Modern phones come loaded with bright screens, fun games and apps, and connections for 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. Not coincidentally, they're constantly out of juice. Here's some of the best collected wisdom about saving your web-connected phone's battery life.
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Universal battery tips
They're different in a lot of ways, but all smartphones can be made to be more frugal with their limited power reserves if you're willing to follow a few simple rules of thumb.
- Follow the laptop battery rules: Your phone's lithium-ion battery benefits from the same best battery practices for a laptop. If your battery is new and decent enough, don't keep it plugged in all the time, or it dies the death of a thousand tiny discharges. Use the battery almost all the way when you use it, charge it when it needs it, and if necessary, let it completely run down and recharge it every so often to refresh its own sense of longevity.
- Keep it cool and out of pocket: If you're outside, don't leave your phone facing the direct sunlight. If you can pull it off without looking like a hyper-aggressive real estate agent, belt-clip your phone, or generally keep it out of your pocket and away from close quarters with your body heat.
- Switch off 3G when it's unnecessary: It's faster than EDGE or GRPS and can deliver both voice and data in a continuous stream to your phone. It also uses up quite a bit more power. When you've got good coverage and plan to mostly talk, or just get occasional email updates, you don't need such wide wireless pipes. Switch to EDGE/2G usage in your settings, preferably with a widget or shortcut.
- Switch off any unneeded service: Goes without saying for anyone who's learned the hard way. Having your phone constantly look for new Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi hotspots, GPS positions and Exchange server emails that don't arrive at 4am will definitely kill your battery. Find the most convenient way your phone offers to turn these things off, or automate their use and act on it.
- Be frugal with background applications and notifications: It feels like living in the future when new emails, Twitter messages, Facebook updates, calendar appointments and other minutiae are delivered minute-by-minute to your phone. Your battery lives in the present though, and could use a break from your hyper-awareness. If you've got a phone that can keep multiple applications "open" for quicker access (Android, Pre, Windows Mobile), don't feel obligated to keep them present.
- Use a black or dark theme: Except for the iPhone, most phones let you set your own wallpaper, and some give you the ability to "theme" your phone's entire look. It might be a minor point, but using a darker-coloured theme doesn't make your backlight and screen work quite so hard, and saves your battery just a bit.
- Fiddle with screen time-outs and brightness: Tweak how long your screen stays lit after a quick time check, modify how bright it must stay during the daylight, and you'll likely pull a bit more use time from your handset.
- Use mobile site versions: Find and bookmark the mobile versions of the sites you always visit (often found at m.sitename.com, mobile.sitename.com, or occasionally, sitename.com/m), and keep tools like the Google Mobilizer and Bing Mobile handy; they'll automatically pare down a page to its basic elements, and save your phone from having to burn its battery pulling down giant banner ads.
If you're rocking a BlackBerry, chances are that disconnecting your network to save on battery life isn't an option. Instead, you might try a few of these tips.
Photo by liewcf.
- RIM's official tips: To summarise: Close your browser with the ESC key when you're done surfing, use shortcuts instead of Java-based menus, get crazy with the extensive setting, and use the Desktop Manager (now available for PCs and Mac OS X) to load media rather than have your phone resize and compress it all.
- Radio Saver and AutoStandby: Radio Saver turns off your phone's reception when coverage is spotty or non-existent, saving you from the dreaded drain of roaming for signal. AutoStandby, when it's on, drops your BlackBerry into a deeper standby state, rather than just sleep, if you'd rather get a bit more time from your phone than be constantly pinged. They're $US2.99 each, which isn't cheap for a utility, but might be worth the coffee change if you're low on battery life or working on the edge of service.
- The Boy Genius basics: Straight from the BlackBerry-toting, news-breaking blogger behind the Boy Genius Report, the basics on keeping your phone alive:
Turn down brightness of the screen, turn the LED off, turn Bluetooth off, Wi-Fi off (when not needed).
Also, keep it in a holster, since it will "sleep" (when inside it)
No silver bullets there, but sound advice — especially on the holster bit.
Apple's game-changing, full-web-browsing phone has had its battery life detractors from the get-go. Luckily, some have put their efforts into fixing that.
Photo by Mat Honan.
- Apple's official tips: To summarise: Don't get it too hot or too cool, turn off unnecessary services, "lock" it frequently, and let the battery run completely down and then charge to 100%, at least once a month.
- Gizmodo's suggestions: To summarise: Change from Push to Fetch email, turn off contacts and calendar sync if you're not a CEO, cancel scanning for new Wi-Fi networks, and avoid games with vibration and 3D graphics (except in seriously long airport lines).
- Toggle networks with SBSettings jailbreak app: By default, the iPhone's on/off switches are tucked inside the settings, and the phone can only automate screen brightness. With SBSettings installed on a jailbroken phone (from the BigBoss repository), you can not toggle all your data connections on and off from a flip-down widget, and fine-tune other battery-grabbing aspects of your phone. See and read more about SBSettings at The Apple Blog. Thanks j_rich!
- Use the battery percentage indicator: The standard battery indicator can leave you guessing as to how healthy your iPhone actually is, and sometimes misreports its state entirely. Enable a numeric percentage read on your lock screen by heading to Settings, General, and then Usage to toggle "Battery Percentage" to On.
- Use Prowl, GPush or very light Push for Gmail: We first showed you how to use Prowl and Growl to push Gmail to your iPhone, and it remains a more battery-efficient means of getting important email notifications, particularly while your main work computer is running. We also detailed a work-around with GPush that works at any time — when it works, period. Since then, Gmail has added official push support for instant email notifications, but it also makes manual email fetching more reliable, so users can set it to an hourly or manual interval to save on battery use. Thanks drjonze and wbullockiii!
The current crop of Android phones have almost universally crummy battery life. Luckily, the system's open platform has given app developers lots of leeway to squeeze every drop out of them.
Photo by sugree.
- Automate your phone rules: When you're asleep, you want important calls to come through, but you don't need to check your email every hour. When you're at work, your screen doesn't need to be so bright, and you've already got net access. Using an app like Locale , you can make turning on and off your phone's most power-hungry features automatic, based on time of day, location, battery status and other factors.
- Learn to love APNdroid: It's more severe, but APNdroid is also the most sincere battery saver out there. Click its app icon, and your EDGE/3G mobile networks are turned off, while your basic call connection remains in place. That's better than aeroplane Mode, which totally renders you inaccessible, and used wisely, you'll definitely notice the difference when you start charging every other day. Better still, it seems a Locale plug-in is in the works, so turning off your wireless access when it's not needed could become a no-brainer.
- Keep the power widget handy: When your Android 1.6 (a.k.a. Donut) update arrives, you'll have a new widget available, "Power Control", that puts some important on/off switches—Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, auto-sync and screen brightness—all on one horizontal strip. Keep it some place handy on your home screen, and power down when you're at your most casual.
- See what's eating your juice: Also new in Android 1.6: A percentage Battery Use chart you can access under About Phone in your Settings. It shows what's been pulling in power since the last time you charged your phone, which can help remind you of background apps and other power drains.
Older than almost all its siblings, but Windows Mobile has grown to incorporate all the same battery-killing background powers as its brethren.
Photo by Titanus.
- WMExperts' tips: To summarise: Avoid Wi-Fi whenever possible, dial down your email checking, and dig into your settings to modify screen time-outs and vibration frequency.
- WMLongLife: Basically, this independent app switches your phone from 3G service down to 2G when it's in standby mode, so background data grabs and non-essential pings drain less battery. The developer also states it has a beneficial impact on, erm, other functions.
Everybody who digs the Palm Pre mentions its "deck of cards" multi-tasking. Yeah, you guessed it — it requires a little power precaution.
- Treonauts' battery tips: To summarise: Turn it off (or into aeroplane mode) when in very weak coverage, and follow the same kind of auto-check and background app recommendations made earlier in this post.
- Battery Saver: This homebrew app is only really useful if there are parts of the day where another phone provides you with emergency contact — like at home, if you have an alternate line. If that's the case though, turning your phone to aeroplane mode at pre-set parts of the day gives you the advantage of a quick power-on or contact check, while also saving on battery life.
Symbian (Help Wanted)
To be honest, the vast variety of Symbian phones with customised firmwares give us pause at offering a standard set of apps or recommendations for bettery battery life. That said, if you know of a tip, trick or app that saves battery life on Symbian phones, tell us in the comments.
Hopefully you'll find something useful in these tips to give your mobile data hub a bit more life from each charge. Did we miss anything major? By all means, tell us about it in the comments, and share your own battery life discoveries.