Sunday, 17 July 2011

Make your android phone's battery life better!



While many iPhone users will brag that their phone has better life than (most) android devices, if you own a 'droid phone, you'll agree that there is some truth to the statement. Android has a lot of features that, when enabled, will eat up your battery life quickly. A quick search on the web will lead you to a lot of articles (like the one from the HowtoGeek for example) that will tell you how you can get more battery life. Some of these tips are good to know but I've found that they do very little to actually save your battery.

Here's what probably won't help you much:
  • Switching to a black background for your main app screen - Doesn't help much unless of course you plan on staring only at the app screen all day. Turning off live wallpapers may actually help (very little though), as it'll prevent the unnecessary CPU usage required to run them.
  • Task killers - This is probably if you have a ton of apps running and want to kill them all once in a while, but running them too often, or having them set to autokill may probably not help much. YMMV on this one, but you most probably won't be seeing a ton of increase in the battery life.
  • Turning off your phone - This tip actually works, but you probably won't be able to make any phone calls :(
Here's what most likely will have some effect (I've tested this mostly on the Samsung Captivate -- may be this guide should be called How to improve battery life on the "Samsung Captivate", but I'm sure there are ways of doing the same on other phones as well):
  • Switching to 3G only instead of HSDPA or LTE or 4G etc.. Many phones have the feature to disable HSPDA or 4G and run purely on 3G only. Here's how you can do this for the Samsung Galaxy S/Captivate/Vibrant etc.. The downside to this is, of course, the fact that you probably won't be getting the fast access to data that your phone is capable off. On the other hand you'll certainly get a better battery life. As an added bonus, you can also simply disable data altogether (a quick google search for your phone should tell you how) if you know for sure that you're not going to need it. In the case of my phone, it's simply doing a long press on the power button and disabling data. For example, if you're going in an hour long meeting, or about to begin an hour long phone call, just turn of the data before you do so. You'll still get texts and such, but your email won't be synced, and you obviously won't be able to browse the net.
  • Turn off stuff that you don't need (Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-fi etc.) as  - Obvious tip here, but I do admit that I'm sometimes guilty of keeping bluetooth/wifi/GPS on even after I've finished using it. This is more of a habit thing really, so I'm not too big on this tip. I do turn off stuff that I don't need though, but I'm sure my phone is smart enough not to use the GPS radio when I clearly don't need it. Also, I should probably add that turning off your phone, or at least putting it in airplane mode when you're in the subway/airplane/boat etc.would certainly help as well. Just sayin'
  • Turning off the wireless radio when your screen is off - Apps like JuiceDefender or Green Energy out there will do just this. They usually work on a schedule basis, where the phone turns on every x minutes to sync any email, and then will only turn on if your screen is on. Having this app running in the background will have some energy cost, but you'll save a lot by keeping your data radio disabled for 80% of the day (if you sync every 1 in five minutes).
  • Turn off auto sync for push email. This definitely works because your data radio doesn't ping the mail server every 2 minutes to keep the push connection alive. However, the battery savings most definitely are not worth it considering the fact that you may think that you have no new email (but in reality you just forgot to refresh the email manually) and miss a lot of important email. This has happened to me on several occasions, since I've gotten used to the BlackBerry delivering all the mail to me right when it arrives.
  • If you're like me and don't want to turn off auto sync: Don't use polling, but use push email instead (particularly if you have a Gmail account) as much as possible - Interestingly enough, I've found in my completely random and unscientific tests that if you use the default email client that comes in your phone and most likely support polling intervals of 5 mins, 10 minutes etc. that if you have it set to something like 10 minutes even, you will use about the same battery as using push email that probably gets any new email within a minute. Particularly, if you have something like 5 emails being polled even at the times of something like 30 minutes, then you may even experience a larger battery drain. Of course, you need to check your exchange account or something then you'll have to use an app that has exchange support, but may not have push. Also, people have commented that if you use the Gmail app for all your Gmail accounts, it'll maintain only 1 connection with the server even if you have several accounts, thus saving battery life. Not too sure about that one though.
  • Use Wireless-Fidelity instead of 3G - If you know you're in a wi-fi spot (at work or home or something) and have a relatively good connection, then turn on your wifi radio instead of keeping data on. Wi-fi is a much shorter range communication protocol, and as such requires less energy to process, so you may save up to 25% by not using 3G/Data (that number is just a rough guesstimate though... this is clearly not AnandTech where benchmarks are done with up to the millisecond results). Of course, you should turn off wireless when you're outside a Wi-Fi zone, because you're phone will probably die searching for a wi-fi connection. If you have an app like JuiceDefender ultimate then such apps will automatically switch to wifi for you when there is a connection available. Also, you may want to set you Wi-fi sleep policy to never (google should help with this)
  • Lower the haptic feedback - If you have that motor buzzing a lot every time you type a letter, then you're definitely going to kill your battery writing up a blog post as long as this one. I do like the haptic feedback though, but I keep it down to the lowest level so that I can still feel it, but not a lot. If you're phone comes with Swype, then you should probably use that too... doesn't save battery life or anything, but at least it looks cool ;)
  • Underclock/Undervolt your processor - If you're savvy enough (or have a lot of time on your hands), or just really need the battery life, you should look into this. The XDA forums will most likely have ~847 articles describing how you can do this. Doing so often requires you to install a custom rom and do a whole bunch of other things, but the process is usually documented quite well. I personally haven't bothered to get into this business because I don't really want to invest a lot of time into this just for getting an extra hour or so of battery life.
Bonus: If your phone has an AMOLED display then try out ScreenFilter. It'll reduce the brightness of your screen more so than the lowest brightness setting on your screen, saving some battery life. Also, if you're reading and replying to emails in the middle of the night, you won't be blinded by your flashlight like cell screen.

Ultimately though, although it doesn't seem like it, we all have to accept the fact that battery technology has still come a long way to power the computers/radios in our pocket. Transporting that data through the air isn't cheap when it comes to energy costs (or monetary costs for that matter). Even though you probably won't be able to last a week without recharging, you'll most likely make it through the day, which is probably good enough for most people, myself included.




Got a question, tip or comment? Send them to beyondteck+question@gmail.com and we'll try to answer it in a blog post!

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