How to . . . help out your smartphone battery

How to make sure your battery stays in tip top condition - and what you can do if it’s not

A recent report from consumer group Which? found that updates for your smartphone’s operating system could be responsible for not only killing some of your battery life but also reducing your phone’s storage too. (Photograph: iStock)

A recent report from consumer group Which? found that updates for your smartphone’s operating system could be responsible for not only killing some of your battery life but also reducing your phone’s storage too. (Photograph: iStock)

 

Modern smartphones do a lot. Remember the days when your phone battery would last on standby for days rather than hours, and you could still use it to make phone calls and send texts? Those were the days of tiny monochrome displays, physical keys and the notion of a camera in your phone wasn’t even a consideration.

Fast forward to 2016, where your smartphone is essentially a supercomputer in your pocket, replacing everything from your point and shoot camera to your in-car sat nav. We work, socialise, keep ourselves entertained and educate ourselves through our phones. Screens are getting larger, are full colour and touch sensitive. And batteries are getting bigger too, but the amount of time you can use them for is still only around a day.

A recent report from consumer group Which? found that updates for your smartphone’s operating system could be responsible for not only killing some of your battery life but also reducing your phone’s storage too. This was at the same time as promising new technology and tweaks that would help extend your battery life.

But there are some things that could be affecting that.

When it comes to the iPhone, for example, installing a new update will force your phone to reindex everything on it so you can easily search the phone’s contents using Spotlight. That can take some time, and you don’t even realise it’s going on because it’s happening in the background. Once it has finished - it can take a few days if there’s a lot to get through - your battery life should be back to normal.

It’s also worth noting that when you install new software that comes with shiny new functions, you are more likely to poke about with it a bit more than normal, as you get used to the new features.

And finally, just because the software is new, it doesn’t necessarily mean it suits your device. The new software is typically optimised for newer devices, which is why you’ll see support for older phones fall off from time to time. So it’s not necessarily going to perform the same on a three year old phone as it will on a brand new one - not all functions will be supported for example.

Mobile data:

Mobile data connections use more power than wifi. If you have the option, switch to wifi and turn off your data connection, or turn it off when you really don’t need it. Apps can use your data connection in the background for stuff like email or social media notifications, winding down your battery gradually.

It’s a small thing that could eke out your battery life when you really need. However, for most people, switching off mobile data is either inconvenient or impractical. After all, what use is a smartphone if you can’t use for anything, well, smart?

Wireless connections:

Your smartphone has all sorts of fancy technology in it. GPS looks after location services. Bluetooth allows you to connect to a range of devices such as headphones, speakers, health monitors and car handsfree kits. But if you don’t need it turned on, or rarely use it, then you can save your battery by turning it off.

Another thing to look at is GPS. If you are protective of your privacy and don’t use location services for personalising content, you could safely disable it and cut down on battery drain. However, if you use any mapping apps or the “find my phone” features on smartphones, disabling location service will also stop you using these functions too.

Screen brightness:

Most phones have an auto brightness adjuster to adjust your smartphones display to the ambient light conditions. In bright sunlight, it will make the screen brighter, and in theory easier to read; in low light, it will dial down the brightness, not only saving your battery but probably your retinas. If you don’t have this enabled, use it.

Other things to look for are night modes within apps. Twitter recently enabled its night mode that you can switch on manually, reskinning the app in a darker amode that is not only more suited for night viewing but can also help cut the battery power it uses.

What damages your battery?

There’s a difference between things that drain your battery faster and those that will do permanent damage. While the aforementioned things are irritating, they’re not completely irreversible. But there are some things that can affect your battery life, and you can’t undo it.

Extreme temperatures:

Most phones are designed to work normally within a certain temperature range - usually 0 degrees to 35 degrees. But lithium ion batteries charge better in temperatures not colder than 5 degrees.

Extreme cold will stop batteries charging properly, but that is usually a temporary effect. Heat damage, however, is usually permanent, so if you are using your phone in extreme temperatures, not only will it affect the battery’s performance there and then. You may also find your battery just doesn’t work as well in future.

The general advice is try to stick within the ambient temperature range of 0 to 35, and while it may not be too much of a risk for Irish people at least, avoid leaving your phone in a parked car where temperatures can creep higher than you’d think.

Another tip is to remove a protective case while you charge your phone, as excess heat can build up. It’s not true of every phone case, but if you find your phone is heating up while you’re charging it, try taking off the case to see if makes a difference.

Age:

While your phone battery should work to its full capacity for at least a year, the older your phone gets, the more the battery will degrade. After a few hundred recharge cycles, your phone battery will no longer charge to the same level it did when it was new out of the box.

The average lifespan for lithium ion batteries is two to four years, after which you’ll probably have to replace it. As most people upgrade their mobile phones before they hit the bottom end of that prediction, replacing the battery isn’t a massive issue.

But there’s another thing to watch out for: when the battery was actually made. The clock starts ticking from date of manufacture rather than the date you start using it, so if your phone battery was manufactured a year ago and you haven’t started using it yet, the battery life is already shortened.

Charging:

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not better for your phone battery to always let it run all the way to empty before you charge it. That may have been true for previous battery technology, but lithium ion batteries have no charge memory.

In fact, it’s better to charge your phone regularly, rather than ride the red battery line until your phone gives up and shuts itself off.

However, experts recommend that you allow the battery to fully run down occasionally, to make sure you’re getting an accurate battery reading.