Extending the Battery Life of your [Android] Smartphone

A very good friend of mine, Cara Carriveau, a DJ here at WTMX 101.9 in Chicago, IL was lucky enough to get her hands on the new Sprint EVO right at its release and almost immediately a) fell in love with the phone and b) fell OUT of love with its battery life. She tapped both her Twitter and Facebook networks for help and advice.  Of course, I chimed in that I’d pull something together for her (and everyone else).

Cara and I go WAY back.  We went to Middle School and High School together; and she’s a good friend. She’s also new to the Smartphone world.  So is my wife for that matter, especially the Android flavor.  Her last phone, a BlackJack 2 wasn’t nearly as connected as her Motorola CLIQ.

With the introduction of the Nexus One, the Motorola CLIQ, the Sprint EVO, the Droid Incredible (notice – all notable devices AND all Android devices) as well as the iPhone 4, it occurred to me, that a better battery guide was definitely in order.

HTC EVO droidx Nexus One
Device Photos

Gadget Girl at Gaj-IT cites a conversation at Google IO where both Larry Page and Eric Schmidt state that the battery on your Android phone should last a good 24 hours before it totally craps out.  According to Larry Page, if you’re not getting 24 hours, and you’re getting say, only 5-8 hours of battery life, “there’s something wrong.”

So how do you stretch your battery to get you through the work day, through the day at the [pick a vacation spot], or just… through the day?  Some of the suggestions that I have may have you thinking twice; and may beg some questions on WHY do you even have [pick a device] if I have to do [pick a battery saving action] to insure that the device last me through the day?  And that’s a GREAT question.  I have one of the devices listed above and I’m bumping into some of the same issues.  Let’s explore some battery saving ideas together and see what we come up with.

Stock vs. Cooked ROM’s
First, let’s take just a sec to talk about stock (released) vs. cooked ROM’s.  While cooked ROM’s can offer some really cool features, they may not offer the best battery life.  Regardless of device type (Windows Mobile, Android, WebOS, etc.), cooked ROM’s often don’t go through the same testing rigor as a released ROM, and may combine some features and/or software that just don’t work and play well with your device (though may seem very cool).  If you’re running a cooked ROM and are having battery issues, you should consider the following actions:

  1. Go back to the forum where you got the ROM, and post a note describing your issue
  2. See if the thread(s) contain a solution and then try it
  3. Switch to a different cooked ROM or a different version of your current, cooked ROM
  4. Revert back to the current, stock ROM for your device
MoDaCo Custom Kitchen – MCR r21

Saving Your Battery’s Life
Ok… now that we have THAT out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.  If your satisfied with the ROM you have and your device is basically new (in the case of the EVO as of this writing, for example); or if you have a new battery, the following will be important to you.  There’s a simple process that will allow you to get the most from your device.  Simply follow these steps, and you’ll be on your way to Smartphone bliss.

  1. Condition Your Battery
  2. Configure Your Services
  3. Pick Your Applications
  4. Configure Your Settings and Create Your Profiles

Condition Your Battery
One of the first things you should do with ANY new Smartphone is condition your battery.  When you get your phone, run through this quick process –

  1. Insert the battery,
  2. Run through its initial setup steps
  3. Then STOP.  Yes, I said stop.  Turn it OFF (yes, off, and I mean COMPLETELY OFF, not just putting it to sleep, or turning off the display. I mean pull the battery and reinsert it, off)
  4. Plug it into its AC charger and then let it sit for 4-8 hours without being on or without using it (over night is usually best).  This will bring the battery up as far as it can initially get, which is an important step in conditioning the battery. 
  5. Discharge it until the phone won’t turn on (the power LED may show red)
  6. Recharge it until the LED is green and the battery shows 100%.  Leave it like that for a couple-three hours. 
  7. Rinse and repeat the process at least twice.

If you’re wondering how to quickly kill the battery, turn EVERYTHING ON – 3G/4G, Wi-Fi, 100% screen brightness, GPS (with never timing out), and the CAMERA.  This will tank the battery in a couple of hours or so.  I’ve heard that constant camera use can use up as much as 20% of the battery per hour.

After running through this conditioning process a couple of times, the device and the battery should be in sync.  You should do this a couple times a month in order to insure that your battery is correctly utilized, and STAYS in sync.  Because, you (and if I’m honest, that you includes ME as well…) ARE (and who are we kidding) going to run the battery part way down, partly recharge and then disconnect and run the battery back down, at some point. I do it.  You do it… we ALL do it.  You need to run through this conditioning process a couple times a month to make sure your battery has the CAPACITY to go the extra mile when you need it to.

Configure Your Services
The Motorola CLIQ and CLIQ XT, the Motorola Back Flip and any other device running MotoBLUR are great examples in the Android world of Smartphones running services in the background.  The number of widgets the device has on MULTIPLE home screens are constantly polling the internet for data updates. There are a couple of things that you can do to insure that your battery life is the maximum you can get for your device and for your size battery.  Its not hard; but may not be 100% obvious when you initially set the device up.  However, in all fairness, Motorola has done a GREAT job on the battery life side for all of their MotoBLUR devices (considering that they are constantly trying to get you the latest gossip on what your Facebook/My Space/Twitter/etc. friends are doing).  So, kudos to them for doing their homework and doing a great job there.

However, here are some important considerations when configuring services on your device.  Applications are one thing. Widgets are another. Either way, there’s a service behind it poling the internet, gathering data and displaying it on your device.  This includes e-mail services as well as My Space, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking and micro-blogging services, as well as weather gadgets and RSS feeders.

Remember, today’s Smartphones are all about the data…

So without any further ado, here’s some important service configuration tips.

  1. Buy the Data Package
    Your carrier is NOT going to allow you to buy one of their Smartphones (at a subsidized price, at least) without also purchasing either a tiered or unlimited data plan.  Here’s my advice on data plans -Buy the largest they have a deal with the price.

    Overages suck and are WAY expensive. If you have a carrier that still offers an unlimited plan (like, T-Mobile, as of this writing, anyway), then pony up the dough and deal with the cost. Smartphones, unless the device is ALL THE WAY off or in Airplane mode, is always going to tap the internet for updates to this, that or the other service. With a tiered data plan, at some point, you’re going to go over your data limit. When that happens, you’re going to get hit with some big, and I do mean BIG charges. Do yourself, and your checking account a favor, and buy the biggest data plan your carrier offers.  You’ll thank me (and yourself) in the end…

  2. Reduce your Screen Brightness
    Your device’s screen is, bar NONE, the most power hungry component it has.  Its going to consume more power than just about anything else combined, in the whole device (yes, including the radios…). Unless you have a screen that COMPLETELY washes out in the sun light (like my Nexus One’s), then here’s a cool device configuration point that will save you GOBS of battery life.Turn the screen brightness down to, like, 30%. You’ll be surprised at how readable most screens (including the N1’s) are at that level; and at how much longer your battery will last.  This could be the difference in lasting all day or running short before your commute home.
  3. Push vs. Pull e-Mail
    Most people who use their device for e-mail do NOT need to get immediate notification of each piece of mail that hits their inbox. If you do, then you’re likely connected to a corporate Exchange (or other enterprise service) and you use your device for work e-mail and calendaring.  Most consumer (or casual) users don’t NEED push (though it is kind a cool to get mail immediately on your device, isn’t it?). If you fall into the consumer category and don’t have any pressing need to get that Facebook status update e-mail right when I post a change, then you might want to have your device check for mail only once every 1-2 hours. While this may reduce the excitement of the device just a tad, it is going to make your device last a lot longer through the day; AND you can always to a manual check whenever you want.

    If you do keep Push e-Mail activated, you’re going to need to make other configuration and service changes to insure that Push doesn’t eat away at all of your battery life, so make sure you look over all of my suggestions, and try out different combinations, before you make any lasting changes.

    Just to recap, you might want to consider the following suggestions for e-mail configuration:
    Business Users who don’t HAVE to have Push Activated: Check mail every 15-30 minutes
    Casual Users: Check mail every 2-4 hours

  4. GPS & Location Services
    A lot of different applications make use of Location Services on today’s Smartphones.  Applications like Google Maps with Navigation and Waze (or other GPS navigation app) are no brainer examples.  However, if you have things like HTC SenseUI, Fancy Widget (provides a similar clock/weather gadget/widget as SenseUI’s main screen;  but without the full screen weather effects and all the eye candy), The Weather Channel, Twitter and Facebook, Four Square, etc. running on your device, then you’ve likely got not only Location Services turned ON; but have your device’s GPS receiver on and active all the time, everyday, out loud (as all apps don’t ping the GPS receiver at the SAME time intervals throughout the day).Think twice before enabling GPS Satellites on your device; but remember… Devices like the iPhone and any MotoBLUR device make use of the device’s GPS receiver to locate a lost phone and to insure that it can be remotely wiped if lost.

    Having your GPS receiver always enabled (like I do) isn’t (necessarily) a bad thing; but you’re going to have to make an active decision and likely, a battery life trade-off one way or the other.  I leave this on, as I have weather apps pulling forecast updates every couple of hours or so (given my recent, asthma difficulties and the recent, bout of bad weather here in Chicago).

GPS Satellites Configuration Page

Pick Your Applications & Widgets
With MotoBLUR devices, you don’t get a lot of choice.  There are tons of widgets on just about every home screen your device has. Yes, you can pull a widget off the device, but more than likely, your device is still going to tap a particular service for data unless you’ve made the appropriate decisions above, and then followed through with the appropriate widget choices.

Facebook Widget/Seesmic Widget

THAT being said, you need to remember that all apps are NOT created equal. Some are put together much better than others.  Sloppily written apps may not be great at opening and closing data connections, may continuously tap your GPS receiver, or radio of choice, etc.

Fancy Widget

The Android Market has over 70,000 applications in it. The iPhone App Store has over 100,000; and as an EXPERIENCED software QA guy, I can tell you, software testing isn’t on every developer’s mind when they get ready to introduce or rev a product release. If you notice battery life dropping after you install a new application or two, pull it/them out and then test with and without the app(s) (in varying combinations if you installed more than one at a time) until you find the nasty one and then leave it out.  (e-Mailing the developer with a description of your issue, what you did to identify his/her app as the possible offender, and your device/carrier information is always a big plus, and the proper shareware etiquette).

  1. Social Network Apps
    All the world is aTwitter about updated Facebook statuses.  Man, I have to tell you…I got my wife the right Android Phone.  She’s all over MotoBLUR with her Facebook and MySpace updates.  She puts photos up from her phone all day long, and is constantly swiping the Happenings widget to get the latest dirt on who did what at which pool, beach or garage sale.  Great stuff, until she realized that its tanking the daylights out of her battery.If you have a NON-MotoBLUR device, you’re going to have to go into each social networking app’s Settings and configure the update interval there to be something you feel is appropriate enough to give you the news/dirt you need without taking your battery. Depending on the application and the service, the widget may have a separate configuration screen.  Make sure they don’t contradict each other and have the service updating too often.
  2. RSS Apps – News and e-Mail
    I read RSS/News in the morning and the evening (on my train commutes to and from the office).  I don’t need news during the day, so I’ve got them updating every 6-8 hours or so and that’s all.  Figure out when you need news and then pick and appropriate update schedule.Remember, this stuff is NOT centralized (now there’s an app idea for someone with the appropriate skills (on a NON-MotoBLUR device)… Centralize all the Update Settings into 1 place.  Charge $5 bucks for it. You’ll clean up…).  You’ll need to bounce back and forth between apps to tweak things until you get the right combination.

    The stock (non-Gmail) e-Mail app checks both POP3 and IMAP accounts. If you’ve got non-critical e-mail accounts, you might want to check them according to the recommendations, above (2-4 hrs). You might want to make it 3-6 hrs if they are truly casual; or once every day if they are truly just for kicks.  The less frequently they are checked, the longer the battery lasts.

  3. Weather apps & Widgets
    I love weather forecasts.  I have weather checked in my current town of residence, in downtown Chicago and in my parent’s and my in-law’s towns of residence.  Unless the weather is really bad on any given day, I usually have it checked every 2-4 hours; but that’s me.Unless you’re a weather watcher like me, having weather checked every 12-24 hours or so is probably enough.  You just need to be aware that this is yet ANOTHER application/service tapping your 3G/4G/Wi-Fi radio.  Be careful. The information here is helpful, but doesn’t change all that often.

    If it does, make sure you have the notifications sent to your device at an appropriate interval.  The Weather Channel app/widget, for example, allows you to determine what weather alerts get sent to your phone’s Notification system.  Make sure it doesn’t pester you for every flood, fog, or special weather statement.  Dismissing those can get old quickly, as well as wastes battery life with all of the increased sound, vibration and/or display activity.

Configure Your Settings and Create Your Profiles
Ok… Let’s get down to brass tacks.  You’ve been reading along, and either making a note of, or tweaking, all the settings that I’ve mentioned so far.  Good. Let’s take a quick recap of what you should and shouldn’t do to increase your device’s battery life

  1. Wi-FI, Bluetooth and GPS
    Obviously, the less you use these ancillary radios, the better off you are, however, some apps will require them (the GPS receiver, specifically) and won’t work without them (apps like Maps with Navigation, Tom-Tom, etc.) You’ll also have to balance use of your Mobile Data Plan with Wi-Fi if your carrier ditches unlimited data for a tiered plan.  In that case, use of Wi-Fi might be a really good idea.  Make sure you’ve reviewed all of your application’s settings and made the appropriate adjustments so that you maximize your battery life.The point here is: Use your radios wisely and be cognizant of where you are and how often they are used.
    DO: Turn them off when you don’t need them
    DON’T: Don’t leave them on all the time without being hooked to a PC via USB or AC Power
  2. 2G vs. 3G
    EDGE and 1xRTT vs 3G/4G… Any wireless carrier is going to tell you that if you want to save on battery life, turn 3G data off and stick to EDGE or 1xRTT (GSM vs. CDMA).  However, upload and download speeds may be excruciatingly slow.  If you don’t live in or near a 3G/4G coverage area, this is a no brainer, and will go a LONG way to extending your battery life. If this is your situation, you’ll also never miss anything; unless and until your carrier activates 3G/4G service in your area. Make sure you’ve reviewed all of your application’s settings and made the appropriate adjustments so that you maximize your battery life.The point here is: Use your radios wisely and be cognizant of where you are and how often they are used.
    DO: Make use of the service you have coverage for
    DON’T: Don’t leave 3G/4G on if you aren’t in that coverage area most of the time.
  3. Internal vs. SD Storage FroYo (Android 2.2) allows applications to be moved to, and executed from, your SD card.  Depending on the card, they could execute slower than on your phone and may cost you battery life over the memory space you gain on the phone.  This one is all about balance.  Put your less used apps on your SD card if you can.  Keep only the ones you use the most often on your actual device. It make take more power to read and execute an app from internal storage than you may gain in battery life.The point here is: Balance space requirements with battery life needs.
    DO: Put large, space hog apps on your SD card; Balance the right SD card speed with space requirements
    DON’T: Don’t buy the biggest card because its the fastest. Don’t put apps you use a lot on the SD card if you know it burns more power to execute from the SD card as opposed to device RAM. 
  4. Screen Brightness 
    This component uses more power than just about any other in the ENTIRE device.  You’re going to have to tweak this setting the most if you want to get the best battery life out of your gadget.
    The point here is: 100% brightness is likely NOT needed all the time. Bringing it down to 30% or so will save a lot of power when you aren’t connected to your PC or to AC power.
    DO: Turn the brightness WAY down
    DON’T: Don’t squint. Turn it up to a reasonable brightness level if you need it.
  5. Camera
    I love the camera on my Nexus One. It has allowed me to take some cool pics and videos when I don’t have the better still or video camera near by.  However, the app/hardware combo is a battery PIG! You’re going to have to watch your camera use, especially if you’re going to be out and about most of the day. If you have the ability to carry a backup battery or plug in during a lunch or other meal break, do it.  You’re going to make your device last longer if you do.
    The point here is: Take pictures of your kids, relatives, fun times, etc. Realize that continued use runs the battery down a LOT.
    DO: Use the camera when you need it. Have an AC adapter or spare battery as a backup.
    DON’T: Don’t try to take 2 hours worth of video. Your device probably won’t be able to last that long while using the camera (and everything else is running), anyway. 
  6. Profile Applications – a MUST Have Profile applications, or cellular phone profile applications can do a lot more than just silence your phone quickly.  Today, they can turn all of your radios on or off, in any combination you want, automatically adjust screen brightness, automatically run applications, change ring tones, vibrate the battery ,etc.  Many of these can do this either manually or automatically.  Many come with widgets that allow for easy activation from a home screen or hit your Notification/status bar with an icon.Get one of these.  Many are free. Many cost a couple of bucks.  You’ll have to search the Android Market for the one that works best for you.  Install/buy it and make sure you learn all that it can do.  At this time, its the closest thing we have to that Universal Settings app I mentioned earlier.

    The point here is: Manage the use of your device with a utility to maximize your battery life.
    DO: Buy a Profile app. Learn how it works, what it can and cannot do.
    DON’T: Don’t trust that it automatically knows everything about your device. You’re going to have to play with it to get the best use of it; and may have to tweak settings manually if needed even if you use one.

Today’s connected devices can do a lot.  The above recommendations can be applied to the Sprint HTC EVO, the Nexus One; or literally ANY device on the market today, from any other Android Smartphone to a Windows Mobile device, to the iPhone and iPad.  Remember, these devices are data and communication intensive; and not ever device can account for every use case (read – use scenario).

While your device of choice may go a long way to managing the use of its battery, you’re going to have to help it out by making some configuration and service decisions.  If you’re not going to be near AC Power or if you have an extra battery, you can carry it or an AC adapter to help out on those service intensive occasions; but there’s no reason why a properly configured device can’t last you a reasonable amount of time.

If you have any additional battery saving tips, or some suggestive comments, why not join us in the discussion, below and give us your thoughts and ideas.

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