Use Manual Refresh to Save Battery Life on Any Tablet or Smartphone

By Chris Hoffman on February 19th, 2015

ipad iphone and android tablet

Want to make your tablet or smartphone’s battery last longer? Prevent it from automatically checking for new emails and other data in the background. “Fetch” will drain your battery the fastest.

This tip is particularly useful on a tablet you don’t use all the time. By disabling all that background activity, you can place your iPad (or another tablet) aside and have its battery drain much more slowly.

Why You Might Want to Do This

Your tablet or smartphone uses less battery power when it’s just sitting there, doing nothing. But a typical mobile device is constantly waking up. If you have an account configured for “fetch,” it’s regularly waking up to check for new emails, contacts, and calendar events. Even if none are available, it has to wake up and check, anyway.

if you have trouble getting through a day with your smartphone — or if you’d like to leave an iPad or another tablet on your coffee table and have its battery drain as slowly as possible so it won’t be dead when you pick it up — limiting this is a good idea.

On an iPad or iPhone

Apple’s iOS automatically checks for new data in a variety of ways. If you’re using a Gmail or similar type of email account on your iPhone or iPad, your device has to constantly attempt to “fetch” new data from the server. This can be a drain on your battery.

To change these settings, open the Settings screen, tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars, and tap the Fetch New Data option. Ensure the Fetch option is set to “Manually” to save battery power for accounts using Fetch. With manual fetch, your emails, contacts, calendars, and other data will be checked when you open the app and check manually.

You may also want to consider disabling Push for other accounts. Push should be more battery efficient, but having emails and other data constantly pushed to your device is just a waste of battery power if you don’t need it.

Since iOS 7, apps have been able to automatically check for new data, even when you’re not using them. “Background app refresh” means apps can use battery power in the background. To change this, open the Settings screen, tap General, and tap Background App Refresh. Disable this feature for apps you don’t want to refresh automatically, or disable background app refresh system-wide. These apps will still get new data when you open them. It’s perfect for a tablet you use infrequently.

You may also want to consider disabling notifications. Typical notifications push content to your device, turn on its screen, play a sound, and may even vibrate it. That all uses power, and you can save it by disabling notifications you don’t need. Use the Notifications screen in Settings to control these.

On an Android Tablet or Smartphone

Android has similar features, although these are buried in different places. On Android 5, you can open the Settings screen, tap Accounts, tap the menu button, and uncheck Auto-sync data to prevent your Android device from automatically syncing with your Google accounts (and other accounts) in the background. You won’t get email notifications from Gmail if you do this, for example — but you can still open the Gmail app to check for new emails manually.

On Android 4, open the Settings screen, tap Data usage, tap the menu button, and uncheck Auto-sync Data. Depending on your phone, the option to control this may be in a different spot.

Android doesn’t have a single place you can go to view apps that have permission to work in the background and disable these settings. If an app is wasting battery power in the background, you’ll need to either uninstall it or open the app and change a setting that prevents it from doing all that background work — at least while it’s not connected to a power source. You’ll need to do this for every individual app you don’t want running in the background.

You can examine your Android device’s battery statistics to see which apps are draining the most battery power. Locate the apps refreshing in the background and change their settings to prevent them from doing this. Open the Settings app and tap Battery to view these details.

As on iOS, disabling notifications may also help. Ensuring your device isn’t constantly turning its screen on and making a sound throughout the day — especially if it’s not something you carry around all the time — will help you save battery power. On Android 5, you can control notification settings in one place. Open the Settings screen, tap Sound & notification, and tap App notifications. Use the options here to control notifications. More granular settings about the exact type of notifications you want to receive may be available inside each individual app.

On Android 4, notification settings are managed from within each individual app. There’s still a way to disable notifications for misbehaving apps. Just long-press a notification and tap App info to get started, or head to the Apps screen in Settings and do it manually.


The instructions above are for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, but this tip applies to every single mobile device. Unlike laptops and PCs, these devices spend most of their time in a low-power, almost-completely off state. They wake up to fetch new data and do work regularly. The key to long battery life is keeping the device in that low-power state as much as possible, limiting the times it needs to wake up to do work. Even if the device’s screen is off, it may power itself on to check for new data and do other work in the background.

Image Credit: Cameron Norman on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 02/19/15
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