Every Android phone available is faster, has more storage space, and is better connected than the first three desktop computers I owned. Whether this is a commentary on how long I’ve been into computers, or a testament to how advanced Android devices are I’ll leave up to you.
Even though your Android is “just a phone” it’s still a full-fledged computer with a CPU, GPU, multiple networking interfaces (WiFi, CDMA, EDGE, 3G, Bluetooth, etc.), RAM, ROM, multimedia, and display and it does all this without being tethered to a power outlet all day.
In this context, complaints of battery life shouldn’t be a very big deal, but in today’s day and age, any smartphone (regardless of how awesome it is) should get a full day of “normal use” before it needs to be recharged.
What is “Normal Use”?
Since everyone’s definition of “normal use” will differ based on their needs and usage habits, I’ll let you know about my day.
I cradle my Nexus One at night, so in the morning I have 100% battery, ready to face the day. Over breakfast I check my RSS feeds, Tweets, Facebook, email, GMail, news feeds, and check the weather forecast. (All of which had their data via WiFi the previous night, while cradled.)
Throughout the day I get several SMS messages via Google Voice, make and take several phone calls (usually lasting under 5 minutes each), check my Twitter feed, browse various websites, and so on. My “normal use” isn’t going to be the same as yours; keep that in mind.
By noon I’m usually down to 75%; by the time I get home at night I’m usually into the 20% range; I usually ran completely out before bed-time.
I needed more time, but how could I extend my battery?
The obvious (but not necessarily the best) answer is to simply add more power. This can be done by adding a larger battery (or a battery with a larger capacity) or by plugging in throughout the day.
Plugging in is the easiest option and can be done elegantly using a desktop dock and a car dock. Getting an extended-life battery can help, too. For example, the stock battery for the G1 runs around 1100mAh. You can get a replacement battery for under $40 that ups this to around 1440mAh without adding any extra size to your phone.
Of course, if you’re not concerned with adding a bit more bulk, you can get a battery (and new back panel) for your G1 that more than doubles your battery life as well as the thickness of your phone!
The Root of the Problem
Of course, simply adding more power isn’t the solution to the problem, it’s just a patch for the underlying cause. That having been said, batteries can and do “wear out”, and I do recommend replacing yours every now and again (make sure you recycle your old one!).
The root of the problem is what we used to call TSRs (terminate and stay resident programs). Back in the olden days of computers these TSRs made your computer run slowly because they were chewing up your RAM even after you exited the program.
Today, those “problems” are better referred to as “features” in the form of services and widgets that run in the background to keep you up-to-date.
Think about all the behind the scenes “chatter” that has to go on to keep your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Email, SMS, Voicemail, weather, RSS, podcasts, finances and stocks, chat, IM, Google Talk, news, and similar information-based services that run all the time up-to-date. They have to check-in with their servers quite frequently to keep your information current.
I have GMail and Google Voice set up to get push notifications. My Twitter client, Facebook, weather widgets (plural), news and finance widgets, RSS reader, podcast app, and email (not Gmail), are all pull-based services. This means those apps go out via my network (WiFi or 3G) and talk to the servers frequently. The more apps I have doing this and the more frequently they update, the shorter my batter life is.
There’s a side-effect, too. The more often you get updates, the more often you check your phone, which involves turning on the screen. Believe it or not, the screen is one of the biggest power drains on the entire phone!
By reducing my pull-notifications to every hour for email and Twitter, every 4 hours for weather and news, and every 24 hours for RSS and podcasts I’ve been able to increase my battery life substantially!
How much is “substantially”? For me I’ve been able to increase my capacity by 20-30% throughout the day, and haven’t been shut-down due to lack of power at night. Others have reported doubling their battery life.
Your homework is to report how much battery life you have on your phone throughout the day without making any changes to your routine. Then go through your apps and reduce the update frequency as much as you’re comfortable with, then go through the same sort of daily activities.
Once you’ve done all that, report back what impact it had on your power use, and if you missed having your data updated as frequently as you did before.
For extra-credit, go back through all your apps and reduce the update frequency again. How much more up-time were you able to gain? Did you miss the frequency of updates?