How-To Geek

Lesson 3: Extending Your Android Device’s Battery Life

Android 3

One of the biggest gripes among mobile users—iPhone or Android—is battery life. The status quo for battery life seems to be about a day: from the time that someone wakes up in the morning and unplugs their phone from the charger to the point where they plug it in at night before they go to bed. That’s an understandable and reasonable request.

This all assumes that you don’t have one of those days where you’re talking to people all day or you get into a heated texting discussion with a friend, or you just can’t get off of Facebook.

There are a bunch of different factors that conspire to deprive you of battery life. In this lesson, we’ll talk about why batteries drain so fast, how they lose health, and what you can do to keep it under control.

The Features That Shorten Your Battery Life

Let’s start by talking about the features on your phone that drain the most battery–and how you can eke a bit more time out of your device during the day.

Screen Activity and Brightness

The number one battery killer is the screen. If you go to the “Battery” settings (further detailed in a bit) and tap on the “Screen” item, it opens to reveal its “use details,” including how much of the battery it has thus far consumed, the time it has remained on, and a handy shortcut to the “Display” settings (which can also be accessed from the main settings screen).

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So what’s the best way to defeat this? Well, apart from using your phone less, the best thing you can do is turn the brightness as far down as ambient light will allow.

Head to Settings > Display and tap “Brightness Level”. Move the slider up or down to quickly adjust your screen’s brightness.

You can also set it to “Auto” (or “Adaptive brightness” on some devices) and the screen brightness will automatically adjust to ambient light conditions. Ideally, you want to only set your screen’s brightness to high when you’re in full sunlight or very brightly lit situations.

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Going into settings every time you want to adjust the brightness isn’t very convenient, though. So most of the time, you can quickly access brightness settings on your device by pulling down the “quick settings panel” (pull down from the top of your screen twice) and choosing using the slider.

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Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Location Access, and LTE

Your device comes with a number of goodies that you use daily and probably take for granted. But let’s be clear: you should not. In fact, you should be very much aware of how stuff like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and LTE can decimate your battery life.

Take Bluetooth, for instance. You only really need Bluetooth turned on when you’re actively using a headset, speaker, keyboard, or some other device that requires Bluetooth. If you aren’t doing this all the time.  Bluetooth is definitely great, but it’s only something that you use for specific applications and at certain times. So you can turn it off when you aren’t using it to save some battery.

To turn off Bluetooth, just tap its icon in the Quick Settings menu.

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Then there’s the way your phone sends and receives data. Obviously, if you’re on a tight data plan, you want to use Wi-Fi, but when you leave the house, your phone will automatically switch to its mobile data…while Wi-Fi remains on and inactive. The result is that your phone is constantly searching for a wireless access point, even though you may be driving around running errands.

The best thing to do is to turn Wi-Fi off altogether when you aren’t using it: just pull the Quick Settings panel down and tap the Wi-Fi icon to disable it.

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Finally, there’s a wonderful thing called LTE, otherwise known as 4G. It makes your data really fast so you can stream audio and video without hiccups, or surf the Internet without seeming to wait forever on some things to load. The problem is that LTE not only uses data faster, it also kills your battery faster too.

We can’t recommend turning LTE off as a matter of policy, but you can dial it back if you’re out in the country or somewhere where coverage is spotty. To do this, open your settings and head to More > Mobile networks. On this screen you can perform a variety of tasks, but if you click the “Preferred network type,” you can restrict the phone to the type of network it uses.

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Keep Reading…

Lastly, you’ve probably heard that GPS is a battery killer, and in a way, that’s true. When it’s in use–like when you’re navigating–GPS usage uses a lot of power. But unlike Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and LTE, your phone isn’t using location all the time–only when you need it. So in most situations, you won’t really need to turn it off entirely. Just try to avoid using Maps when you don’t have to.

You can, however, head to Settings > Locaion and change its “Mode” to save some battery (at the expense of accuracy). Tap “Mode”…

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…and choose “Battery Saving”.

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In our experience, the loss of accuracy isn’t really worth the battery gains, but your mileage may vary.

Wakelocks

Now we’re going to get a little more advanced for a second. Wakelocks are a complicated topic, but they can make a big difference in Android’s battery life.

Imagine you’re lying there at night, and you can’t sleep because you’ve got these nagging thoughts on your mind. You might finally fall asleep, but it’s usually so late that when you wake the next day, you feel drained and exhausted.

Android devices may not think about bills and taxes and other things that weigh heavily on humans, but there are things that keep them awake. These are called “wakelocks” and they can easily drain your battery. In fact, it’s a good bet that unless your phone is so old that the battery has worn out, wakelocks are a likely culprit for your meager battery life.

When you exit an app, Android only shuts down the process working in the foreground. The real culprits, background processes, are the things that are really to blame for your poor battery life.

There’s a fairly easy way to see if you have wakelock issues. Head to Settings > Battery and tap on the battery history (the line graph with the length of time the device has been on battery). This will open to your “history details.”

The thing you want to pay attention to is the comparison between “Awake” and “Screen on.” Logically, the times at which you use the phone are the times when the screen is on and thus the phone should then turn “off” or go into deep sleep. In the following example everything looks good, but this isn’t always the case.

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If you see you’re having similar problems and restarting your device isn’t fixing the situation, it might be time to investigate further.

Sometimes fixing these issues are just a simple matter of restarting the device and, sometimes, your device’s battery gets to the point where it can no longer adequately hold a charge. When it comes to ultimately figuring out why your battery life sucks, you should take everything in to consideration, not just what kinds of things you’re doing, but how old the device is and how much stress the battery has endured. You can see more advanced tips for eliminating wakelocks and boosting your battery life in our complete guide to battery life.

Things That Shorten Your Battery’s Long-Term Health

You’ve probably heard that certain habits can shorten your battery’s long-term health. The longer you use the same battery, the shorter its daily “life” will be. If you want to really get the most out of your battery, we suggest starting with our full article on battery myths. In any event, you should be at least aware of the following facts so as to better treat your batteries with tender loving care.

Extreme Temperatures Kill

If you’ve ever lived up north, then you know that when the temperatures drop below freezing, car batteries start to fail. Similarly, in hot desert climates, car batteries face a similar fate. In fact, a whole subset of the car batter industry is devoted to higher performing batteries that continue to operate under extreme conditions.

The batteries that come with your phone, tablet, and laptop are different from the lead acid beasts in your car or truck, but the conditions under which they operate best are similar.

Device batteries start to suffer once the temperature dips to or below 0°C (32°F), and they can operate for a time at 70°C (158°F) to 90°C (194°F) without permanently damaging the battery but, keep in mind, that’s the upper limit.

“But oh,” you say, “there’s no way it gets that hot where I live!” Well, yes, that may be true; however, there are other factors to take in to account. First of all, your device produces heat–the screen, the CPU, along with pretty much every chip in there. Those parts are enclosed inside the phone’s housing, which you may have protected by a case. Then there are other factors like where you store it: in your pocket next to your body, or in your car on a hot day. Even using GPS and mapping for an extended period can make your device uncomfortably hot.

On the other hand, cold can be just as brutal and just as adversely affect battery life, though unless you leave your phone or tablet exposed to cold for long periods, it’s a bit easier to avoid the same problems as with heat.

Perform Shallow Discharges

Lithium ion batteries are different than the old NiMH and NiCd batteries, which had a “memory” and had to be fully discharged before being charged again. This was highly impractical because who wants to start their day on a 20 percent charge and then have to wait while it completely discharges before putting it in? No one, that’s who.

Lithium ion batteries skirt that limitation. You can discharge your device’s battery to 70 percent or 40 percent or 25 percent and then charge it back up with no ill effects. You can charge your battery at 95 percent if you want, and it won’t matter.

Lithium ion batteries tend to like more shallow discharges, however. It’s best to charge your battery regularly and try not to let it drop below 20 percent too often. Some say it’s a good idea to let it fully discharge about once a month or so. Obviously, you don’t need to go overboard with this, but if you have a choice, this is the best way to maintain its health.

Store your devices at 50%

Discharging a Lithium ion battery down to zero won’t kill it, and you don’t face an emergency situation where you have to rush to plug it back in but, you shouldn’t go for long periods of time without charging it to full. For example, you don’t want to go on vacation and leave your phone at zero.

Similarly, storing your battery with a full charge can have detrimental effects. While we don’t think many of you are ever going to need to worry about this, at least not nearly as much as you might fully discharging your device, if you do intend to go on an extended trip such as several months and you’re leaving it behind, it is best to store your device at around 50 percent.

To Unplug or Not to Unplug

There’s a bit of debate on this. While it’s generally acceptable to leave your laptop plugged in, it’s probably not a great idea to leave your phone or tablet constantly plugged in. The general consensus is that leaving your device plugged in once it reaches 100 percent is detrimental to battery life. You can avoid leaving your phone on charge by investing in something like a socket timer, which turns off power to the socket after a predetermined amount of time.


At this point we hope you have a much better grasp on battery issues–not only what causes them but how they affect battery performance. It’s important to know that batteries don’t last forever but you can take pains to ensure they last as long as possible.

In the next lesson, we will explore things that affect your device’s performance as well as cover the gamut of security features Android has to offer.

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and died-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.


Cameron Summerson is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys on the 'net, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, chugging away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

  • Published 11/9/16

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