/ 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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Moan moan moan.

Smartphone manufacturers bring you screens that would have rivalled the quality of your TV not so long ago, touchscreens that look miraculous compared with what we had five years ago – think train station ticket machines – and have the power of a laptop. All this and they still fit in your pocket and don’t get so hot they set your trousers on fire.

And all you can say is that the battery life isn’t good enough.

I don’t think it’s too much of a hardship to have to fit a daily charging of your phone into your routine, like many I use my phone as an alarm clock so plugging it in at night is part of my daily ritual.

So Tim is happy to charge his smartphone every day. Not all of us want to be servants to poorly designed equipment. The screen may be fantastic, the processing ability may be magnificent, but if the battery needs to be charged every day the product is a load of rubbish, in my opinion.

Would you be happy if you had to fill the car with petrol every day or go to Tesco for a teabag?

Any phone that needs to be charged more than once a week is little more than a children’s toy. Some of us would like the option of a phone with a decent battery. Look at the results of the survey. Please don’t regard us as moaners just because you are happy with mediocre products.

Well my new Samsung lasts a week, my ancient Samsung lasted a week – so new tech, touch screens and other useless extras (its just a phone fools) and the battery lasts about the same.

Now if they used the new tech in a simple reliable phone – it’d last a month or two!

That would be brilliant for people who want phones, not toys.

Damien says:
6 April 2011

The ultimate phone-not-toy device: http://www.johnsphones.com/photo-gallery/item26

Three week standy time.

Has on/off switch, loud/silent, number pad, micro lcd shows incoming number + battery life and has 10 speed dial number storage…

Added bonus: Notepad in the back of it for your contacts etc. Games you say? Naughts and crosses on the notepad.

My mobile phone battery lasts around six weeks.- It is used for emergencies only. (Early tests showed the battery would retain its charge for around eight weeks while being switched off). I have a reminder scheduled on my computer to remind me to recharge it. I have to wonder if constant charging is detremental to the battery’s life.

I am really not interested in using my mobile whilst walking – riding or driving. In fact I have too much consideration for other people to use on a train either. Strangely my alarm clock is by my bed and connected to the mains – so no battery worries.

Every call apart from emergencies can just as easily be conducted in the privacy of my home. or at work.

My prevalent complaint is against so called “rechargeble batteries”, particularly of the AA, AAA &c.type.
They seem to give up the ghost after the first two or three “recharges”. Are rechargeable batteries, in the long run, any advantage over the traditional “use once” batteries – economically or ecologically?

I’m not too sure about this – My rechargeable batteries last well over a year often two years – But I have found some rechargeables far better than the other Brands – I generally use GP.

They are usually more economical – but not if you only get say three charges out of them – As one would normally throw more “use once” types away then they should be better ecologically too.

I also have a battery charger that charges “use once” batteries a few times too

I too am surprised at having to renew my AA batteries in my Apple iMac keyboard and Magic Mouse. I keep thinking the computer has a problem but now am getting used to it being poor battery life – either Duracell Plus, Duracell Ultra, or Panasonic. At least it is always a relief to find the Mac is OK after all but getting expensive on AA’s.

Unless you need a wireless keyboard, it would have been better to choose the option of a wired keyboard, which also has the advantage of a numeric keypad. A wireless mouse has definite advantages and I am very happy with the battery life of the Apple Magic Mouse. I expect the Magic Mouse will work on rechargeable batteries since the previous models did.

I’ve seen this problem discussed a while ago, sorry don’t have a link and can’t remember the exact details, but I think the suggestion was that when you have both a wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse, they compete with each other to get the Mac’s attention and quickly run down their batteries as a result. If you have a wired keyboard and a wireless mouse, then the mouse isn’t constantly trying to override the keyboard for attention, and thus its batteries last a lot longer.
Sorry I don’t know if this has been proved to be the case, or whether a fix has been made available.

Chris Foxx says:
5 April 2011

Clearly not a BlackBerry owner. They’re renowned for their excellent battery life, in Smartphone terms anyway, you still only get 2-3 days max without stopping to charge up.

My cheap Nokia phone will work for a week between charges, helped by the fact I don’t use it much. I would not want a phone that had to be charged more than once a week.

In a way we are lucky that the hardware manufacturers have made such huge leaps in energy conservation. Mobile phones are far more complex than many user realise. With all that technology and a large screen packed in to super slim packages, two days from a charge is actually amazing even if it doesn’t seem that way.

If you want longer battery life, the only current answer is to increase the battery size. Mobiles are no different than electric cars in this respect. All we can hope is that the engineering and software development will continue to reduce the power requirements because battery technology seems stuck for the foreseeable future.

Don’t forget you can also extend your battery life by turning down the screen brightness – which by default is normally set abnormally high – and turning off things like wi-fi and Bluetooth when you are not using them.

In fact turning off wi-fi and Bluetooth will not only save you a lot of battery time it will also help keep your smartphone safe from anyone trying to send you malicous files.

Closing any apps you have running that you don’t need is also another way of preserving your juice.

As is keeping your phone in an area with good reception and not using your phone – although these are a little less practical.

That’s a good point about storing your phone in a position of good signal strength. Part of the mobile’s technology is that the receiver gain and transmitter output automatically adjust to the reception conditions. The mobile will therefore be using more power to ‘report home’ in a weak signal position than in a strong signal position.

Good points Tim. The same applies to increasing battery life for laptops.

I’d add turn off 3G, which is single most battery draining feature on any phone. Unless you’re using mobile internet, you just don’t need it on all the time.

Anthony Butler says:
6 April 2011

Sadly Apple didn’t invent touch screen phones. I had a Motorola smartphone about 6 years ago that was touch screen, web browsing, office apps etc.

All Apple have done is add their own GUI to a range of existing technologies and then locked the battery away because their users can’t be trusted not to mess them up.

Patrick wrote: Although I’m on your side Wavechange, I do think it’s simply a limitation of the technology – not necessarily the designers. A smartphone with a big screen simply can’t get enough juice out of today’s batteries (especially when they have to be so slim). But, in general, I agree.

In the same way as I would like to buy a camera with a viewfinder, I would be interested in a thicker smartphone that offered a decent battery life. The current offerings put a higher priority on style than the practical issue of battery life, in my opinion.

With my cheap Nokia, the battery lasts at least a week between charges I can simply pop in a spare if I have forgotten to charge the phone.

Being able to swap the battery easily might be an alternative for those who want a slim phone and are not happy about the battery life. That is easy on some phones, more difficult on others and impossible on the iPhone.

Good point Patrick. Batteries can be very expensive, especially when the only option is to buy the manufacturer’s product.

Some manufacturers have agreed to introduce a standard phone charger, so perhaps we should be campaigning for batteries that can be used in different types of phone. This is technically more of a challenge but could be done.

Maybe Steve Jobs’ next ‘One more thing’ could be the announcement of an iPhone with a reasonably priced replaceable battery.

The thing is all smartphones have a decent battery included, otherwise they would only last five minutes the way people are using them now.

The reason BlackBerrys seem to have a longer life is mainly based on the fact they don’t have such large touchscreens and don’t run the power hungry games that other smartphones do.

Our tests found that the Best Buy BlackBerry Torch http://www.which.co.uk/mobile/phones/blackberry/torch-9800/ only got 3 stars for battery life compared with the 5 stars of Android phones such as the HTC Desire and Motorola Defy.

What I am seeing here is that technology in phones has moved on massively. Why has battery technology not done the same?

We have always had issues of power storage (our national grid is on-demand) and so I would like to know why there is not more research going into it?

The problem with “smart” phones is that because battery life is so low, you always have to carry the charger cable around with you. Fine for someone with a handbag, but not practical for most other people. I now have a charger at home and at work and take the usb cable with me whenever possible.

Needless to say, my next phone probably won’t be “smart”, as they are too large, too expensive and too unreliable. Possibly the only extra I would ever want on a phone is google maps, like the Sony Ericsson C510, but again, this was flawed in that the casing allowed too much dust inside.

Phones are like cars, there is rarely one model that will tick all the boxes for you

John says:
7 April 2011

Honestly, I have been extremely happy with my iPad. 10+hrs of continuous US or about 10 days of standby time is really a satisfying feeling that I seldom appreciate in other electronic products.

could they produce a phone that works off “hot air” generated by the constant flow of meaningless waffle emitted by most of the people i overhear on their mobiles ?

“I’m on the train” would probably keep the whole of London in power for a month!

I wonder why there aren’t any wind up clockwork mobiles?

That looks interesting. As you say, for third world countries where mains power is either unreliable or not available, it is a great device rather like the Bayliss wind up radios.

There could also be a small market for outdoor types who like trekking, camping and mountaineering throughout Europe.

Cherry says:
8 April 2011

My Husband has a mobile phone, not a smart phone, but it has a really huge 2 month battery life, it is made by Philips for the Russian and Japanese markets. So they can manage it when there is a demand, perhaps we just aren’t demanding enough?

mutineer says:
8 April 2011

Battery life on Iphone 3 can be about a day if you watch a few live horse races. Amazing as Apple
is perceived by the non tech civillian as the creme de la creme.
As for ipods! Battery on my 160gig dying. Logged into the Apple site to get names of service agents, to be told by four out of six that it was only possible to replace the unit. These guys will be selling mortgages next week. Turns out it can be done for Eur40 plus Eur15 for the actual battery.

Tony says:
8 April 2011

Why can’t manufactures and reviewers stop quoting “up to” battery life, and change to “at least” with a phone on standby, however bad the reception is.

And why the chase for ever-thinner phones. I would happily have one twice the thickness if the extra space and weight were used to extend battery life. Manufacturers seem to have overlooked that the most important feature of a mobile phone is being able to make and receive calls!

Car manufacturers were forced to quote fuel economy figures that were recorded under standard conditions. Before this happened the figures quoted had little relevance to what could be achieved under normal driving conditions.

There are so many factors that affect battery life of phones that a set of tests under realistic conditions of use need to be devised and all manufacturers required to quote battery life under these conditions. We cannot rely on the phone industry in getting together and agreeing suitable tests because they are far too busy misrepresenting their products!

Mike says:
9 April 2011

My gripe is that I can’t buy a replacement phone battery to original equipment standard. I’m happy with the phone – a Samsung D600 slide – apart from the battery life having died from 10+ days standby to 2 – 3 days. A replacement battery, not made by Samsung, lasts only 1 – 2 days. I don’t need or want a smart phone, and resent having to ditch a product I like just because batteries are hard to come by.

As for smartphones, my nephew is usually uncontactable because his beautiful toy is useless at making and receiving phone calls except in very strong reception areas, which his home and workplace aren’t. When you do get through, the sound isn’t very clear at either end. He chose the phone on the basis of reviews that didn’t comment on such basics.

Are there too few of us wanting a simple phone that works well as a phone, perhaps with noise cancelling technology, has excellent battery life, and with cheap reliable replacement batteries available of original equipment standard for an extended period?

Rene says:
11 April 2011

Stop moaning, if you want your battery to last for a week, switch of all the cool features that were unavailable years ago. 3G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi. Do not surf the internet, don’t listen to music, do not read books, no trawling through the apps store or iTunes. No more games, taking pictures or videos or checking the weather on your favorite App. Stop receiving your email. Talk and Text, that’s it. Your battery will last.