After a year of using a smartphone, you are probably noticing that your phone doesn't hold its charge as well as when it first came out of the box. No matter how big the batteries are that smartphone manufacturers are putting into their devices, they seem to not be able to keep up with our digital needs: watching videos, browsing the web, listening to music or podcasts, texting, sending emails, shopping, navigating and calling. There are so many tasks our phones have to do daily, and every release just adds more possibilities to our pocket-sized computers. It should come as no surprise that a single charge won't power this vast array of functions. Despite performance optimised processors and software features making our phones more efficient, phone makers can't fully prevent lithium-ion batteries from degrading.
We all own a phone, but do any of us actually know how the battery degrades? It is certainly less expensive to learn how a battery works and to treat your phone accordingly as opposed to spending around £100 on a battery replacement after the first year of using your device, or worse, organising your life around power sockets. We will show you how a few small adjustments to your phone can help you keep it going for longer.
Batteries inside our phones work based on chemistry, i.e. the ion movements between negative and positive electrodes. The key indicator of your battery's health is its capacity to hold charge, but unfortunately, the more charge cycles the battery carries out over time, the more it degrades. This all depends on your usage patterns. Some of us might charge our phones twice a day while others might have phones that last until the next day because of how much they are being used. Phone manufacturers claim that a lithium-ion battery's lifespan can undergo 300-500 charging cycles before you will notice any strain on performance, i.e. charging your phone from 0% to 100%. Reaching that threshold of 300 full charges will affect your phone's battery, ultimately decreasing its capacity to hold charge.
Draining your phone's battery to as low as 0-10% and then charging it all the way up to 100% isn't healthy. As it turns out, the golden rule is to keep the battery going between 30% and 80% at all times. If your phone gets below 30%, top it up and unplug it before it reaches 100% of charge. Lithium-ion batteries like to stay within this charge range and their life expectancy will increase if you keep your battery percentage at around these amounts. Reconsider your charging habits and avoid leaving your phone charging overnight every night. Although most smartphones these days are smart enough to stop charging when they hit 100%, and with Apple introducing Optimised Battery Charging with iOS 13 later this year, it is up to users to balance the conveniences of modern features and to consider a few more practices that will benefit the battery's lifespan.
As mentioned above, half charge cycles are the best, and the more that you can squeeze out of your phone on a single charge, the better. Reducing the need for charging means that you can increase your battery's lifespan. In order to find ways to reduce the need to charge your phone as often, you need to figure out what is draining your battery. You can find this information on your Android by going to Settings > Device care > Battery. There, you will see all the details on power usage by apps, and what functions are draining your battery. If you own an iPhone, head over to the Settings menu > Battery and tap Show Activity of battery usage by app.
With this information in your repertoire, you can make adjustments to your app usage or app settings. If you notice that watching videos or gaming is taking up a considerable amount of your battery life by running in the background, go to: Settings > Apps > Find that particular app on the list > Battery > Disallow background activity.
To manage an app's background refresh rate on iOS, navigate to Settings and look out for the app you found draining your battery in Battery usage report. Then, tap on the app and turn Background Refresh Rate off for that specific app.
The reason why the Nokia 3310 could go weeks without needing to be charged was because of its dull monochrome display. Current smartphone screens on the other hand can be so bright that they can hurt your eyes. Those 6-inch + panels are the main reason our batteries drain faster. Maximum brightness is handy when it's sunny outside and it helps you to see the content, but in other conditions it can drain your battery. You can adjust your phone's brightness in Display Settings on Android or Accessibility Settings on iOS and set it up to adapt accordingly.
Sleep timeouts can also be useful when improving your battery life. Every time you tap on your screen, it remains active using energy for a certain amount of time. That time period can be set to as low as 15 seconds of inactivity on Android or 30 seconds on iOS. You can make the screen timeout shorter by going to Settings > Display > Screen timeout on an Android phone or Settings > Display & Brightness > Auto-lock on an iPhone.
While Android and iOS softwares are yet to have a built-in Dark Mode, we are expecting this feature to arrive with Android Q and iOS 13 rolling out later this year. Devices operating in Dark Mode require less power to light up the pixels in our displays therefore consuming less energy. But while we wait for this power-saving mode to be released, some apps have it already, namely Twitter and Youtube. In the meantime, use darker wallpapers and themes on your phone.
Various features such as Bluetooth, Mobile Data, NFC and Location are draining your battery when not in use, so why keep running them? These can be quickly turned off in the notification drop down menu on your Android or in the Control Centre on your iPhone. Vibration is another feature that uses power. Do you really need your phone to be buzzing when it's not on Silent Mode? Go through your Sound Settings and switch off what you don't need.
The majority of apps installed on your phone want to grab your attention and send you all sorts of notifications. Isn't it annoying when you hear a ping, unlock your phone and open an app only to find out that one of your Facebook friends checked in at a restaurant? This can easily be managed by controlling what apps you want to send you notifications. Just go to Settings > Notifications and select the apps that you don't want to receive notifications from. The same applies to tweaking app permissions to monitor your location. Every single app pulling your location data is another source of power consumption. You can make a few changes to app permissions to save energy, simply by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services on your iPhone and setting location monitoring to Never or While Using a specific app. If you have an Android device, you can withdraw permissions of certain apps. This can be done by navigating to Settings > Biometrics and Security > Scroll down to Privacy section > Location.
Software and app updates offer bug fixes and further optimisation features that help apps and other software to run more efficiently. However, these updates are only useful if they have been installed. Check your Google Play for any pending updates by launching the app, tapping the menu icon in the top left corner, selecting My Apps & Games then clicking on Update All. On the iPhone, launch the App Store and navigate to Updates, and click Update on the apps that are pending. Also, make sure that you install updates while connected to Wi-Fi.
By default, the power-saving mode usually turns on automatically when your device reaches a low charge at around 15%. However, rather than waiting for it to turn on automatically, you can enable it to turn on manually at a 30% charge which makes your battery last longer. Power-saving modes have various options depending on make of your phone. The basic power-saving mode will reduce apps from updating and using RAM in the background, will disable lock screen animations and will turn off notification sounds/vibrations, etc. Some phones also have ultra power saving modes that turn off everything and only allow the device to make calls and send texts.
The more charging cycles that your phone goes through, the less energy your lithium-ion battery will be able to store over time. If you are savvy about what drains your battery and what measures you can take to reduce your power consumption, you will not have to plug your phone in as much. This will result in an improved lifespan of your phone's battery. You can keep an eye on your iPhone's battery health by checking Settings > Battery > Battery Health once in a while. Unfortunately, current Android versions don't have this management feature installed, but there are apps that will tell you everything about your battery's health. If you see that your battery's percentage has dropped lower than 60%, then the time for a replacement has probably come. However, there's no need to be paranoid and stop using your phone all together. These easy-to-implement mindful practices will help you to prolong your phone's battery life, save you a bit of money and make you environmentally conscious by extending the life of your smartphone.
Cover image: Daniel Korpai / Unsplash
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