System updates can improve battery life; here’s proof

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When we went hands-on, and gave Amazon’s Fire Phone the full review treatment earlier this month, we didn’t have many nice things to say about its battery life, rating it as “poor to fair”. This rating carries with its own measure of irony since Amazon touts “uncompromised battery life” as one of the selling points of its phone.

“You’ll definitely want to take a charger with you if you’re planning on anything close to heavy use. We haven’t once reached 4 hours of screen-on time with the Fire Phone‘s embedded 2600 mAh battery, and charging it every night has been a non-negotiable reality of life.”

When I received the Fire Phone for my coverage, I wasn’t expecting my experience to be all that different from what we discovered for our review. I was pleasantly surprised!

Amazon Fire Phone amazing batteryNot long into my evaluation, I received a system update which brought the Fire OS level up to 3.5.1 (111009920).

At first it seemed like any other update, a few bug fixes here, an additional feature there. But then I noticed something fairly astounding: battery life was through the roof!

According to Amazon, the 3.5.1 update includes:

  • Quick Switch: With a double-press on the home button, Quick Switch allows you to easily alternate between or shut down running apps and tasks.
  • App Grid Collections: Create folders of apps or content right on the app grid.
  • Carousel Pinning: Pin your favorite apps to the front of the home carousel.
  • 11 Frame Lenticular Photos: Create Lenticular photos using 11 still images instead of 3.
  • Enhanced Carousel E-mail: Delete e-mails directly from the home screen.
  • Improved Video Sharing: Share high-resolution videos via MMS or e-mail.
  • Improved Battery Life: Dozens of system updates for enhanced battery performance.

I didn’t take notice of the update list when I installed it. Sub-point revisions like that are usually fairly minor. I went back to using the phone. Days ticked by, four of them. I was astounded! Four days and almost nine hours had passed since my last charge. I grabbed a screenshot to document my experience. The battery expired sometime later that night, so it’s probably safe to add at least a few hours more standby time to these stats.

Michael had said the he’d never gotten more than four hours of screen-on-time during his evaluation. But here, after almost 8.4 hours of running with the screen on (including streaming some episodes of Veronica Mars), I was still going strong.

While we expect to see improvements like bug-fixes and new features when a system update comes out, it’s quite unusual to see such a dramatic increase in battery life – in this case, almost double what we’d seen before the update.

I’m not saying that battery life on every device can be doubled through the right application of system tweakery, but it’s obvious and apparent that once a business has its collective mind set on making marked improvements, developers can usually find a way to make it happen. In this case, those “dozens of system” updates certainly did “enhance battery performance”!

The Gauntlet

Rather than simply commend Amazon for doubling battery life on its flagship phone, instead I want to offer a challenge to all OEMs:

The proverbial gauntlet has been thrown. Amazon has shown us what can be done for battery life, and via an over-the-air system update no less!

While Amazon’s starting point will obviously differ from that of its competition, there’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t be seeing multiple days of combined use on other flagships, especially those with batteries larger than 2,600 mAh like the Fire Phone has. Your move, OEMs.

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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.