The bright secret of battery life

You know how it goes when you first get a new smartphone. Battery life is amazing for the first few days, often lasting well into the night. Then, as you download more apps and use them actively, you find yourself scrambling for a power bank or charging point by lunchtime.

We keep hearing that battery life is the next frontier of smartphone technology, and then we keep seeing dramatic advances in every aspect of the handset BUT battery life.

In the good old battery days of a decade ago, a Nokia 6310i gave you seven days’ talk time and a month on standby. The rapid advance of smartphone technology has meant that average battery life has rapidly gone down, instead of increasing, because so many more components and functions have been built on the same old batteries.

Now, however, battery management functions, such as those on new Samsung, LG and Huawei devices, help to identify which apps drain the most power, and to shut down the offending tools.

But, strange to say, this doesn’t keep our phones going longer. As we keep opening new apps that we hope are less demanding, or keep open some of the apps that are indicated as having low power demands, the battery drainage continues at the same high rate.


This happens particularly while one is driving, and using navigational apps like Waze and Google Maps. The assumption that tends to be made is that it is not the app itself that is resulting in heavy battery use, but the need for the maps to be updated continuously. This results not only in an ongoing data flood, but also requires the phone to keep polling the 3G or LTE masts at base stations along the route. Surely the prime reason the battery is dying!

The truth is a little simpler and a lot closer to home.

The reason Waze appears to chew up battery life faster than a puppy destroying a slipper is because it keeps alive the real battery hog: the screen display.

Check that battery management tool again: it can almost be guaranteed that half the battery usage in any given period is coming from the display. The bigger the screen, the more the display demand, and the faster the battery drain.

For this reason, entry-level smartphones with 3.5-inch screens tend to have far more battery life than the average 5-inch or 5.5-inch flagship devices. Compact editions of the Samsung Galaxy and Sony Xperia phones last longer than their bigger siblings. This is counter-intuitive merely because we expect to get better performance when we pay more.

The exception to the rule appears to be the giant-sized phablets: the 5.7” to 6” behemoths. But there is a simple reason for that, too. Most of these phones have oversized batteries, specifically to compensate for the giant displays.

It’s not an industry secret, either. Manufacturers continually point out this truth, but usually in the small print, as an afterthought, or somewhere offstage after the big launch.

All of this means that there is also a simple secret to extending battery life, while we wait for the scientists and engineers to catch up to our needs.

Every time you finish using the handset, whether for a call, a WhatsApp message or a Facebook peek, simply click the On/Off button briefly – that is, not long enough to switch off the phone, but merely to turn the display dark.

If that doesn’t at least extend your battery life into the evening, something else is going wrong with the device, or a rogue app is indeed going puppy on the battery slipper.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

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