Power saving modes are not the answer
Having a long past with legacy BlackBerry smartphones will do something to you. It will make every new phone you buy feel inferior in at least one way: battery life.
I often write that a phone’s battery life is great, decent, amazing, or passable. But when I write it, I only sort of meant it. That’s not to say I’m lying, but I typically quantify a phone’s stamina in relation to other, modern smartphones when, honestly, I’m rarely ever impressed by a smartphone’s ability to keep a charge.
When I was 16, I bought my very first BlackBerry after having trouble with the Motorola Q (on Alltel, nonetheless) dying too quickly. I traded it in for a BlackBerry Pearl 8130. Its battery life was better, but it wasn’t great. Still, overall, I enjoyed the phone a lot more than anything I had tried before it.
When Alltel pulled the curtain on the Curve 8330, though, I couldn’t get rid of that SureType keyboard fast enough. I traded once more for the 8330 and didn’t look back for nearly three years. That’s when I became obsessed with smartphones, when I started tinkering with unofficial versions of software, making my own BlackBerry themes from scratch, and spending hours digging through forums for new apps and games to play.
The Curve 8330’s popularity wasn’t a fluke; there was a lot to love about Research In Motion’s more consumer-centric smartphones. For one, the 8330’s battery life was astounding.
I could take if off the charger at 8:00 AM one morning, use it all day to browse the web, text and instant message, send emails, type out articles (yeah, I would do that from time to time), play games, tweet, and stream Pandora for a few hours. By 8:00 AM the next morning, my phone wasn’t dead. It wasn’t blinking with a low battery message and I wasn’t scrambling to find a charger. No, I could probably go at least another day and a half on similar usage before I would need to charge.
Average was two and a half to three days per charge, regardless of usage. There were times that I could leave town for a weekend and not take a charger. Naturally, I would anyway. But the point is, I didn’t have to.
Those were different times. Phones weren’t capable of nearly what they are today. The Curve 8330 display wasn’t touchscreen, it was 2.5-inches diagonally, and just 320 by 240 pixels. Its CPU was just a single core clocked at 312MHz, it had just 32MB of RAM and 96MB of fixed storage, the camera was just 2-megapixels, and its battery was 1,150mAh.
The only factor that seemed to negatively affect that great stamina, of course, was cellular data. Constantly switching between EVDO and 1xRTT would suck your battery dry in no time. However, most days, I never had a problem with that.
Battery life on modern smartphones is a different story entirely, and I’ve never really been quite as satisfied as I once was with my BlackBerrys. Take the most recent addition to my collection: the iPhone 6 Plus. I’m the most satisfied with its battery life than I have been with any other phone in the last seven years, give or take. I average around one and a half days of battery, but I still charge it every night because I don’t want it to die on me halfway through the following day.
The One M8 I also carry lasts a day, at most, on average. The Google Play edition Sony Z Ultra, with a 3,050mAh battery, would also die in about a day. Same for the Galaxy Note 3, Ascend Mate 7, Moto X, etc.
I know, people have claimed to get amazing battery life out of their Android phones, lasting upwards of two days on a charge whilst exceeding five hours of screen-on time. The fact of the matter is, I don’t get that battery life. I never have and I don’t want to have to work for it. That’s not me being lazy or having exceedingly high expectations, I just firmly believe phones should exceed a full day of usage with very few exceptions. I shouldn’t have to switch off my data connection when I’m not using it or limit how much time I spend playing a game because my phone might not last until I get home. I should be able to use a phone and it simply last until I can make it back to a charger in a given day.
If I can get a full day of some excessive use out of my phone, I’m a happy camper. I can do that with the 6 Plus but not many others.
In the last year or so, several OEMs have attempted to make this possible by equipping their devices with so-called power saving features. The Xperia Z3 Compact I’m currently reviewing comes with a few different power saving modes: STAMINA, Ultra STAMINA, Low Battery mode, Location-based Wi-Fi, and the ability to only send background data in set intervals during standby. Basically, if you toggle STAMINA mode on, the software will claim to at least double your estimated time remaining. Ultra STAMINA mode essentially turns your smartphone into a dumb phone to obtain over three weeks of standby time. And Low Battery mode is a feature that kicks-in when your charge hits a certain percentage and it allows you to pick and choose what will automatically be turned off, like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, auto-sync, etc.
To some degree, almost every Android smartphone comes with these so-called power saving features. They trade the features which make your phone smart for a little extra juice. Frankly, that defeats the purpose.
I carry a smartphone for its convenience, for people to be able to reach me at any given moment, so I can whip my phone out of my pocket and ask Google a question at any time. I don’t want to have to fiddle with turning off a feature that blocks data usage to improve my phone’s battery life just so my emails will come through. I don’t want to miss IMs because my phone was in my pocket, being overly conservative with its power consumption.
I want to use my phone, comfortably, and last a whole day. Is that too much to ask for?
No, no it isn’t.
The problem is, battery technology is at a standstill. Sure, there are dozens of battery breakthroughs every year, but none of them have found their way into mobile technology and, sadly, they won’t for years. OEMs have reacted by cramming more capacity into the battery packs inside our phones, but that has only offset some of the difference in the power munched on by hungry CPUs, displays, cellular data, and the changes in the way we use our phones – more multimedia and online time than phone calls and emails.
The most prominent breakthrough I’ve seen is rapid charging. The Oppo Find 7a could almost fully charge in 45 minutes. Samsung claims the Galaxy Note 4 can charge 50 per cent in a mere 30 minutes. And the iPhone 6 Plus has no problem charging at 2.1A. Plug it into an iPad charger and watch it charge three times as fast.
Some fear this added convenience could have some lasting effects on the batteries inside our phones, though. The added heat of a rapid charge (which isn’t always present, mind you) can harm your battery’s life span and there is evidence that slower charges will make the battery last longer. The slower the charge, the less heat involved, the longer the battery will last, right? Maybe not. Research out of California last month suggests more “uniform charging, whether fast or slow, causes less localized heating that can degrade the battery,” increasing the life span of a common battery from a few years to around a decade.
Point being, I’m tired of constantly being tethered to a wall. If my phone is constantly charging, it isn’t very mobile. And if my phone has to constantly switch data off just to last a full day, it isn’t the convenient tool it’s being marketed as.
All I’m asking is that more manufacturers use larger batteries that charge faster. Quit shooting for the thinner, lighter phone and make one that can actually stand to be used. Make a phone that is actually mobile for … at least a whole day.