SEARCH

How-To Geek

Lesson 3: Extending your Android Device’s Battery Life

Android 3

One of the biggest gripes among device users is battery life. Devices and batteries are not created equal and 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.

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’s a bunch of different factors that conspire to deprive you of battery life. So we’ll talk about all that, such as the very nature of the batteries in your devices, and why they eventually wear out. Also, there’s the conditions under which your battery must operate, which can also quickly sap it dry.

Then there’s your apps, which directly affect not only device performance but battery life in the process. Think of it this way, if you have an app that depends on constantly updating itself to update you that is going to quickly drain your battery.

And this discussion wouldn’t be complete, of course, without a look at how you are using your screen. As we’ll show you later, you screen is the number one battery killer. Adjusting its brightness and timeout length can reduce battery drain, of course, so we’ll teach you exactly how to accomplish that.

Help! My battery keeps dying!

There are times when it just seems like you never have enough battery and when everyone else’s battery seems to have the same problem. This happens more often than we care to think about. In fact, if your device is more than a year old, and you use your phone or tablet a great deal, then it’s probable that you can’t even get a full day’s use out of it.

clip_image001

Batteries are a fickle thing and most people don’t know the first thing about what makes them fail. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever be able to create a perfect environment that is conducive to long life. Just using your device, such as jogging with it and streaming music on a hot day, will drain wear on the battery more, but there’s not a whole lot you can do other than not use it, which defeats the purpose of having it in the first place.

Still, simply knowing that temperature extremes (not just heat, cold kills batteries too) means that you’re more aware and can take actions to extend their life. Remember, all batteries die given time, but the way you use your devices can impact how much longer they live just as much as how quickly they wear out.

Maximizing Battery Life – Things to remember

If you want to really get the most out of your battery, we suggest you read 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 laptops 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 is true; however, there’s 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. Then, of course, your device is enclosed in a case and that case is often protected by another one. Then there’s 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.

Shallow, not full 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. Of course, this is 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 charge it with no ill effects. You can charge your battery at 95 percent if you want, and it won’t matter. That said, we recommend charging your battery when it gets between 40 and 70 percent.

If fact, you should charge your battery regularly and try not to let it drop below 20 percent and never discharge it completely, if possible.

If your battery does fully discharge, charge it

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 because when you do plug it back in, it might not hold a charge.

Store your devices at 50%

Similarly, charging your device to full, and then storing it, 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 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.

For everything else, you will need to take a concerted effort to maximize your battery’s life. How-To Geek already has a thorough guide to maximizing your android phone’s battery, but we’re going to go ahead and reiterate and update many of the things that guide details.

Screen activity and brightness

The number one battery killer is screen activity. If you got to the “Battery” settings (further detailed in a bit) and click 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).

clip_image003

In the display settings, there are some things you can adjust to have an immediate impact on battery life.

Brightness

There isn’t much to this, and it should be fairly easy to figure out. Move the slider up or down to quickly adjust your screen’s brightness.

You can also set it to “Auto” 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.

clip_image005

Note, you can quickly access brightness settings on your device by pulling down the “quick settings panel” and choosing “brightness.”

clip_image007

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Locations, 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, completely decimate battery life.

Take GPS for instance. Realistically, you only need to use GPS when you’re doing stuff that is location oriented. If you want to use Google Navigation you most definitely need GPS. If you want to tag your photos where they were taken, GPS is usually a must. But, honestly how often will you do that?

You can turn off GPS in the “Location settings” or simply use the quick settings to tap the “location” icon. On the Samsung Galaxy, you can accomplish this by pulling down the status bar and tapping “GPS” at the top.

clip_image009

You can adjust location battery consumption even further in its settings.

clip_image011

Tap the “Mode” button to gain further battery savings.

clip_image013

Keep Reading…

The same goes for Bluetooth. Do you use a headset? Or are you playing music to a Bluetooth speaker? Or are you using a keyboard with your Android device? Bluetooth is definitely great but it’s only something that you use for specific applications and at certain times. Honestly, most of the time you probably don’t even need Bluetooth.

To turn off Bluetooth, open the settings.

clip_image015

Or use your “Quick Access” settings.

clip_image017

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. The result is that your phone is constantly searching for an access point, even though you may be driving around running errands.

The best thing to do is to open your settings and turn off WiFi if you know you’ll be out for a while or if you’re going on a road trip.

clip_image018

Or use your “Quick Access” settings.

clip_image020

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. Problem is 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 tap “More,” then “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.

clip_image022

Battery settings

Let’s focus on Android-specific things you can pay attention to prolong your battery’s functionality between trips to the charger. Note, there’s a whole group of settings devoted solely to “Battery.” Opening it reveals some unsurprising results.

As you can see screen use leads the pack followed by the Maps application we’d been using for navigation.

clip_image024

If we click on the Maps app, we see how much time it ran, how long it kept the device awake, and so on.

clip_image026

Note also, the buttons at the bottom, particularly the “Location” button, which will open to the previously discussed “Location” settings.

Wakelocks

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 up, preventing them from ever fully falling asleep. 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.

The fact is, simply closing apps 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 a wakelock. Open the aforementioned battery settings 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 we see there are times at which the phone is awake even while it’s not being used.

clip_image028

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

Diagnosing Battery Troubles

Unfortunately, the tools included with Android, while useful, don’t go far enough in helping you diagnose wakelocks. Fortunately, there are tools that can help you with this problem.

How-To Geek recommends you use Wakelock Detector available in the Play Store. We even cover how to use the app in great detail.

clip_image030

Sometimes fixing battery 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.

Conclusion

At this point we hope you have a much better grasp on battery issues. Not only what causes them but how you 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.

Born and brainwashed an Ohio State Buckeye, Matt now lives a warm, snow-free life just north of the Texas/Mexico border. He fancies himself a modern-day jack-of-all-trades; favorite conversation starters include operating systems, Android, BBQ, quantum physics, and roller skating.

  • Published 04/23/14