What’s Worth Trading for Battery Life

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Battery life may be the single biggest factor holding back the development of smartphones. The trick isn’t making phones that are faster, but those that can still be fast while not draining our batteries in a matter of hours. From the display, to the radio, it seems like every next-gen component in our phones demands more and more from our batteries. In the end we always have to make some sacrifices, and the current state of phone hardware is a (sometimes not so) finely-balanced system of trade-offs designed to give us a little bit of everything while still having enough power to last through the day. What if we want more than that, though? There are a few places where we could sacrifice a little more in order to really push battery life to the next level.

I got started thinking about this when I heard about the eInk prototype Android that the company demoed at the Mobile World Congress, which paired an older SoC with an electronic ink display – no, not the YotaPhone, with its supplementary screen, but an Android with e-ink for its primary display (above). Now, the combination of a slow processor and the low refresh rate of e-ink screens made this prototype appear nearly unusable (a fact not helped at all by the ancient Android build the system was based on), but its claimed battery life really piqued my interest: supposedly, a phone like this could last a week on a charge.

Well, an e-ink screen may not make for a very usable phone, but could we make some other sacrifices that could deliver impressive battery life gains on their own, without being quite so objectionable? Here are few ideas on what’s worth trading for battery life:

Display

You can forget about e-ink smartphone screens unless you’re comfortable taking a snail’s pace navigating through apps and menus. That’s not the only power-saving tech around, though, and some others would be a lot better suited to high-color, high-motion smartphone screens.

With LCDs, the screen’s backlight can be a huge power hog. We can dial-down the brightness when trying to squeeze a little extra battery life our of our phones, but you can only go so low. What if the screen was usable with the backlight disabled altogether?

There’s a class of LCDs called transflective panels, which take advantage of ambient light to form their images. In dark areas, they can still use a backlight, just like regular LCDs, but when one isn’t needed, they’re saving a whole lot of power. Sure, they have their limitations, like how contrast isn’t always great, but they can also be a whole lot more readable in bright sunlight than other screen types.

The problem is that nobody seems to make a smartphone with a transflective display. Nokia played with the technology back in the day, using it on old Series 40 phones like the 6230i, but it’s largely been surpassed by more power-hungry options.

Processor

You’ve probably heard about how the octa-core SoCs on the horizon aren’t quite like the quad-cores we know and use today, as they’re not set up to run all their cores at once. Instead, there are four full-power cores, and four energy-efficient cores, with the phone switching between the two sets as computational demands dictate.

What if you just used those low-power cores all the time? This is an idea that’s actually happening, and phones like Huawei’s G520 use a quad-core chip based around A7 cores – the same efficient designs used in those big.LITTLE octa-core setups.

ARM says that we’ll be seeing a lot of A7-based phones this year, delivering very affordable, low-power processing that’s just a few years behind the curve performance-wise from what we expect from high-end devices. So, while you wouldn’t get the smooth-as-butter user experience as you would with an A9 or A15-based phone, if you can live with a bit of lag, you may have some good options that deliver exceptional battery life.

Connectivity

This one might be controversial, but it could be worth giving up a little bit of the constant connectivity smartphones offer in order to prolong battery life. We have this notion that our phones are our lifelines to the world, and so they should always be connected, whether that’s over a cellular network or WiFi. What if you could live with less than that?

A phone that only maintained a connection to the nearest cellular tower or WiFi hotspot when actively in use has the potential to save a nice chunk of battery life. For instance, my Android’s been at home on WiFi all day, and cell standby still accounts for 20% of its power usage. What if our phones only fired-up their radios and connected to a tower every five – maybe even ten – minutes or so?

Obviously, this wouldn’t work for everyone, and some of us have legitimate needs to be constantly available, but be honest with yourself – how many of the calls you get go to voicemail anyway, and could just be left to wait another five minutes until you were notified of the message?

Too extreme for you? That’s fair, but from disabling WiFi to intentionally running an LTE phone in HSPA+ mode, there are a lot more easy to live with steps we can take to limit just how connected our phones are, while simultaneously helping reduce power consumption.

Put a couple of these ideas together, and you’ve got the potential for a long-lasting smartphone that’s a heck of a lot nicer to use than a clunky e-ink-only handset. A petite smartphone with a transflective screen and a quad-core A7? Yes, please!

Source: Laptop Mag

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!