How to Extend Your Android Tablet’s Battery Life When You’re Not Using it

Fewer things annoy us than when we set our Android tablet aside for a few days only to return to a low or even dead battery. This shouldn’t be happening, so it’s time to try to fix it.

Every device has its Achille’s heel of sorts. Sometimes it’s a poor camera, others it’s a terrible user interface, but most of the time it’s battery life. We’ve come to expect more of batteries. They should last days. Having to go everywhere with a charger should be a thing of the past, or at least fading in the rearview.

A tablet’s battery should last for much longer simply because they’re typically far larger than a phone’s. We also use tablets differently. We use tablets in spurts, such as at night when we’re watching TV or lying in bed shopping. Tablets are more tailored toward consuming than productivity (that’s not a universal truth, just our experience) so you might use them for a few hours a week. Mostly, however, our tablets lie idle, waiting for us to take a break.

To that end, with all that time just sitting there, why do we keep finding our tablet’s batteries down to nothing? If we set it aside and don’t pick it up for a few days, should we really have to charge it before we can use it again?

The Scourge of Background Data Sync

The answer typically has to do with background data, which means that even though the tablet is lying there seemingly dormant, it’s still receiving notifications from the various apps you’ve installed. If you’ve ever opened up your tablet to see alerts from Facebook, Gmail and so forth, that’s what we’re talking about.

Most of the time we don’t need those notifications. Not when we’re using our phones or checking from our laptops all day.

If you’re using Android 5 Lollipop, there are a couple things you can do. You might try disabling busy app notifications, which may help extend battery life.

Or, you can also disable notifications altogether by blocking Interruptions, which we’ve also discussed in a previous article.

While these tricks may help, it is unclear whether or not they do as thorough a job as simply turning off background data completely. Also, these features do nothing to help the millions using pre-Lollipop Android.

The Venerable Power Control Widget to the Rescue

We’ve done a lot of searching through the settings to give you one good way to save your tablet’s idle battery life and none of them do the job like the time-honored power control widget, which has been around for what seems like forever.

Power control is still there, and if you have a 4×1 spot on your home screen, then you should definitely use it.

The power control widget is very useful because it allows you to easily enable, disable, or adjust, the five features on your device that are the most notorious battery wasters: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, background data sync, and screen brightness.

Once it occupies a spot on your home screen, you can use it to toggle those aforementioned battery wasters. Note, background data sync is the symbol with two arrows between GPS and brightness. In this screenshot, we have it off, which means the tablet will not receive any updates or notifications unless we explicitly check.

Power controls (left to right): Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS (location), background data sync, and brightness

Another advantage to this widget is it works just as well on phones, so you’ve got the same kind of instant control over things even if you use your phone differently from your tablet.

Your use of the power controls will likely vary from tablet to phone, but will be no less useful.

Best of all, no matter your Android version, be it Lollipop, Kit Kat, Key Lime Pie, or Gingerbread, the power control widget’s appearance and features remain consistent. And, while we don’t expect a great deal of Android users to be running a version as old as 2.x, its nice to know there’s one reliable way to alleviate battery woes.

Other Possible Idle Battery Wasters

So, it’s a good idea to disable background data syncing (and while you’re at it Bluetooth) on a tablet. But what about other battery wasters like Wi-Fi and apps?

As far as Wi-Fi is concerned, that’s a personal call. The power control widget makes turning Wi-Fi on and off a cinch, so there’s no reason not to turn it off if your tablet remains idle for extended periods. On the other hand, if you’re wont to pick it up at various points in the day, then it might be a bother to keep turning Wi-Fi on and off whenever you use it.

Important Note: if your tablet has 3G or LTE and a data plan, disabling Wi-Fi is probably going to be a bad idea for your battery life, because instead of using fast Wi-Fi to transfer data, your tablet will start using the much slower 3G/4G data connection. In that case you could turn on Airplane mode to disable those connections as well.

There’s another way that’s a little more advantageous because it turns W-iFi on and off for you. Open the Wi-Fi settings in Android (we’re showing the screens from Lollipop, but they’re the same on Kit Kat), then click “Advanced.”

On the Advanced screen, note there’s a setting to “keep Wi-Fi on during sleep.” Change this to “Never” and Wi-Fi will automatically turn off once your device enters sleep mode.

When you wake your device such as by pressing the power button, Wi-Fi will turn back on and automatically reconnect.

Often another likely culprit of idle battery drain are apps that don’t allow the device to sleep. It’s hard to say which apps those might be but if you come back to your tablet after a day or two and find it needs charging, and you’ve disabled background syncing, turned off Bluetooth, and WiFi only works while the device is on, it could be a problem application.

At that point, it’s a good idea to open your battery settings and take a look at what’s going on. This will be your best way of diagnosing which apps are sucking your battery dry.

The battery settings are a reliable way to see if there are any apps using an inordinate amount of battery.

We should take a moment to stress that if your device is old and has endured hundreds of charge cycles, then its capacity will be much diminished. Regardless, even with an older device, you should be able to set it aside and not return to find it dead.

Using Lollipop’s Battery Saver

Starting with Android 5, Google added a battery saver feature, which will reduce Android’s energy footprint even further. While in the Battery settings, you want to tap the three dots in the upper-right corner and select “battery saver.”

Once enabled, battery saver will disable animations and transparent effects, turn off syncing (if you haven’t already), and limit vibration, thus allowing you to possibly eke out a few more hours.

Battery saver is really intended to be a last gasp type feature and not something that you’d use all the time. You can configure it to kick on automatically when your tablet’s battery gets down to either fifteen or five percent, but to actually turn it on, you have to keep opening the battery settings so it’s not really convenient.

We do recommend enabling the saver to come on in low battery situations to avoid total depletion. If you do enable battery saver, or it comes on automatically, you can turn it off by plugging the device in, or from the the notification system.

If you’re using a device with Lollipop installed, make sure you enable battery saver, but try the more nuanced approaches before severely reducing your device’s capabilities.

Give it a few days or a week and see if it helps extend your tablet’s battery life, especially when idle. We’d like to hear from you on your findings so please add your experiences to our discussion forum. We welcome your comments, questions, and battery-saving suggestions.

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and dyed-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.