Extending smartphone battery life: how to become a real road warrior, if needed

Ok, I promise, this is the last time I talk about my vacation – which was freakin’ great, bee tee dubs. But as I mentioned in a previous article, I found myself in a difficult situation – I had the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and I was out on the town for 11 days straight. Battery life was an issue pretty much every day I was out there. I managed to muddle through using a couple of tricks which I’ll talk to you about, but I also did a little digging and put together a sort of “best practices” list here that you can employ should you find yourself on the wrong side of a battery notification.

low battery gifThe first thing I did was shut down my email accounts. I was on vacation after all. So I turned off all but two of my email accounts. In retrospect I should have turned them all off. But anyway, that helped, but not by much. So my family and I often resorted to airplane mode, which of course turns off pretty much everything and morphs your phone into a very thin camera. Most of the time we were together, so we really didn’t need to call or text each other. If we needed directions, we either came out of airplane mode or, in extreme circumstances, asked for directions. I know; it’s unthinkable.

Between that and connecting to a 10,000 mAh battery pack, we managed. But there was much more that we could have done. Here’s a short list of things you can do to get through a day on a less-than-desirable battery.

Android KitKat and Lollipop Battery ScreenLock ‘er up

If you don’t have to communicate, don’t. That’s a pretty simple rule when you’re on vacation. Airplane mode is an extremely effective way to preserve your battery. More than anything else, you are shutting down pretty much everything your phone could do that would use those precious energon cubes. No internet, no WiFi, no bluetooth, no pulling data from Facebook or twitter. Just nothing. If you can get by on this, this is the best thing you can do. But not all of us can do this.

Shut ‘er up

If you can’t go completely off the grid, one thing you can do is shut off sources that are going to pull data, either periodically or constantly. I already talked about shutting down email accounts, but take it further. Off the top of my head, I can think of the following apps that pull data and notify me of things independently:

  • Accuweather
  • MLB At Bat
  • Clash of Clans
  • Facebook
  • Google Now (widget)
  • GroupMe
  • Messenger
  • TradeRumors
  • Twitter

And that’s just off the top of my head. Of those, I could think that maybe, Accuweather might be something to keep on. Everything else, especially while on vacation, I don’t really need to have on. Sometimes vacation is about disconnecting.

galaxy alpha batteryShut ‘er off

Beyond that, if Airplane mode is too extreme for you, and you need to have your apps chirping at you, you can turn off other services and radios that you won’t need, such as WiFi when you’re out on the town, location services when you’re not navigating, bluetooth if you don’t have a smartwatch, etc. All of these radios are going to sip that battery away. Sure, one of those individually won’t be a major drain, but all of them together can start to add up fast when you’re only on stop #4 of your tour bus.

Turn ‘er down

Of course, one of the biggest culprits in the world of smartphone battery drain is your screen. It has been my experience that the Auto-brightness setting can often be a bit brighter than you absolutely need, so I generally will go with a manual adjustment in this area. This can occasionally come back to bite you if you find yourself in direct sunlight and can’t see your ultra-dim screen to turn the brightness up. Generally, you’ll be better off setting the phone’s screen brightness down to as low as you can go and still see it.

multitaskingHonorable mentions

There are a few other things you can do to maximize your battery. I put them don’t here in the, “it couldn’t hurt” department. I subscribe to most of these theories, but whether or not they actually help me, I can’t definitively say.

The first one is task killing. Closing unused apps either by force-quitting them in your task manager or by actively using a task killer can help preserve some juice. Also, keeping your apps up to date can help since many updates include the “battery optimization” line in the release notes. Finally, most phones today do have an ultra-battery saver mode of some sort. Of course this will help your phone last, but the whole point of this article is to keep you from getting to the point where you need that in the first place.

Of course this list isn’t absolutely comprehensive; I’m sure there’s stuff out there that I haven’t thought of, so that’s why we have comments. What tricks do you use to extend that ol’ smartphone battery in those extreme circumstances? Sound off below and help out your fellow readers!

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!