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Battery life: avoiding the power outlet

It’s the issue that plagues all modern smartphones. How on Earth do you stay away from your charger for extended periods of time while still relying on your device to give you the information you need?

Having spent the last two weeks travelling, here are some of the tips I used to extend my battery as much as possible whilst still allowing for moderate usage:

  • Turn your screen brightness down and do not use auto brightness – Screen brightness is one of the largest battery drains. Most of the time you’re not going to need to set the brightness level too high and even when you do need to (in direct sunlight for example), turning it back down again when possible will help extend battery life just a little more. Auto brightness uses as much, if not more than keeping the brightness fairly high as the sensors are continuously working, so don’t use that option if you’re trying to save battery.

  • Lower screen time-out – Typically I keep my settings to around 30 seconds. I know plenty of people who’ll use up to 2 minutes to save having to turn the screen on frequently and this is fine for when you’re at home or the office. If devices are left idle with the screen turned on, this will eat the battery. Alternatively, make sure you turn off the screen manually when not required.

  • Disable WIFI when outside, but switch to WIFI where possible – It’s quite easy to enable both 3G and WIFI and forget about it. Running both radios simultaneously will use battery. That said, switching WIFI on whenever possible will reduce the load on the 3G radio, which is definitely the largest consumer of battery on the device. As a comparison, my WIFI-only Galaxy Tab will last 1½ days per charge under similar usage to my 3G tabs with the same battery. The 3G radio is absolutely terrible on battery life, especially when in poor signal areas.

  • Turn off background sync – Background sync is a battery hog. If you can deal with checking for new mails manually, this will definitely help improve the longevity of a charge.

  • Don’t use your Camera – Taking, editing and sharing pictures uses a substantial amount of battery. Even more so at night when using flash. On a related note, disable any “auto-upload” features in applications such as Google+ or Dropbox.

  • Enable power-saving mode if applicable – A number of manufacturers (Samsung, HTC, Sony, etc) have implemented this to help, while it won’t provide double the battery life, it should make some difference.

  • Uninstall irrelevant applications – Every app installed can potentially utilise battery. If you’re worried about running out of juice out on the road, consider removing some of those pesky apps that enjoy sitting in the background polling for updates (hello, Facebook et al). If you need an application obviously don’t do this, but for people like myself with over 100 apps installed, I definitely purge when I know I’m going to need the juice. This has the small benefit of slightly improving device performance based on my unscientific experiences!

  • Avoid playing videos/music – Videos especially utilise battery. Obvious? Yes, but that doesn’t make it any less of a useful tip. If you are playing music, do so locally rather than streaming.

  • Disable Bluetooth, NFC, etc. – Turning off unnecessary radios will prolong the battery life.

  • Turn it off! – Is that battery starting to run low? While it’s powered off it won’t draw anything near the amount of power. And lets be honest, do you really need to keep it on all of the time? Turning it off can be the difference between going completely dead before you get to a power outlet or not. You can still turn it on if required, so that emergency call won’t mean finding the nearest payphone.

Most of these options can also be managed for you by battery-saving applications, particularly on Android devices. Some of the better-known battery saving applications worth taking a look into are Juice Defender and Battery Defender. Your mileage may vary with these applications, and I personally prefer managing device functionality manually.

“Seriously Jason, I don’t want to do any of that! I want to RUN ALL THE THINGS!”

If you’re not the type for any of this battery saving nonsense (and truth be told, I’m typically not) you could consider one of these options:

  • Take a few spare batteries – Sometimes the easiest option, though more and more devices are now shipping without removable batteries. If you’re one of the lucky ones, a quick stint on ebay can land you a few spare batteries for a decent price, though I personally avoid the Chinese offerings due to poor battery experiences in the past.

  • Use an external battery pack – External batteries are becoming very popular in line with the growth of devices without removable batteries. They’re certainly not cheap but can often times offer double, triple or higher increases in battery life providing you’re happy to carry it around with you. Make sure you find something at the same or higher mAh rating as your battery and if it can output the charge at the recommended Amps for your device, that’ll help avoid using battery faster than the battery pack can replenish it. I also recommend a long cable so you’re able to keep it in your bag or pocket while still allowing full use of your device.

  • Use a solar or wind-up charger – Either of these are a “better than nothing” approach, but be aware it’s very possible you’ll consume more power than you’re able to generate with these chargers so use them in conjunction with some of the tips above.

Hopefully some or all of the above will be useful in extending the time between charges when you’re out and about. Naturally your mileage may vary with all of the above and some of them are quite extreme, however they’ve definitely helped me.

Do you have any additional tips? Pop them in the comments or find me on G+.