The gadgets you love don't always love you back—at least when it comes to battery life. But you can get more from your laptop, your iPod, your phone, and other devices with these 10 techniques.
Photo by conskeptical.
Only a few things ever need D batteries, but who has them handy when you need those things? If you've got some slightly more handy C batteries around, you only need a few quarters to turn them into makeshift Ds. You won't get the same longevity, and you'll have to part with up to $US1.50 for a bit, but it works, and it might just turn you into the family hero when you rescue that seemingly useless big-lens flashlight. (This is a less useful tip for Aussie readers, obviously, since none of our coins is much like a US quarter in size, though it could be a handy way of using up any old US coinage lying around.)
9. Keep your iPod "held" and updated
If you haven't hit the "Update" button since you got your iPod, old or new, fire up iTunes and do so—the newest firmware, in many cases, can boost your battery life. Once you've done that, run through Playlist Magazine's battery saving tips, which include keeping backlighting, the equalizer, and Sound Check features off when they're not needed. Also, keeping the "Hold" switch in place when you're not actively using it saves you from accidentally playing your whole collection, and wasting another charge cycle.
It's a help to the environment, and your checking account, to use rechargeable batteries instead of letting your Wii remotes and other gadgets eat through AAs. But the standard brands and accessories often don't seem worth the hassle. Blogger Jeff Atwood does know what works, though, and he details the circuit science and recommends the good stuff in the post linked above. If you're stuck with Energizer and Duracell choices, though, here's Gizmodo's faceoff of the big brands.
Having a view of the whole scene you're shooting is one of the digital camera's big advantages over film-based models, but powering that tiny little laptop screen takes quite the toll on your little batteries. If you're running low, or know you're going to be without a recharge for some time, turn the screen off and shoot through the optical viewfinder. You'll save battery time, and might find a new perspective on focus and framing.
6. Watch movies from hard drives, not DVDs
Simple, sure, but far from intuitive. On many planes and trains, laptops serve as little more than portable DVD players with bigger screens, but forcing your laptop to spin the discs and read from them eats up more power than reading a file off a hard disk—or, perhaps even better, a USB drive. How to get there? We recommend HandBrake for most any system, though Adam's got a pretty good thing going with his (Windows-based) one-click DVD ripping solution.
There are a lot of lists out there offering to help extend your iPhone's battery life. This one's a lot like them, except it's written by the leader of our sibling site Gizmodo, based on extensive testing done during the run-up to the iPhone's launch. And it goes so far as to suggest what the others don't—playing games with 3D and vibrate, for example, is a power killer, both in actual juice and in how long you'll end up playing without realising you've been sucked in.
4. Stash your gadgets out of your pockets
It's the most natural place in the world for your phone or iPod, but the heat your pocket picks up from, well, your hips can decrease the overall life of lithium-ion batteries. Not so much that you absolutely have to get one of those I'm An Important Person belt clips, but if you've got a coat, purse, or other place to put a battery-powered gizmo, consider offering it a little more ventilation than your body-warmed cotton wraps. While you're thinking cool, try stashing your batteries (just your batteries, mind you) in the freezer if you're trying to conserve every last drop while you're away from your charger. Photo by hsiqueira.
3. Get long-term battery life
An inquiring reader asked how to keep his batteries delivering on-the-go power for the long haul, rather than watch his investment be eaten away by age. As is so often the case, our readers came right back with answers. A MetaFilter thread linked by one helpful reader suggests using the battery fully if you're going to use it, then re-charge when it runs down. A Battery University link offers more tips, and Apple's guide to batteries suggests a few tips on what to do with unused or spare batteries—store them in a cool place at about 50 percent charge, for instance.
2. Make your system smarter with power
Windows and Mac OS X both know when you're using a laptop, and presumably want to help you save power. Except, in the case of the Mac, sleeping and hibernating isn't done with remaining battery power in mind, and on Vista, well, all those Aero effects and background processes suck up power too quickly. Enter Vista Battery Saver, which kills the Aero effects, sidebar widgets, and other power sinks, and SmartSleep, which gradually transitions from sleep, to sleep-and-hibernate, to full-on, session-saving hibernate as you start winding down from 20 percent charge. Both are nearly necessary downloads for road warriors lugging either OS around.
1. Recalibrate a laptop battery to regain life
It's a shame, but laptop batteries can lie to you about how much juice they have, or can really hold. The New York Times explains in a Q & A (look halfway down the page) details the most straight-forward means of getting the real truth. Turn off all your interrupting apps, like screensavers and the like, put your computer to sleep, and plug it in until you know it's good and charged. Then turn it back on, make sure your power settings are such that the system won't try to sleep or hibernate, then run your computer all the way down on battery power. Charge it back up one more time, and you'll know whether you really need to start shopping around, or check with your manufacturer to get a new lithium stick.
How do you get more power from your battery-powered gadgets? Whether it's a laptop, a phone, or something we haven't covered here, tell us (and link the how-tos) in the comments!