Android Guy Weekly: How Are Batteries Holding Us Back?

Batteries are included inside all our smartphones and tablets, but most of us don’t pay much attention to them — not until we run out of juice.

Every phone includes the capacity of its battery somewhere on its spec sheet. A Nexus One includes a 1400mAh battery and a GSM Galaxy Nexus includes a 1750mAh battery. Both run at 3.7 volts.

In batteries, “pressure” is measured in voltage, the size of the jug is measured in amp-hours (or milliamp hours). If we compare electricity to water, milliamp hours (mAh), are analogous to the size of a water jug; volts (electromotive force) are analogous to pressure. The water in the jug will last a long time if you don’t drink much. The bigger the hole through which you drink, the faster you’re going to run out of water. The higher the pressure coming out, the faster you’ll empty the jug.

In batteries, there’s not a big empty space, there’s an anode and a cathode, separated by an electrolyte that acts kind of like an insulator, and kind of like a conductor. It spaces out the anodes and cathodes so they’re not touching, but allow electrons to flow through it when you’re discharging the battery.

Enough battery technology? Okay, good.

Why do batteries matter?

Why do they matter? Because we’d all look pretty silly dragging an extension cord around behind us, or wearing solar-paneled hats everywhere we go.

We’re getting faster processors with multiple cores — and using lots of power. Screens are getting bigger — and using lots of power. Radios for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular data and voice networks all use significant amounts of power.

Ironically, batteries haven’t improved much since the technology was invented. Sure, we’ve gotten Li-Ion and Lithium Polymer but they really aren’t that much more advanced than the old lead-acid batteries that have been around for decades (okay, longer than that, but who’s counting?).

It seems that manufacturers are in a race against each other to make their phones and tablets slimmer — and batteries are being sacrificed to save a few millimeters in thickness.

As consumers, we’re caught between wanting longer battery life and wanting slimmer phones. The only solution is somehow getting more power inside batteries, without taking up more space. We need a technological jump in battery technology to keep up with CPU, screen, and radio demands — or we need bigger batteries in our phones and tablets.

What are your thoughts? Would you sacrifice a few millimeters in thickness for a few more hours of run-time? Let us know in the comments!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.