An Exhaustive Guide to Saving Your Smartphone’s Battery [Batteries]

Modern phones come loaded with bright screens, fun games and apps, and connections for 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. Not coincidentally, they're constantly out of juice. Here's some of the best collected wisdom about saving your web-connected phone's battery life.

Photo by [177].

Universal battery tips

They're different in a lot of ways, but all smartphones can be made to be more frugal with their limited power reserves if you're willing to follow a few simple rules of thumb.

  • Follow the laptop battery rules: Your phone's lithium-ion battery benefits from the same best battery practices for a laptop. If your battery is new and decent enough, don't keep it plugged in all the time, or it dies the death of a thousand tiny discharges. Use the battery almost all the way when you use it, charge it when it needs it, and, if necessary, let it completely run down and recharge it every so often to refresh its own sense of longevity.
  • Keep it cool and out of pocket: If you're outside, don't leave your phone facing the direct sunlight. If you can pull it off without looking like a hyper-aggressive real estate agent, belt-clip your phone, or generally keep it out of your pocket and away from close quarters with your body heat.
  • Switch off 3G when it's unnecessary: It's faster than EDGE or GRPS and can deliver both voice and data in a continuous stream to your phone. It also uses up quite a bit more power. When you've got good coverage and plan to mostly talk, or just get occasional email updates, you don't need such wide wireless pipes. Switch to EDGE/2G usage in your settings, preferably with a widget or shortcut.
  • Switch off any unneeded service: Goes without saying for anyone who's learned the hard way. Having your phone constantly look for new Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi hotspots, GPS positions, and Exchange server emails that don't arrive at 4 a.m. will definitely kill your battery. Find the most convenient way your phone offers to turn these things off, or automate their use, and act on it.
  • Be frugal with background applications and notifications: It feels like living in the future when new emails, Twitter messages, Facebook updates, calendar appointments, and other minutiae are delivered minute-by-minute to your phone. Your battery lives in the present, though, and could use a break from your hyper-awareness. If you've got a phone that can keep multiple applications "open" for quicker access (Android, Pre, Windows Mobile), don't feel obligated to keep them present.
  • Use a black or dark theme: Except for the iPhone, most phones let you set your own wallpaper, and some give you the ability to "theme" your phone's entire look. It might be a minor point, but using a darker-colored theme doesn't make your backlight and screen work quite so hard, and saves your battery just a bit.
  • Fiddle with screen time-outs and brightness: Tweak how long your screen stays lit after a quick time check, modify how bright it must stay during the daylight, and you'll likely pull a bit more use time from your handset.
  • Use mobile site versions: Find and bookmark the mobile versions of the sites you always visit (often found at m.sitename.com, mobile.sitename.com, or, occasionally, sitename.com/m), and keep tools like the Google Mobilizer and Bing Mobile handy; they'll automatically pare down a page to its basic elements, and save your phone from having to burn its battery pulling down giant banner ads.

BlackBerry

If you're rocking a BlackBerry, chances are that disconnecting your network to save on battery life isn't an option. Instead, you might try a few of these tips. Photo by liewcf.

  • RIM's official tips: To summarize: Close your browser with the ESC key when you're done surfing, use shortcuts instead of Java-based menus, get crazy with the extensive settings, and use the Desktop Manager (now available for PCs and Mac OS X) to load media, rather than have your phone resize and compress it all.
  • Radio Saver and AutoStandby: Radio Saver turn off your phone's cell reception when coverage is spotty or non-existent, saving you from the dreaded drain of roaming for signal. AutoStandby, when it's on, drops your BlackBerry into a deeper standby state, rather than just sleep, if you'd rather get a bit more time from your phone than be constantly pinged. They're $2.99 each, which isn't cheap for a utility, but might be worth the coffee change if you're low on battery life or working on the edge of service.
  • The Boy Genius basics: Straight from the BlackBerry-toting, news-breaking blogger behind the Boy Genius Report, the basics on keeping your phone alive:

    Turn down brightness of the screen, turn the LED off, turn Bluetooth off, Wi-Fi off (when not needed).

    Also, keep it in a holster, since it will "sleep" (when inside it)

    No silver bullets there, but sound advice—especially on the holster bit.

iPhones

Apple's game-changing, full-web-browsing phone has had its battery life detractors from the get-go. Luckily, some have put their efforts into fixing that. Photo by Mat Honan.

  • Apple's official tips: To summarize: Don't get it too hot or too cool, turn off unnecessary services, "lock" it frequently, and let the battery run completely down, and then charge to 100 percent, at least once a month.
  • Gizmodo's suggestions: To summarize: Change from Push to Fetch email, turn off contacts and calendar sync if you're not a CEO, cancel scanning for new Wi-Fi networks, and avoid games with vibration and 3D graphics (except in seriously long airport lines).
  • Toggle networks with SBSettings jailbreak app: By default, the iPhone's on/off switches are tucked inside the settings, and the phone can only automate screen brightness. With SBSettings installed on a jailbroken phone (from the BigBoss repository), you can not toggle all your data connections on and off from a flip-down widget, and fine-tune other battery-grabbing aspects of your phone. See and read more about SBSettings at The Apple Blog. Thanks j_rich!
  • Use the battery percentage indicator: The standard battery indicator can leave you guessing as to how healthy your iPhone actually is, and sometimes misreports its state entirely. Enable a numeric percentage read on your lock screen by heading to Settings, General, and then Usage to toggle "Battery Percentage" to On.
  • Use Prowl, GPush, or very light Push for Gmail: We first showed you how to use Prowl and Growl to push Gmail to your iPhone, and it remains a more battery-efficient means of getting important email notifications, particularly while your main work computer is running. We also detailed a work-around with GPush that works at any time—when it works, period. Since then, Gmail has added official push support for instant email notifications, but it also makes manual email fetching more reliable, so users can set it to an hourly or manual interval to save on battery use. Thanks drjonze and wbullockiii!

Android

The current crop of Android phones have almost universally crummy battery life. Luckily, the system's open platform has given app developers lots of leeway to squeeze every drop out of them. Photo by sugree.

  • Automate your phone rules: When you're asleep, you want important calls to come through, but you don't need to check your email every hour. When you're at work, your screen doesn't need to be so bright, and you've already got net access. Using an app like Locale , you can make turning on and off your phone's most power-hungry features automatic, based on time of day, location, battery status, and other factors.
  • Learn to love APNdroid: It's more severe, but APNdroid is also the most sincere battery saver out there. Click its app icon, and your EDGE/3G cell networks are turned off, while your basic call connection remains in place. That's better than Airplane Mode, which totally renders you inaccessible, and, used wisely, you'll definitely notice the difference when you start charging every other day. Bettter still, it seems a Locale plug-in is in the works, so turning off your wireless access when it's not needed could become a no-brainer.
  • Keep the power widget handy: When your Android 1.6 (a.k.a. Donut) update arrives, you'll have a new widget available, "Power Control," that puts some important on/off switches—Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, auto-sync, and screen brightness—all on one horizontal strip. Keep it someplace handy on your home screen, and power down when you're at your most casual.
  • See what's eating your juice: Also new in Android 1.6: A percentage Battery Use chart you can access under About Phone in your Settings. It shows what's been pulling in power since the last time you charged your phone, which can help remind you of background apps and other power drains.

Windows Mobile

Older than almost all its siblings, but Windows Mobile has grown to incorporate all the same battery-killing background powers as its brethren. Photo by Titanus.

  • WMExperts' tips: To summarize: Avoid Wi-Fi whenever possible, dial down your email checking, and dig into your settings to modify screen time-outs and vibration frequency.
  • WMLongLife: Basically, this independent app switches your phone from 3G service down to 2G when it's in standby mode, so background data grabs and non-essential pings drain less battery. The developer also states it has a beneficial impact on, erm, other functions.

Palm Pre

Everybody who digs the Palm Pre mentions its "deck of cards" multi-tasking and Sprint's seriously speedy data networks. Yeah, you guessed it—both require a little power precaution.

  • Treonauts' battery tips: To summarize: Turn it off (or into airplane mode) when in very weak coverage, and follow the same kind of auto-check and background app recommendations made earlier in this post.
  • Battery Saver: This homebrew app is only really useful if there are parts of the day where another phone provides you with emergency contact—like at home, if you have an alternate line. If that's the case, though, turning your phone to airplane mode at pre-set parts of the day gives you the advantage of a quick power-on or contact check, while also saving on battery life.

Symbian (Help Wanted)

To be honest, the vast variety of Symbian phones with customized firmwares give us pause at offering a standard set of apps or recommendations for bettery battery life. That said, if you know of a tip, trick, or app that saves battery life on Symbian phones, tell us in the comments. We'll update the post here to reflect the best suggestions.


Hopefully you'll find something useful in these tips to give your mobile data hub a bit more life from each charge. Did we miss anything major? By all means, tell us about it in the comments, and share your own battery life discoveries.

Flash Arriving by Year-End on Every Smartphone Except iPhones [Smartphones]

Adobe has promised betas of a mobile-ready Flash 10.1 for Windows Mobile and Palm Pre late this year, and early next year for Android, Symbian, and BlackBerry phones, as well as NVIDIA-powered netbooks. The only hold-out? The iPhone, of course.

Adobe describes Apple as "closed device" and continues to offer a fig leaf, but given Apple's general stance on opening up new development platforms on their device, it seems a tad unlikely. As Gizmodo points out, though, that might become a selling feature for those annoyed by memory-hungry Flash apps and advertisements.

More notable than even the ability to watch YouTube and Hulu clips on your phone, though, is that Flash 10.1 will support graphic chip acceleration on systems with NVIDIA graphics cards, allowing full-screen viewing on netbooks whose processors might otherwise choke, and giving laptop and desktop users perhaps a bit more performance from low-quality clips. Adobe AIR, the cross-platform app engine that powers apps like TweetDeck, will also see improvements with the release of Flash 10.1.

Promises of multi-platform support "by the end of this year" might not be bank-able, but it's reassuring to hear Adobe's firm expectations on all but one platform. Tell us what you'd like Flash to do, or stay away from, on your own smartphone or netbook in the comments.



Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile All Getting Updates Soon [Smartphones]

If you're rocking a G1 or myTouch 3G, a Palm Pre, or a Windows Mobile device, you're due for an OS upgrade fairly soon. Android 1.6, a.k.a. Donut, Palm's WebOS 1.2, and Windows Mobile 6.5 are all set to drop.

The biggest change is Donut, which Android and Me reports is already hitting some T-Mobile USA users. Android 1.6 offers a few new features, like a power bar widget to manage phone services and new phone software, along with performance gains and support for soon-to-come CDMA phones on Verizon and Sprint networks.

Palm's WebOS 1.2 includes support for credit card entry in the app market, synchronization with LinkedIn, and other updates noted at Palm's blog. On the Windows Mobile side, 6.5 won't likely be available to many older phones as an upgrade, but new models, sporting a revamped interface and Flash Lite support, arrive Oct. 6.

What upgrades or changes are you most looking forward to on your non-Apple smartphone? Share your wishlist in the comments.



Five Features We Want to See in Android [Lifehacker Wishlist]

As with our Ubuntu wishlist, we can't actually tell everyone contributing to Google's open source Android mobile phone software what to do. All we can do is suggest five things that would make its smartphones even smarter.

A better keyboard

A good handful of developers and handset makers have taken steps to improve Android's stock virtual keyboard. Some have suggested it's really an issue with hardware responsiveness. Either way, Lukas Mathis does a masterful job explaining exactly what's wrong with Android's keyboard, as compared to the iPhone, which has had a few years to mature and iterate:

Typing on the iPhone ... works perfectly well, perhaps better than on a physical keyboard. Doing the same thing on an HTC Magic is often annoying and wrought with errors.

We'll leave the physical keyboard debate out of this. The virtual keyboard is the route more handset makers that aren't BlackBerry seem to be taking. What's more, for a device that's supposed to give you premiere mobile access to Google searches and information, having a device punish you for trying to type with one hand is off-putting. Handset makers need to widen the screens, and Android's developers need to learn how to better anticipate what a user is trying to type.

A web-based Market with great search

When you think about Google's origins and mission of providing good information to the masses, it's hard to square that against how the Android Market is organized. On the phone itself, everything is an App or Game, broken into a few sub-categories. On the web version, you can browse the Featured, Top Paid, and Top Free sections, or browse the hopelessly stuffed sub-categories—without any search function.

In actually using the phone, people search with a tag and functionality mindset. "I need a highly-rated free Twitter client," or "I need a screen widget that shows a calendar." As it stands, you can search descriptions from the phone, but you have to scroll lots of results on a tiny screen, with no sorting tools. You can sometimes find an app's "QR code" on the web and point your camera's phone, with a Barcode Scanner app running, to link to the right spot on the market, and—wait, no, this is ridiculous, and we're in CueCat territory.

In other words, Google needs to forge a smarter link between a great web-based Market and individual phones, and improve the search and sort abilities on Android phones themselves.

A serious hardware contender

Even the best-reviewed Android phone out right now, the HTC Hero, suffers from the same middling processor and laggy operation as its predecessors. That's not to say it isn't perhaps more functional and fun than many other web-enabled phones out there, but we haven't seen what Android can really do when it's allowed to move into the passing lane.

Not to be lazy, but writer of things Mac and design John Gruber already pointed out what Android device makers can do to make users happy, get attention, and even push Apple as a real competitor. Simply put, build a top-shelf device, don't be afraid to charge for it, and don't try to eat from the same piece of pie as the iPhone:

Consider trade-offs that Apple is unlikely to make, like, say, device thickness. Beef your phone up with a bigger (and, yes, slightly thicker) battery than the iPhone's and then make battery life a major selling point. Something along the lines of, "The iPhone's battery life is fine for casual users, but serious users need more than just a few hours."

A syncing, Chrome-powered browser

Android's built-in browser is based off the same WebKit roots as Google Chrome (and Safari), but it doesn't move one-fifth as fast, even on a Wi-Fi connection. That might be a hardware issue, and so may improve soon. One thing it doesn't do, though, is allow you to import bookmarks from a file, or otherwise match them to another browser you've already filled with your web preferences.

The most exciting part of our interview with Mozilla Mobile VP Jay Sullivan was when he mentioned how Fennec, a Firefox-based mobile browser (that might land on Android someday), will give Firefox users the ability to sync browser history, passwords, bookmarks, or even the last set of tabs opened. Google can likely go beyond these basics, and should. The only thing better than a fast and snappy browser is one that's a simple extension of your already-snappy desktop browser.

Open up, or just be nice, to modders

Earlier this month, Google sent a cease-and-desist letter to the coder behind CyanogenMod, a totally unofficial, but pretty awesome, custom ROM. It offered features from the next build of Android, much-needed speed optimizations, a few cool secret abilities, and generally made nerdy, tech-savvy Android owners excited to have their phones. It also copied a few of Google's proprietary apps to make the phone fully functional. It seems like the issue has settled down, and Cyanogen is even getting help from Android developers in forging his next project, and that's pretty encouraging.

Know who some of the most enthusiastic, and evangelical, Xbox owners are? Those who manage their entire home entertainment lives Xbox Media Center. Before the app store, and, to a lesser extent, after it, the iPhone cultivated a similarly dedicated group of "jailbreakers." Most of the folks who would dare to "flash" a phone, or even get that far into the process, know the risks of doing so, and take their lumps when things go wrong. At worst, they do little to no harm to the average customer who sticks with the system and updates provided by their carrier. At best, their enthusiasm and unofficial discoveries generate a good deal of publicity and bragging rights for the platform. It seems like Google's taken a soft stance on modders so far—let's hope it continues.


What needs to be changed or added on the Android platform, not just an individual phone, to make it truly great? Give us your own wishlist in the comments.