Are third-party battery saving apps worth it?

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CPUs, GPUs, RAM, and even storage space all seem to be headed in the right direction: more! Thickness and weight are headed in the opposite direction: thin and light. What’s stuck in the middle? That’s right, your battery.

Batteries are interesting things. They store energy, exactly how they do that has evolved over time — albeit slowly. There are many kinds of energy out there: solar energy, kinetic energy, nuclear energy, potential energy, hydro, wind, heat, pressure, rotational, chemical, and more. No, those aren’t all the same “kinds” of energy, but it illustrates that the topic is quite broad.

When we’re talking about batteries, we’re talking about DC electrical energy stored in a electrochemical cells, and held there until it’s needed. When it is time to supply that energy, electrolytes allow ions to move between the electrodes and terminals, which allows current to flow out of the battery and into your electronic device. They come in all different shapes and sizes, but they’re usually Li-Ion or Li-Po when we’re talking about smartphones and tablets. With so many different aspects to consider, one thing remains universally constant: batteries are never “big enough” when it comes to capacity.

OEMs are so focused on thinner and lighter, and that battery capacity is often an afterthought. I would absolutely love a 5,000 mAh battery in my phone. I’d even be willing to add another 4 or 5 mm to its thickness to accommodate. I’m not alone, but I doubt I’m in the plurality.

Chip makers try to address power requirements with their latest and greatest SoCs. They do a really great job at giving us more processing power and more functionality without upping battery requirements to match, but in practical use we’re slowly losing battery life, not gaining it. Isn’t there anything we can do?

Battery Saving Apps

Actually, there is — sort of.

Ganesh from India wrote in to podcast [AT] pocketnow [DOT] com with a question:

“Dear Pocketnow, love your podcasts, reviews, throwbacks, after the buzz, comparison videos, news offerings and everything else that you guys do!!! Great job and keep it up!!! I am currently rocking a nexus 4. Coming from a developing nation, saving power comes naturally to me. I use toggles to stop any service that I might not require, thus enabling battery life. My question is, are the battery saving apps that are present in abundance in play store, do their work as advertised or are they all bogus?? Are they necessary, only if we are not careful enough?? Do you guys use these apps?? Please do share your thoughts! (SIC)”

Ganesh, that’s a great question. In fact, it’s worthy of more than a 5 minute ramble on the podcast!

greenifyTo get right to the heart of your question, yes there are many (MANY!) apps in the Play Store that promise to help extend your battery life. Some of them work, most of them don’t — but not for lack of trying.

Many of these app “work” by shutting down processes when you’re not using them. Not only does this free up memory, it also frees up any lingering threads that might be sucking down your precious battery. Alas, Android already does this — to a certain extent. However, some developers write code to get around it. I’ve got news for you folks: those developers did that for a reason. By terminating the app though a third party utility, you’re basically letting someone who has no idea what apps you’re running (let alone the reason they were written the way they were) have the ability to shut down those apps. Sometimes this helps. Maybe the developer didn’t code it that way deliberately. Then again, maybe it’s performing exactly like it’s supposed to and you just broke it — and stability will suffer. But hey, your battery life got better, right?

Some apps simply work better than others. I’m using Greenify currently. It’s not a magic cure-all, but I think it helps, at least a little.

What about ROOT?

Some apps require ROOT access to work. Many of these go into really deep, dark corners of your Android to try and pull out every last nugget of energy available. Generally speaking, these don’t work any better than their non-root counterparts. Oh sure, they’ve got more features, but they come with more risks — which kind of offset the advantages.

What’s one to do?

Facebook PhoneThis is going to sound crazy, but hear me out.

Go through all your apps and see what their settings are configured to do. Social network apps like Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and more usually have an “update” option. Set that to the highest number that you can live with. You’d be surprised how much longer your device will run when it’s not checking for new posts every 15 minutes — from twelve different sources. The same goes for email and weather apps. Sure, this means you won’t get updates as quickly as you did before, but that might be okay. You can still open them when you want to, and manually check on those updates.

Get a smartwatch. Yes, you’ll have to keep your Bluetooth on all the time which will consume some power, but if you can simply look at your wrist and dismiss a notification there rather than turning on your screen, you’ll save a bunch of power. Trust me on this one!

Don’t underclock! Some people will tell you that underclocking your CPU will save power. They’re exactly right — and totally wrong. Let’s say you slow down your CPU so it takes half as much power. To do so you’ve got to bump the speed down by much more than half. That means tasks will take much more than twice as long to complete. See the logic error here? If you don’t do much on your device, this method may save you quite a bit of power, but for most of us, it won’t.

Turn off radios when not in use. When you get to work, are you covered by WiFi? What about at home? School? The train? If you’ve got a reliable WiFi signal in places you visit often, use it rather than cellular data. In fact, turn your cellular data off (or to EDGE) when you’re under WiFi. Similarly, when you stray out of WiFi coverage, turn off your WiFi radio and turn on your cellular data. Doing so is a pain unless you automate it, but it can save you big time!

Cut the brightness. Your screen consumes a lot of power when its on. The lights required to make it bright and brilliant use up a fair amount of power, too. Turning the brightness down to the lowest level you can use will save some juice. Automatic-brightness may or may not help, depending on how aggressive it is. Experiment, and pick whatever works best in your case.

What about you?

Have you used battery saving apps in the past? Do you have any success cases? How about horror stories? What worked for you? What didn’t?

We’re dying to find out (at least our batteries are), so make sure you head down to the comments and let us know your experience with battery saving apps, and what you do to make sure to maximize the power you have!

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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.