How far do you go to extend your phone's battery life?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: May 13, 2012

Battery life has been an issue with nearly every phone I have owned since jumping the BlackBerry ship. Larger touchscreen displays, faster, more power-consuming processors and GPUs and faster wireless connectivity have turned smartphones into battery-eating machines. And some manufacturers are doing little to compensate for all the power-hungry components.

The 1,230mAh battery in the BlackBerry Bold 9900, for instance, will last most power users an entire day. The BlackBerry Curve 8330 that I owned and abused in high school only came with a 1,150mAh battery. The 8330 usually lasted me no less than two full days of heavy use. The 9900 may not last quite as long, but a least RIM is keeping the standard of at least an entire day.

As I explained on Friday, however, HTC One X comes equipped with a 1,800mAh cell and struggles to last a full day, unless it stays parked in my pocket the majority of the day or gets a boost from my Powerbag around midday. A mere 570mAh is hardly enough to offset the power consumed by all the added features and powerful components of an Android phone.

Unfortunately, HTC isn't the only manufacturer making phones with lackluster batteries; this the case with most phones today. What's so intriguing about it, though, is how far people will go to improve their battery life, how much connectivity and how many features they will sacrifice to just squeeze a few more hours, sometimes just a few more minutes.

As per usual when writing about battery life, a handful of people shared some of the ways they are able to stretch their battery life to an entire day. Stefan Ronning suggests turning on-screen sounds and vibrate off, turning the brightness down, curbing time spents playing games and killing background apps. (For the sake of correctness, I must point out that killing background applications and processes to save battery is, for the most part, a myth. The difference in battery life is negligible.) Eduardo Ordaz also shared some suggestions, like turning off Wi-Fi, toggling 3G and 4G off when you're not using them and paying attention to Battery Usage (on Android phones) to kill any apps that are actually rogue and consuming more CPU than they should.

But these two certainly are not the only ones who go the extra mile to increase battery life. In fact, their techniques are common practice among anyone in the Android camp. There are some who go one or two strides further.

In the comments sections of previous articles about saving battery life or making your phone last the entire day, there have been several who claim to shut off all connectivity until they absolutely need it. Considering the wireless radio is one of the largest causes of drain while in standby, cutting your data connection can significantly increase your phone's battery life. Others turn background data and email/Gmail sync off, resorting to only refreshing applications as needed and sacrificing the gratification of instantaneous notifications we smartphone users have come to know and love.

You could consider me a power user, maybe even an abuser. I use hundreds of megabytes per day and several gigabytes above the average smartphone data consumption per month on two separate lines. (The average in August 2011 was about 500MB per month and I use roughly 5GB per month on each of my two lines.) As you can imagine, my over-the-top usage doesn't pair well with devices that have poor battery life. And being in the industry I am in, one where every minute counts, curbing my usage and shutting off data and sync is not an option.

Being a long-time BlackBerry fan, I grew to expect mobile devices to have great battery life – for most of them to last at least an entire day. The fact that manufacturers have let that one-day standard fall to the wayside is unacceptable, and I'm not willing to change the way I use my phones in order for them to last longer. I should be able to use a device for no less than 20 hours and not be tethered to an outlet – not even once.

Yesterday, I unplugged my One X just before 1:00 PM and left for a day trip to Charlotte. I took my Powerbag, just in case it actually died while I was out. But I wanted to see just how long it would last through a light day of usage. On Friday, while mostly on standby and Wi-Fi, it lasted nearly 20 hours before hitting 30 percent battery. Yesterday, the results weren't quite as promising, which I imagine could be due to constant LTE coverage. After a long day of running around, I finally laid down around 2:00 AM. Over the course of 13 hours, I had sent about 80 text messages (and received just as many), used 120MB of data, accrued one hour and 30 minutes of screen-on time and racked up a ton of standby time. Before plugging it in and dozing off, the phone hit 18 percent.

That's not exactly terrible – I've had phones that couldn't stand half that. But it's certainly nothing to brag about either.

The extent of what I do to prolong my phone's stamina is leave it in my pocket more and keep the display brightness as low as possible at all times. If my phone looks like it won't keep its charge until I make it home, I try to keep it usage short and to the point. And I always have Watchdog running in the background, just in case an application decides to go off the deep end and munch on my battery while the phone is in my pocket. For my iPhone, if I know I'm going to be away from a power source for an extended period of time, I use an offGRID case by Incipio. Once the battery on my iPhone gets low, I hit the power switch on the case, which will charge the iPhone back to about 70 percent from nearly dead.

Other than that, if my phones die, they die. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's actually refreshing to get a break from the constant buzzing and beeping of the devices I carry with me everywhere. And, although it surprises me sometimes, I actually live until I can make it to an outlet again.

Several times now, I've noted that larger capacity batteries aren't the best possible solution to the problem. Simply stuffing more milliamperes in the same space only extends the time it takes to charge a device. Take the new iPad, for example. But in the case of the DROID RAZR MAXX, it also extends usage to more than a day without significantly bulking up the device. To most, that far outweighs having to be constantly tethered to a wall. No, it isn't the best possible solution, but it's better than having a high-end, top-of-the-line phone that never stays charged for more than a six hours at a time.

Tell me, ladies and gents. What do you do to keep your phone charged for longer? Do you turn off all of your connections and only use them as needed? Or do you use your phone regularly and just go without once it dies? Do you have your own method – like rooting and altering the kernel or something to that degree – that makes your phone last noticeably longer?