How To Get the Most from Your Smartphone Battery

By Tracey Dowdy

Poor battery life is one of the most common complaints of cell phone users. Personally, I feel myself breaking into a cold sweat when I see that battery indicator creeping below 20%. Doesn’t matter if I’m in a crowd surrounded by friends with phones or stranded on a deserted island about to be attacked by a panther…wait, do desert islands even have panthers? Anyway, low battery power makes me nervous.

Good news – it’s an easy problem to solve.

First, the science-y part that will make you feel you’re the smartest: Our cell phones, tablets and laptops use lightweight lithium ion batteries, a feature which is especially important in portable tech. They’re an improvement over past cell/laptop batteries because they hold a charge longer, have no “memory effect” – which means they don’t have to completely discharge – and can be charged roughly 500-1000 times depending on use and the level of care you take with your device.

Secondly, you can extend the life of your battery both short and long term by following these tips:

Don’t let your device overheat. Lithium ion batteries generate heat while they charge and allowing the device to sit in a hot environment – on your deck chair at the pool, in your non-air conditioned car – will impact the life of your battery. Not only will frequent over-heating cause the device to lose its charge more quickly, it will shorten the overall life of the battery resulting in the need to replace it sooner rather than later.
Bottom line: Avoid extreme temperatures – hot or cold – for maximum battery life.

Official chargers are best. Sure you can get a phone charger at the dollar store but do you really want to roll the dice on a $2 charger for your $300 phone? Manufacturers optimize the charger to specific batteries and using the wrong charger can cause damage. Off-brand chargers are generally poorly made and don’t push the necessary power to the battery, which also means it’ll take longer to charge.
Bottom line: Official chargers (from the phone manufacturers) are best; off-brand chargers from manufacturers like Belkin are generally okay; but third party (e.g. dollar store) chargers are not worth it.

Partial vs. full discharge. I always thought it was best to let the battery fully discharge before recharging. That may have worked in theory but in reality it’s rarely convenient. Turns out partial charge cycles are better for your phone than full discharge. Try to keep the 40/80 rule in mind – recharge at 40% and stop charging at 80%. Of course if you’re going to be away from your charger for a long period of time, let it charge to 100%.
Bottom line: Over-charging stresses the battery and stress isn’t any better for battery life than it is for your life.

Keep your software up to date. Smartphone updates include fixes to improve software and hardware performance. While there’s a limit to what impact updates can make on existing hardware, it can make the most of what you have.
Bottom line: Battery life is one of the most common complaints about mobile tech, so developers are constantly working on ways to improve performance.

Disable functions you don’t need. One of the biggest battery zappers is your phone’s GPS. If Location Services is enabled, your phone is constantly searching for cell phone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots. The more it searches, the faster the battery life is consumed. Also, disable Wi-Fi scanning, another battery hog. You’ll have to log in manually, but the pay-off is longer battery life.
Bottom line: If you don’t need it, turn it off.

Adjust Brightness. This one is pretty simple: the brighter the screen the faster the battery drain.
Bottom line: Set Brightness to Auto.

Set your Sleep Timer. Not as in when you go to sleep, but when your phone goes to sleep. Set your phone to go into sleep mode after a minute of inactivity for maximum battery life.
Bottom line: If your screen is active when you aren’t, you’re wasting your battery.

There are many other ways to preserve battery life that are specific to your OS. Take a few minutes to review manufacturer guidelines and change the necessary settings. When it comes to extending battery life, every little bit counts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do a little research on defending ones’ self against desert island panthers. Happy charging!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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