When Mobile Devices Play Games With Power

Modern mobile devices can handle everything from phone calls to media playback to gaming, but that doesn't mean they handle them all equally well. An addiction to mobile gaming can have dangerous consequences for battery life.

Compared to David and the crew at Kotaku, I'm an absolute gaming nincompoop, and those games I do play tend to be pretty simple. But that doesn't mean I can't occasionally get stupidly hooked on a title. Last week, my visiting nephews showed off Plants vs Zombies on their laptop. I decided to impress them by downloading a copy for my iPod Touch, little realising what a time suck that would become over the next week as I ploughed determinedly through wave after wave of zombies armed only with an eclectic selection of vegetables.

I'm undoubtedly late to the Plants vs Zombies party, as it's been around for more than a year on the PC and since February for iOS devices. I'm also late to the iPod gaming party: that's the first game (and first paid-for app) ever to make it onto my iPod Touch. It was well worth the $3.99, though, and it's a fine example of a game that works much better on a touchscreen device than with conventional mouse or button control (even though it's been very successful on standard PCs).

However, there is one aspect where Plants vs Zombies fails badly on the iPod: battery life. On a fully-charged device, I'd be lucky to get two hours of play before the low battery warning pops up. That's not insignificant, but it's fairly poor compared with video playback on the same device, where I can easily get through a long-haul international flight armed with a selection of movies and TV shows copied onto the Touch. When it comes to gaming, the iPod seems to chew through batteries like a zombie through freshly-scooped brains.

Given that relatively poor performance, it's also essential to close the game whenever I'm not actually playing it. But that creates another inconvenience: if I want to play again in a spare moment, I have to endure a fairly lengthy loading time. The best casual games let you dive in whenever you feel the urge, and that's not always possible if you have to wait a minute or more just to get started again.

Obviously, the iPod Touch wasn't primarily designed as a gaming device, so the fact it can play a game originally written for a full-powered PC is still pretty impressive. Undoubtedly I'd get better battery life on an iPad (and there's a dedicated HD version of Plants vs Zombies for that device), but there's a serious sacrifice of portability involved there, and I don't feel any urge to get an iPad for productivity purposes.

Compromise in this area seems inevitable. My BlackBerry has enviable battery life, but a minimal selection of games. Android devices have a wider range, but haven't yet stunned me with battery life for general use. Dedicated portable game players like the DS or PSP do much better for battery life and have games galore, but lack flexibility for anything else (though there is a lot you can do with the DS). As ever, it seems you can have a multi-purpose device, but it won't handle all those purposes equally well.

How do you balance battery life when you're gaming on a device designed for other purposes? Share your tips (and most battery-friendly games) in the comments.

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    On Android for gaming the simplest way to save battery life is to run SetCPU. I throttle back the CPU when the screen is off and if I'm playing games I lower the CPU (most games don't need 1GHZ). My battery life is now around 2.5-3 days, including receiving work emails, facebook, games etc.

    Two hours of PvZ? My 2 year old iPhone 3G gets in more than that off one charge.

    Either the iPod touch has a really low battery capacity or your battery is on the way out.

    I too have a PvZ addiction and can concur that it's a power hungry beast... (iphone 3gs)

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