If there’s one constant we’re seeing from smartphone reviews this year, it’s that you should only expect one day of battery life. Why is this, and what can you do about it?
Why you should only expect one day of battery life
Every year, we see new phones.
There are hundreds of them, and they bring new features to an already packed house, offering better cameras, faster processors, brighter screens with more pixels, faster mobile internet speeds, updated WiFi, stronger Bluetooth, louder speakers, infrared ports, the ability to track your footsteps and heart-rate and so much more, you begin to wonder just if you can still call these gadgets a “phone” (and the answer is yes, because they still make phone calls).
Bringing all of these features to handset is one thing, but keeping the size down is another, and so the battery tends to suffer, because we all want something truly capable, but we want it in a form that is thin and light.
This means the battery has to be kept on a diet, because the bigger the battery, the heavier the handset, but there’s a catch: all of these features have to be optimised for the battery, and if they’re not, they may end up shooting your battery’s life in the foot.
Take the screen, for instance, which is the biggest killer of a smartphone today.
You switch it on and lots of little pixels light up, relying on the battery to fire up over two million pixels if you have a Full HD display, and over 3.5 million pixels if you’re on a more pixel-packed 2560×1440 display, the sort used on the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G3/G4 handsets.
That’s a lot of pixels to deliver power to, and it is one of the biggest reasons why smartphone screens can stop smartphone batteries dead in their tracks, diminishing the life of a smartphone quite severely.
As such, phones with less pixels to power generally handle battery life better, and so if you look at a phone with a 5 inch 720p HD screen and another with a 5 inch 1080p Full HD display, there’s a good chance that the one with the lower screen resolution — the first one out of those two — will perform better, especially if the specs are otherwise identical.
In fact, if you rely less on a smartphone screen, you’ll find your battery life will improve, but it’s not the only thing to make a dent.
Processing power and the graphical prowess can also make a dent, as do these extra features, such as a more capable camera, because it likely relies on some camera guts that use the battery, while GPS tends to draw more power than most expect and loud speakers require a fair amount of power themselves.
All of these things, all of these little bits that go into a smartphone, help to make a phone’s battery last a day, which is the new norm.
Essentially, if you buy a flagship phone every year, you should generally expect only a day of life, with a nightly charge.
What you can do about it
There are some things you can do to help a battery break that 24 hour cycle and move onto the next day, though, and the first thing we’d suggest is to switch on any power saving modes you might have.
Sony’s phones call this “Stamina” mode, Samsung calls it “power saving” and even offers a more restrictive “ultra power saving” option, with Windows Phone featuring a “battery saver” mode, and while Apple lacks a battery saver for its iPhone, you can get similar performance to what a battery saving mode does by switching off features.
And that’s because that whole “switching off features” is what a battery saving mode is: an automatic shortcut to flicking the switch on various features of your phone.
For instance, power saving modes tend to stop a phone from pushing notifications from the email server right to your phone, stopping your phone from checking in every five or ten minutes and instead checking with the server only when you want to check for mail. This cuts down on the amount of network connectivity occurring on the phone, and means your battery is saved a bit of power.
Battery saving modes also tend to switch GPS and location services off, relying instead on what the phone towers are telling your phone.
Ever wonder why your phone says you’re in a different location to where you are? There’s a good chance you’re running off the location info transmitted by the telco tower, which is probably 50 to 100 metres (at least) from where you are.
Screen power is also a big part of what power saving modes work with, reducing the brightness from those aforementioned pixel packed screens to make the battery last a little longer than they otherwise would.
Some times, the battery saving modes even cut colours altogether, supplying information in monochrome because black tends to chew through less power than colours, and you’re less likely to take the phone out and have a glance if you’re browsing pictures or the web in only black and white.
We’ve tested the monochrome-only mode on the Galaxy S5 and couldn’t see much of an impact, if any, on battery life, but psychology also plays into this one, and if you know you need to save power, you’ll look at the screen less, especially when it counts.
Those savings can translate into not just hours, but days, and if your phone does less, its battery will work for longer.
But if you actually need to use your phone, if you rely on constant email notifications, phone calls, photo taking, music listening, and so much more, battery saving features can only do so much to extend that daily life, and so to make things go further, you may need to turn to another option: a gadget.
Portable batteries and power cases
If there’s one gadget no smartphone user should leave at home, it’s the portable battery.
Owners of the iPhone probably know this little piece of tech all too well, but it is a little battery encased in between layers of plastic or metal with at least two USB ports, one in the full-size and one in the micro form.
The microUSB port is pretty easy, as this lets you treat the power bank like another rechargeable gadget, plugging it into the wall or a computer like a phone and charging it up, but when that’s done, you’re good to carry the battery bank around with you and plug your regular phone charge cable into the battery, using that little bitty power source to charge up a phone.
If that’s an iPhone 6, it means you can plug in your Lightning cable to the USB port on the portable battery and get a recharge on your phone while it sits in your handbag or a backpack, or even your pocket.
The same applies with another phone, so if your Samsung Galaxy S6 is running out of juice, as can definitely happen, you plug it in via a microUSB cable in the USB port and charge up that phone.
Some phones have a different solution altogether, though.
If you’re lucky enough to own a phone that supports a specialised battery case, you can plug it in and get an extra battery for your smartphone inside an external case.
These battery cases don’t just boost the battery in your phone, and instead work in a similar fashion to those battery banks we just mentioned. Essentially, when you switch them on, they will recharge the battery in the phone, keeping it topped up and charged until the battery in the case runs out, at which point the phone relies on its own battery until it runs out.
While you can leave the battery case switched on, one way to use it is to keep it switched off until you run out of power and then switch it on for a recharge, letting it top up its power only when you need that life returned.
Mophie’s line of battery-based cases are the most known in this situation, providing extra charge for the Apple iPhone line-up, as well as select Samsung and HTC handsets, with anywhere between 1500mAh and 3950mAh of power, meaning you can get as much as twice the battery life of your phone.
You do end up with a heavier handset, that being said, and it ads a little bit of plastic to the style, so forget about the metal or glass your phone regularly exudes, but if battery if what you’re after, the battery cases certainly deliver.
Windows Phone as a battery battler
Need more battery life and none of these other measures are working for you?
Believe it or not, a change to a different operating system may just help, but you also might lose out on some of those beloved apps you hold so dearly.
For over two years, we’ve given Windows Phone devices the same battery of tests we apply to Google Android smartphones and the Apple iPhone, and throughout that length of time, many of these devices have come out on top with regards to battery.
Try getting that on most Android phones and you’re out of luck. Again, iPhone can’t compete, with the massive 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus only hitting that mark barely, and that’s if you opt to not use the screen or camera very often.
Yes, that two day battery life is something Windows Phone-based devices can achieve without too much drama, and by “drama”, we’re generally referring to playing video games, which tends to eat up the battery immensely on a Windows Phone.
But if you can live without the minor mobile entertainment, a request that isn’t too hard given how few video games exist for Windows Phone 8, you’ll find two days of battery life on so many of the Windows Phone products, a feature we feel comes down to the way Windows Phone was developed, its small multi-tasking capabilities (it tend to stop apps you’re not using pretty quickly), and the few colours the OS relies on with a larger emphasis on black.