Smartphone Battery Myths and Reality

Smartphone Battery Myths and Reality

[lead dropcap="yes"]There are a lot of myths in circulation about how to extend your smartphone battery. Our smartphones have become lifelines for many of us, not just as a way to communicate with the world, but as extensions of our brains. I have hundreds of contacts in my address book, but I couldn’t cite more than a few of their telephone numbers or email addresses. Likewise, I have hundreds of tasks and to-dos in my project manager and reminder software, but I couldn’t tell you what they all were. My calendar has appointments and meetings going out months, but I can’t tell you what they were beyond the next couple of days.[/lead]

So the prospect of our smartphone battery going dead before the day is done can send us into a frenzy and a panic. Now, you could buy a portable battery to carry with you just in case (which I do)—and the number of external phone batteries and battery cases for sale online and in every convenience store and gas station is testament to the utility of that solution—we can also agree that doing what we can to save battery life in the first place is the best option.

And there’s no dearth of articles and blog posts purporting to tell you exactly that. You can’t go on Facebook for more than a few hours without seeing one of those articles scroll by. But are their tips and suggestions really helpful?

Well, The Wirecutter asked the same question and decided to test the most popular tips and techniques for extending your smartphone battery life and came up with some interesting results. They came up with about a dozen ways to save battery life, from things everyone can do all the time—like turn down your screen brightness a bit—to things to do only when you are in dire straits—like disable cellular and WiFi. They’re all good tips.

Debunking Smartphone Battery Myths

But I’m most interested in the myths that they debunked, including some things I once believed. Some of the most pervasive myths—ones that I did not hold—include quitting unused apps. I’ve seen friends double-clicking their home buttons and obsessively swiping through dozens of apps to kill them off, claiming that it was to save battery life. I hate to break it to you, but all your doing is making your phone less efficient and arguably using more battery. That’s because smartphones are, well, smart about background apps. When the app is in the background and not in use, the phones will suspend or even close out the processes,1 while keeping some non-energy using bits in cache so that they can be brought back to the front quickly when you need it. If you kill the app, then the cache is flushed and so the phone has to spend more time and energy rebuilding it!

A couple of myths that I subscribed to were that Bluetooth and WiFi were sucking my phone dry. It turns out that they aren’t most of the time. Of course, if I’m in on a WiFi connection, I’m using less energy than if I was using the phone’s cellular connection. And having WiFi means the battery-hungry GPS doesn’t have to work as hard determining my location.2 Similarly, unless I’m streaming music to my Bluetooth headphones, Bluetooth uses very little battery, even when I have something like my FitBit syncing throughout the day.

The whole article is well worth a read, or even a skim if just want the high points. So let’s stop sharing the clickbait headlines spreading bad information about smartphone battery life and share The Wirecutter’s science-based information instead.

  1. One key exception being the notoriously battery hogging Facebook app. It’s so bad that nearly everyone I know deletes it from the phone and just uses Facebook through the web browser. ↩︎
  2. However, when the WiFi signal is weak, the phone has to work harder to connect so that might be a time to use cellular. ↩︎