We’ve talked about it in the past and I’m sure we’ll talk about it long into the future: battery life.
Today we’re going to tackle the subject from another direction. Rather than talk about what you and I can do to try and extend how long our batteries last, let’s talk about what manufacturers and OEMs are doing to try and maximize battery life in phones and tablets they make.
Make Bigger Batteries
Let’s face it, we’ve got two competing specifications here: who can make the thinnest phone, and who has the larger capacity battery. Usually the one who leads in one spec trails in the other. Why? Batteries are fat. They’re so fat that manufacturers literally build the system board around the battery to try and make up some thickness.
Other than making batteries thinner, there aren’t many ways to get around cramming more (milliamp hours) into our phones, so they’ve got to tackle things on the other side.
Turning Things Off
My Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 has a section in the settings devoted to “Power saving mode”. Motorola has something similar in many of their devices. Both attempt to extend the last third or so of your battery by turning off non-essential items. Turning off WiFi when not connected to an AP, turning off Bluetooth and GPS, disabling data synchronization, and turning down the screen brightness are all ways to help stretch your battery. These tools do that automatically, but they’re not on by default. Perhaps they should be.
Another approach some have tried is by pre-packaging task killers. The theory here is that by freeing up RAM and killing unused processes, you’ll save energy (and make your device faster). I haven’t had much success with these types of apps accomplishing either, and the trade-offs are usually a deal-breaker for me. If you’ve had different experiences I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Using More Efficient Hardware
Most modern CPUs can be run at variable speeds. There’s a trade-off here as well. Although your quad-core 1.5GHz power-house is super-fast, it doesn’t need to be fast all the time. It only needs to be fast when you want it to be. When your phone is in your pocket you don’t need all that power, it can scale down to 350MHz and you’ll never notice — but your battery will last a whole lot longer! When you fire it up, you want more speed. That’s the trade-off: ramping up the speed isn’t instantaneous, and that “hesitation” can be noticeable and frustrating.
The more features an OEM can build into a chip and the smaller those chips can be made, the lower the power consumption is. This, of course, helps with battery life. Unfortunately, it also makes manufactures immediately think of smaller (or thinner) phones with smaller batteries, rather than maintaining the size or even increasing the capacity.
The Dreaded Screen!
Have you ever looked at what’s gobbling up your battery? What’s up on the top of the list? I bet it’s not your music player, or even Pandora. It’s not your cellular radio. Even downloading a new “nightly” version of my custom ROM every day, that’s not even in my top ten. What’s always on the top? Your screen!
This is where the major advances need to happen: screens that use less power, use ambient light to illuminate the screen, or just simply suck down less juice. I’m not saying I don’t want a bigger battery, I’d just like it if my battery lasted longer when my screen was on.
Enough of my yammering! It’s your turn. Let me know in the comments how you think OEMs are doing a good job extending battery life, and where you think they can improve.