Poor battery life. It’s one of the most discussed topics in the forums. Is it result of defective hardware, the OS, network connectivity, Sense UI (on HTC devices), or other 3rd party apps? Instinctively (particularly if you’re new to the world of Smartphone’s) the rapid depletion in battery life - even with light to moderate usage - might lead you to believe that your phone has major problems in this area.
I’m of the belief that there are always areas of improvements in how each of the above variables affects battery life. For example, there could be future ROM update that enhances OS efficiency, task management, or the efficiencies in manufactures (called bloatware by some/but loved by others) in additional apps or skins. Another culprit is that battery technology and capacity have not evolved as rapidly as the power and functionality in today's powerful Smartphone’s.
Cars are very similar. For example, an Audi S4 has a powerful 352HP V8 engine, which is much faster than your average commuter car. However, the 352HP engine comes at a price. It burns through gas really quickly, and like the EVO requires a great deal of energy to live up to its potential. The S4’s source of energy is stored in a 14-gallon gas tank in the rear of the car. If I push the car to it’s full potential – and gets approximately 10 miles per gallon. Contrast that to an A4 with a 4 cylinder engine averages twice the number of miles per gallon, and has the same size gas tank. Smartphone’s aren’t any different. For example, the battery in the HTC Ozone and the battery in the EVO are exactly the same in terms of capacity. They both provide 1500 mAh’s of energy. However there are distinct differences in screen size, processor power, network types, features, etc… Having used both, I can tell you the battery life was the least of my complaints on the Ozone.
That said here are some of the most common items (based on my unscientific tests of various Smartphone’s) that are the highest consumers of battery life. Most are manageable from a user perspective, some are not. I’ve left out the most obvious one of all – extended voice call activity. Just remember there is a trade off between performance/features and the amount of power you’re willing to devote to each.
- 4G if available (worse than 3G) and 3G connectivity/activity by streaming audio/video apps, web browsing, instant messaging apps, and apps that poll the network at regular intervals for updates (Facebook, RSS readers, Friendstream, etc).
3G: See those little white arrows at the top of your screen? When they are light grey in color, network utilization is zero. Contrary, when they are solid white, network usage is occurring. If they are constantly white (as they would be when streaming radio for example) battery consumption is at it’s highest.
4G (applicable to Sprint 4G phones): The first day I got my hands on an EVO, I immediately turned on the 4G radio. After all, this was one of the EVO’s main selling points. 3 hours after a full charge, my battery was toast, and I hadn’t even browsed the web yet. I was really disappointed that I was required to manage this radio and only use it when absolutely necessary, but that’s the reality of 4G technology.
- Bright backlight settings: Phone's like the EVO and Droid X have massive 4.3” LCD screens. Regardless of backlight settings, the screen is still a major power consumer. Having said that, slight changes in backlight settings can make a dramatic difference in battery consumption. I would recommend avoiding the very brightest setting. My preferred setting is to let Android manage screen brightness, while others have manually enforced a constant low to medium brightness level. The latter will have the greatest positive affect on battery life.
- High CPU, backlight, and network usage by graphics intensive and/or poorly written applications: Graphics intensive programs often consume large amounts of CPU power and RAM, which translates into high battery consumption. Combine this with a network intensive streaming media application (e.g., vCast, Sprint TV, Pandora, or similar apps); your smartphone of choice is sucking the life out its battery at an extremely high rate. Applications that were not designed for your particular smartphone or are buggy in nature might causing the CPU to work excessively hard. If your phone is warm to the touch and running particularly slow, there’s a good chance a 3rd party app is the culprit.
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth sucks down power. I’ve experienced this on every phone I’ve ever used. Enabling bluetooth, within settings or via a bluetooth toggle widget, isn't necessarily a battery hog. It's the active use of bluetooth (for example on a call, or connected to a computer) that begins to drain bluetooth at a higher rate
- GPS: Like Bluetooth, it consume large amounts of energy while updating coordinates and communicating with satellites orbiting the earth. Combined with turn-by-turn directions and an always-on backlight, in order to see the maps guiding your way, you’re pushing battery consumption to the limits. I often read posts from people who are using their smartphone as a full time GPS device in the car. One common complaint from these users is that USB chargers are only maintaining the current battery level – or worse – when GPS is in use. Since most phones limit USB host connections to 500mAh of power input, this is a good indicator of how much GPS consumes. In other words, 500mAh of continuous power to the phone is not enough to charge and take advantage of GPS/turn by turn directions at the same time. When choosing a car charger, try to choose one that meeds the minimum mAh output of the stock OEM charger. This will ensure the phone is receiving enough power to both use these applications and charger at the same time.
- Signal Strength: Whether 3G, 4G, or WiFi, week signal strength can affect battery life.
- CPU/Memory: I often read posts from members who have most of the above features disabled. Yet they still report warm to the touch phones and unusually poor battery life (3-4 hours per charge). In my experience, this is usually caused by 3rd party CPU intensive applications. Many people reach for the nearest task manager. Others can’t imagine which application they’ve installed that would cause such an issue. Regardless, if you reach to other forum members for assistance, please provide the following information that varies from the out of box configuration of the phone:
o Task managers in use (I believe these cause more harm than good – but there’s a totally different sticky devoted to that).
o A list of all 3rd party applications (including battery percentage widgets & instant messaging applications)
o Update frequency settings for each application in settings > accounts & sync.
o Detailed information from settings > about phone > battery use
o GTalk auto sign in settings
o 4G use (if applicable)
o 3G data arrow activity (frequent solid white arrows?)
o Email configuration (update frequency for Exchange, IMAP, Gmail, POP)
o Type of charger being used (OEM vs. 3rd party) & input/output specs.
o Widgets in use.
And please read the task manager sticky for important information about the use of these programs.
The best but least practical solution to battery consumption is to disable every single feature possible that your phone has to offer. Is this a practical solution? Probably not. My recommendation is to find a balance that works best for you and come to the terms that the attributes that make your smartphone the best converged device available requires, will demand increased energy & negatively impact battery life. This amount of energy available in a fully charged OEM battery is specified on the back of your battery. Look for extended OEM batteries to extend the use of your battery before needing to plug it in again. I also recommend the combination of a second battery and battery only charger, to ensure a spare is always at hand.
I hope you found this information helpful, and if you have any other tips, please post them below.