/ Technology

Why I’m sick of rubbish battery life

Battery icons running down

Do you remember when your mobile’s battery lasted more than a couple of days? Great big screens and skinny bodies soon put an end to that. Poor battery life is the bane of modern technology – will it ever get better?

I’m trying to hold myself back from moaning about modern tech, but bring up glossy screens or bad battery life and my mouth will give the Duracell bunny a run for its money.

Both of these issues provided inspiration for our campaign to bring viewfinders back to digital cameras.

You’ll find a chorus of commenters bemoaning poor battery life on our viewfinder Conversation: Doug Berry wants a viewfinder as LCD screens ‘gobble up battery power’, and Pedro Stephano agrees, ‘if you turn off the display you get significantly longer battery life’.

So, what has happened to battery life in modern gadgets? It’s not just digital cameras that are plagued by the problem – you can add smartphones, laptops or any other piece of portable tech to the list.

Smartphones come with poor battery life

It seems rare to get more than two days out of a smartphone before you need to recharge it. And you might be lucky to get three hours out of your 17 inch laptop.

When I finally said farewell to my Nokia brick mobile phone, there was one thing I knew I would miss most of all: ‘your robust lithium-ion cell would last 12.5 days, enough to prompt a huge cackle when compared to the smartphones of today.’

Convo commenter Wavechange attended my Nokia 3510i’s funeral and left this fine warning to modern mobiles: ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with smartphones until they last at least a week between charges and the battery can be exchanged (Apple please take note).’

Ah yes, Apple. By introducing a huge touchscreen, this company changed the game for mobile phones. The rest of the market was very aware of the possibility, but didn’t take the jump for fear that consumers wouldn’t want to put up with such poor battery life.

In the end, Apple got it right and led the march of the smartphones. And I’d be an idiot to criticise this, but it doesn’t mean I can’t be peeved by their battery life. Sadly, for every advancement in phone technology, their stamina hasn’t really improved. Bigger faces, thinner bodies; batteries can barely keep up.

What’s the future of batteries?

Of course, there are exceptions. Without a screen, the iPod Shuffle lasts much longer than you’d expect from its diminutive size. And then there are e-readers, like the Kindle, which can stretch out for as long as a month from just one charge.

Is there a silver lining for the rest of our portable tech? Well, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have been busy working on a tiny chip that can be charged by small movements, such as walking or even a human heartbeat. The chips work by using zinc oxide nanowires, which generate electricity when flexed.

Although it’ll be some time before these nanowires make it to market, we could soon see a day when we won’t ever need to plug our smartphones in to charge. For me, that day can’t come too soon.

Are you fed up with short battery life?

Yes - gadgets should last longer (89%, 901 Votes)

No - I'm content with what I get out of them (7%, 76 Votes)

I don't really care (4%, 37 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,014

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Phones of the future are going to have many more features than those Rene mentions, so we either avoid using these features or accept that battery life could continue to decrease.

One of the reasons for using battery operated equipment is convenience and there is plenty of evidence that there is a demand for phones that are better designed and/or have larger batteries.

Logan-3 says:
25 June 2011

There are fundamental issues surrounding ‘battery life’ and those mainly revolve around the claims being made by the manufacturers as to the expected ‘talk’ and ‘stand-by’ times.

Many consumers will be impressed by the latest features e.g. dual core processors or latest iPhone; but shouldn’t there be a burden of proof placed upon the manufacturers as to which features would need to be sacrificed to achieve the claims of battery-life being made.

For instance I recently purchased a Samsung Galaxy S II and although using as many of the power saving tricks as possible e.g. turning down screen brightness, no wi-fi or blue-tooth when not in use, auto-screen off after 15 seconds; there comes a point when you have to question the manufacturers claims. After using the power saving techniques I am lucky if I get 2 – 3 days of life out of the mobile, yet the manufacturer claims a stand-by time of 29 days.

It’s only when you question these claims, that you realize that the batteries are tested in ‘optimal’ conditions that are so far removed from the average users daily life, it’s surprising that government agencies have not pulled the manufacturers up for perpetrating a fraud on the consumer.

You need to have a strong signal to get the best battery life. Samsung will assume that you have a transmitter mast in the back garden.

Car manufacturers are expected to publish realistic fuel economy figures so mobile phone makers should do the same.

fullycharged says:
9 September 2011

Battery life is not the only thing to complain about-stability is the other.. 🙁

..with the flood of java/flash apps trying to turn your mobile into a fully fledged mobile computer, I have found with the last models I have used, that apps not loading correctly and/or leading to eventual freezing, can also be a problem on many, after xx months of usage for the unlucky. Some phones I have used on a frequent basis I even had manufacturing faults on all models (eg Samsung Tocco SGH F480) which lead to eventual freezing. Although Samsung are aware of this problem, are still currently being sold through contracts via major high st chains.

fearburnus says:
17 November 2011

i personally hate smart phones and mobile phone technology in general, and why you may say , well i’ll tell you , what is it you need a phone for?, yup your right got it in one, so why with all these feature laden techno bollax, someone get a grip and just make a phone that isn’t laden with gadgets , that gives you sparkling sound quality , a ability to make and receive calls anywhere any-time, without network considerations, and battery’s life that last weeks instead of months , i tell you why because mobiles are bollax, and the only way they can keep selling more is by giving them more pointless features rather than consentrateing on the main one people by phones for. and i wont insult your intelligence pointing out what that is. In short if you keep buying mobile phones for there features your a idiot, and a slave to technology.

I am happy with a simple phone too, but only because I do not go far from home without a laptop or tablet. I would not thank you for a phone that had to be charged every day but simple phones last for at least a week between charges, which is much more acceptable. Until the networks work together we will be stuck with the difference between network coverage. Sound quality may be down to the network rather than the phone, and I have never encountered a mobile phone that gives good sound quality.

Why are people who want multi-function devices idiots or slaves to technology just because they find a smart phone useful?

Tony Crackett says:
17 November 2011

It is not my experience that “simple phones last for at least a week between charges”, probably because I live in an area of poor reception. Why oh why can’t we have a choice between slim phones with limited battery and fatter phones with longer battery life? And why can’t manufacturers and reviewers quote a minimum time for life on standby (in poor reception) rather than “up to” battery life, which no doubt assumes ideal conditions.

I’ve had three cheap Nokia phones that have lasted at least a week between charges, but I’m in a strong signal area and I don’t make or receive many calls. The manufacturers should agree a set of standard test conditions rather than making useless ‘up to claims. Larger batteries are one solution for producing smartphones with a sensible battery life. The other alternative is to have a battery that can be swapped for a fresh one without dismantling the phone.

fearburnus says:
18 November 2011

As for my comments, it got you all talking :), one interesting point, before i got a descent job all i could afford was a somewhat crappy BT Cellnet (£20) phone, but this phone did have sparkling sound quality, further its voice dial function worked perfectly, without having to modulate the sound of your voice in a approximation of what it sounded like at the time it was recorded, there was literally nothing to the phone itself, but what it did do was make and receive calls exstremley well, it was that good i could determine weather the quality of the callers mic was good or bad.

Never had a phone like it, that was 15 years ago.

But could you live without your smart phone now, think you could go a whole day without fiddling with it, or messing with some pointless app:)

fearburnus says:
18 November 2011

erm fair point, dammit completely valid answer, i have the luxury, of having a computer terminal handy all the time