devices that are slim, light and have large screens, that are packed full of all manner of radios and other transmitters. We reward them by buying their products.

Use it as a smartphone, and it dies

But there’s one thing you simply can’t fit into such a product with today’s technology. That’s anything resembling a decent battery, and by decent, I mean fit for purpose. Putting aside any Apple prejudice, the iPhone 5 is a somewhat reasonable handset, and it has some decent hardware inside, but it’s thin as hell, and the battery life experience of its users is as expected – mostly woeful.

Hook that sucker up to 4G, and try to use the iPhone 5 as it is intended (i.e., use some apps, listen to music, browse the web for awhile) and you can easily chew through half the battery life in less than an hour. It’s not just iPhones either. I’ve had the same experience with a Samsung Galaxy S III and Galaxy Nexus as well.

I’ve found a measure of happiness with the Motorola RAZR M. It doesn’t have a large battery — 2000 mAh is about average these days (the Galaxy S III has 2100mAh, Galaxy Nexus has 1750mAh — but with a bit of tweaking, even moderate use can see the battery life drop at a rate of around 6 to 7% per hour. That’s about 14 hours of use. If you tweak a little further (you’d have to root to achieve this most likely) you can get that usage down to around 4-5% per hour, without sacrificing much at all.

Granted, heavy use will kill it much quicker, but I’ve found many times now that a full day can be had, while still using a smart phone as a smart phone, and I’m sure others have found ways to have a similar experience with their phones, too — not just RAZR Ms.

The thick of it

The RAZR M is not a thin phone, but it’s not overly thick either. It’s of average weight and size, though it’s certainly smaller than a Galaxy S III or Nexus. However, that extra thickness in an otherwise small handset allows more battery, which means more battery life.

The point of all this is simple. The latest will not be the greatest if it has zero battery life. We’ve panned some otherwise good handsets on Ausdroid because the battery life was so crap that the phone was barely usable. Take the HTC One XL for example. Our initial review liked it. In fact, a few of us had a One XL at some point and liked it.

That was, until we used it a bit more extensively and discovered just how terrible the battery life (and multitasking) turned out to be. For a phone with a 4.7″ screen, LTE and bells and whistles, you’d expect much, but with an 1800mAh battery, you weren’t going to get much for long.

Can we lose our obsession with skinny minis?

I don’t know if the rest of the Ausdroid team share this opinion, or even think it’s a big issue, but I for one am making this statement:

Dear Manufacturers,

I know you think thin and fantastic is what everyone wants. We all love a well designed, good looking mobile phone, and we at Ausdroid are no different. Even outside the realm of mobile phones, people seem to epitomise thin and attractive beyond functionality. Exhibit A, so many Holywood celebrities who look fabulous, are thin, but are as metaphorically thick as two bricks.

I don’t want a handset that’s thin and terrific, that boasts a talk time of 700 hours, when its real life performance when used as a smart phone (i.e. using the phone for things other than just 12 hours of straight calls) is absolute rubbish.

Give me curves. Give me a slightly thicker phone, with a bigger battery, that can last at least a working day. The first accessory that someone buying your phone should be looking for is not a spare charger or two. They shouldn’t be forking out $35 for proprietary charging cables just so their beloved can last more than four hours out of a twenty-four hour day (cough Apple).

There’s proof in the market that a feature rich smartphone can do all the desired things without having a pathetic little battery, and can sell well. In an age where miniaturising technology is du jour, surely we’re going to wake up soon and realise that miniaturising at the sake of functionality is a fool’s errand.

Please, hear my call, give us a phone that can last a day or two while it’s actually being used.

Regards,

 

Chris

 

 
Thanks: Which.co.uk whose infographic we've used as the masthead for this piece.

Chris Rowland   Editor and Publisher

Chris publishes one of Australia's most popular technology websites, Ausdroid. His interests include mobile (of course), as well as connected technology and how it can make all our lives easier.

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28 Comments on "Opinion: Battery life on mobile devices"

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John McDougall
Valued Guest

find someone to program a browser with a black background or start the trend yourself with your mobile site. ask google to give full access to radio control and allow apps to stop the phone constantly checking for 3 or 4G. instead have it check once then give up and stay on the network its on then give it a few minutes or more and check again, instead of constantly looking for the faster network as not every task needs 4G especially in standby the phone should drop back to 2G

Piers McCarney
Valued Guest

Dolphin’s Night Mode is pretty damn good at converting sites to darker schemes while maintaining their look and usability.

The Nerd Mama
Valued Guest

This is exactly the reason I love my Motorola RAZR HD. While the phone is a bit thicker and heavier than my previous phone (SGSII), the battery life is just phenomenal. I’ve yet to handle a phone, or see specs on a phone that I would consider dropping my HD for.

ACA7
Valued Guest
ACA7
Agreed. I’ve got the RAZR HD as well and the battery life is great. I make no sacrifices (GPS, WiFi and 3G mostly on with push and auto-sync always on) and unless I absolutely hammer the phone with browsing, gaming and video watching I get a full day of good use out of one charge. The phone is actually pretty thin. I don’t really think that a lot of people could notice the thickness difference between the iPhone 5 and the RAZR HD. It would make absolutely no difference in real life use anyway. In fact an interesting thing is… Read more »
Gordon
Valued Guest
Gordon
It’s not just heavy usage that depletes a battery – it’s signal strength too. My phones (HTC Desire & SGS3 4G) both depleted their batteries by 3pm each workday without any use, just due to the crappy signal strength I get at my desk. Yes, I could turn off the data to preserve battery charge, but as the article points out, that just leaves you with a dumbphone. Pity Telstra didn’t offer the Motorola Droid HD Maxx, as I would have seriously considered that phone (3300mAh is a lot of battery!), although the SGS3 4G I bought still wins on… Read more »
Member

Maybe Lenovo heard us? It’s not an awesomely specced or great looking phone but it does have a 3500mAh battery and Android 4.1! IdeaPhone P770 (video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLNLJGMlGYc&feature=youtube_gdata_player

JeniSkunk
Valued Guest
JeniSkunk

Chris, I’d have changed that last sentence, to read

Please, hear my call, give us a phone that can last a day or two while it’s actually being used in the way that the phone is marketed and intended to be used.

Grace Less
Valued Guest
Great article. I agree too on the desire to get better battery life. I’m out and about a bit during the working day & seriously found myself always carrying a spare power cable & keeping an eye out for opportunities to charge. I was a slave to the power source! I recently got the RAZR M & I have to say it is so refreshing. I think they have found the perfect balance between size & battery life. It fits comfortably in my pocket & can go a full working day on regular to occasionally high use of smartphone functions.… Read more »
Tim Marshall
Valued Guest

give it 5 years, car dashboards, kitchen benches, coffee tables,public transport,office desks and bedside tables will constantly top up phones via wireless charging pads,of course we will reach the point where phone resolution has no point in increasing so processor upgrades will be able to sip less power as opposed to just being capable of pushing the current generation of upgraded screen resolution

Phill Edwards
Valued Guest
Phill Edwards

I had a Nokia 5800 which easily lasted 3 or 4 days with Moderate use. Nokia was criticized for sticking with Symbian for too long, but it sure provided good batery life for early smartphones which were very feature rich – wifi, Bluetooth, GPS and all the goodies. And the battery wasn’t all that big. So perhaps what we should be criticising is poor power management by the O/S rather than battery capacity. If Symbian could do it why can’t Android and IOS? Perhaps it should’ve a higher priority.

Member

Galaxy Note II has had the best battery life of any phone I have ever used. 13 hours of use completely on 3G (with no WiFi which uses less battery) and 6 hours of screen on time. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, etc all set to normal sync patterns. 3 email accounts also set to push. A superb achievement and what I consider heavy use. And it still had about 10% battery left. See attached screenshots.

Jordan
Valued Guest
Jordan

Note 2 4g? Recently got one and the battery life smashes my Nexus 7 by far, and it’s a bonus that you can replace the battery whenever you want 🙂

Jay
Valued Guest

I can only add to a couple of the other comments – got the Note II 4G, in part because they stuffed a 3100mAh battery into it! Happens to be an awesome phone as well!

Scott
Valued Guest

i prefer curves too :-

Seriously though, I couldn’t agree more, for the sake of a mere 2mm thickness i would certainly rather a battery that lasts 30% more…

naughtybudgie
Valued Guest
naughtybudgie

great article. i love HTC sense – prefer it over vanilla Android.. but all their phones have crap battery performance… i’m positive their designers must get all the new gadgetry and not use their phones for longer than a month to see this often complaint… they deserve their reduced profits…

some guy
Valued Guest
some guy

Agreed. I think the galaxy s2 was the absolute thinnest I would ever go for a mobile. I would prefer a few more milimeters of depth with a larger battery for general smart phone usage.

On another note Juice Defender for android works wonders on my nexus 7 3G. Disabling data connection while periodically reconnecting to allow data through. I get easily 2-3 to three times the amount of hours now.

Paul
Valued Guest
Paul

Guess we’ll just have to long for the day when manufacturers come out with a nuclear powered battery. Only problem with them is they will outlast the phone and the users for generations!

Simon
Valued Guest
Simon

Mostly agreed until now. I recently picked up a Note 2 4G and the battery life is fantastic! I can stream music over 4g for several hours, browse the internet several times, check Facebook, make a few phone calls and sms, and usually have around 35-50% charge left after 15-16 hours. More than adequate, I have no issue charging every night.

Member
You can add my name to the “Dear Manufacturers” letter above. I am hoping that the Motorola X phone (assuming it’s real) is something similar to the RAZRM (smaller body with edge to edge 4.3″ display in 1280×720 rather than 960×540) but with even better battery life. Perhaps they can cram a 2500-3000mAh battery in there. I WILL buy it. Even if it’s expensive! I have a Nexus 7 with 3G at hand if I need something bigger. My interested in big phones is at an all time low. Smaller displays, bigger batteries please. You can go right up to… Read more »
David Anderton
Valued Guest

At the very least batteries should all be removable(Im not happy about the nexus 4) or manufacturers should offer a fatter back on some models to accommodate a larger battery. I personally would prefer a phone thats 3mm thicker that has twice the battery life.

homebrandcola
Valued Guest
I carry two phones most days, work phone a personal phone. My work phone is a SGS2, but with no data connection on the SIM. I can make a couple of calls a day and the phone nearly gets through a working week without needing a charge. The lack of data and background applications does amazing things – but then it isn’t really a smart phone. I miss my E71. Battery would easily last multiple days with fairly heavy use (podcasts to and from work, email, twitter etc) Same thing with a BlackBerry I had in a previous job. Days’… Read more »
ACA7
Valued Guest
ACA7

I think the CPU can be 70% more battery efficient but in the grand scheme of things CPU is hardly the higher power consumer in smartphones any more so it doesn’t really increase the overall battery that much. It’s the ever growing, and brighter glowing screens that deal the killer punches to the battery. Check the battery usage on a recent, high-res / large screen Android phone and you’ll see upwards for 70% battery usage by the screen. I regularly see more than 80% on my RAZR HD.

Iain Simmons
Valued Guest
Iain Simmons
I sort of agree… it’s one of the reasons I got the Note 2 instead of waiting to see if I could get a Nexus 4. I also found it disappointing that the Razr Maxx HD didn’t come to Australia, because I imagine there would be a bunch of people who would happily sacrifice some other features to get better battery life. The good thing about all of the competition in the mobile space is that mobile-processors are being made increasingly more efficient as well as more powerful. Software clearly makes a big difference too if you think about custom… Read more »
James
Valued Guest
James

Damn straight.

I don’t understand the push for smaller/lighter/thinner – part of the reason I own an S3 is because I like a larger screen but even at that size it feels flimsy if I don’t put a synthetic case on it to bulk it up a bit. The iPhone 5 freaks me out, it feels like a bar of soap about to drop and shatter at any moment.

I’d gladly add a bit more weight and width to give my phone a more solid feel – if that comes with extra battery life it’s a win/win IMO.

urbanpitch
Valued Guest
urbanpitch
I cannot agree with this article more! i got an extra large battery for my S2 so that i could use it for longer than 12 hours, worth it with the extra batter but damn i wish it came with the option of having a large batter from the beginning. Rooting it was the only way the make sure ram usage and power settings were kept at appropriate levels. These phones are plenty thin right now, they don’t need to be thinner, we need to be able to hold them. But every time a product comes out, apple being a… Read more »
willemr
Valued Guest
willemr

Agreed. I had the extra battery pack on the SGSII, but even then it could have been better. Keen to get the RazerMaxx HD but its not available anywhere. Why cant I at least have the choice.

nicholas
Valued Guest
nicholas

eh, I’m ok with it. can barely remember the days of having to charge my nokia 3230 once every few days. i’m happy enough to charge my s3 every night. always close enough to a computer to recharge too.

Sean Royce
Valued Guest
Sean Royce

That’s the point though, not everyone is, and it’s quite frustrating when you browse the internet for 10-15 minutes on your phone and it’s dropped 5% in that time, it shouldn’t have to drop at all, I’m hoping with the low powered chips that will be released, it’ll lessen the drain on batteries more.

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