Chances are, your phone has become something of an extension of yourself. You might even be reading this on your phone right now, and in that case, we don’t want to know what else you might be doing. Regardless of how much you use it, even the best batteries don’t seem like they last nearly long enough, and you might find yourself charging it more than once during the day. What’s going on here? It’s not just those games you secretly play at work — it’s a lot more complicated than you might think.
If you’re one of those people that doesn’t bother with an actual, independent GPS anymore because you have one on your phone: congrats, you’re one of us. Unfortunately, what you’re getting in convenience, you’re paying for in other ways. You can probably watch your battery die as you’re navigating, probably with fingers crossed, hoping you can get where you’re going because your car charger can’t keep up.
There’s some pretty cool science behind why a GPS is such a battery hog, and it has to do with how much it has to work. Since GPS relies on a series of very fast updates to your coordinates, that means your phone has to keep its communication channels open all the time. More than that, it’s not just communicating with a single cell tower. Instead, it’s communicating with three or four satellites, using all that information to triangulate exactly where you are.
According to Google engineer Robert Love, the worst of the GPS function’s battery drain comes in large part because the continuous operation of the app keeps the phone from going into Sleep Mode. Most smartphones rely on that to conserve most of their battery power, and that’s just not happening when you have your GPS on. If you use it a lot, do your phone a favor — get a real GPS.
Games kill your phone’s battery life, everyone’s so familiar about that, we’re not even going to talk about it. (Your Candy Crush secret is safe with us.) Candy-matching magic aside, do you know what else all those free games have that are causing your battery to wave the white flag? Pop-up ads.
It’s not just the ads that show up on the screen of free games that are a big power drain here — it’s the ads that show up in regular web-surfing activities, too. Estimates are all over the place, based on what kind of phone is being used, but on the low side, running a web browser with no ad blocker can double the amount of battery you can expect to use. It only goes up from there, and some tests show that downloading all those fancy, flashing, in-your-face ads takes more battery power than whatever it is you actually want to look at in the first place..
Closing all your apps
This one seems a bit problematic, like it goes against everything that is good and orderly in this world. We blame Dad — you know, the person that always complained about having too many lights on, because you were wasting electricity? That guy. If you want to save electricity, you turn off the lights. You learned that early on, so you probably think the same thing about your phone. If you want to save power, you turn off all those power-sucking apps. It makes sense, and it’s also completely wrong.
That’s because, when an app is running, it’s only using a relatively small amount of battery power. The drain comes when you first turn it on from completely closed. Then, the app needs to be first put into the phone’s RAM, and then go through the complete load. That’s not just more work for your battery — it’s more work for your processor, too. If you leave apps you use all the time just sleeping in the background, you’re not going to be making your phone go through all that unnecessary work (for the tenth time in 24 hours — seriously, no one’s Facebook posts can be that important).
It’s also worth noting that your phone is smarter than you are. If you think you’re closing apps to free up memory, you’re not doing anything most smartphones do on their own anyway. They’re already way ahead of you, and please, don’t ask us to explain that one to Dad.
Vibrate is an amazing luxury that allows us to have a llama-based ringtone while still maintaining some sort of dignity in public. But the thrill of having ringtones that are only funny at the end of the night at a seedy bar comes with a price, and leaving your phone on vibrate most of the time is a huge drain on the battery. (At least, if anyone calls you. And with a ringtone like that? We’d be shocked.)
Vibrate is a massive power drain because, for all your phone’s amazing technology, this is one function that’s surprisingly old-school. In case you’ve never taken a phone apart (on purpose or accidentally), you might not know that the vibrate function actually comes from a tiny little motor inside your phone. Instead of ringing, the little motor spins. It’s off-center in your phone, and have you ever had a washing machine get unbalanced and start making all kinds of noise? It’s the same principle, but it doesn’t happen without a substantial power surge to kick-start the motor for the split-second your phone vibrates.
It takes a lot more power than just making a noise, and if you’re like most people, you never answer on that first vibrate. That means your phone is putting out a whole series of incredibly draining power surges, and over the course of the day, that can make a serious dent in your charge.
Your blindingly bright screen
We all know That Guy: the one that turns the brightness on his screen up to 100 percent, because there’s people in low orbit around the Earth that want to read his email, too. He’s the opposite of the secretive ninja who turns their brightness all the way down, probably because she doesn’t want anyone to know she’s not doing anything work-related at all, but is opening Clash of Clans for the tenth time today. Guess who’s being kinder to their battery?
If you think it might be the person that’s being kinder to everyone around them, you’re absolutely right. Figuring out just how much of a difference lowering your brightness setting really makes means using a lot of mathematical equations with Greek letters, so needless to say, we’re going to give that one a pass. But we can tell you that Wired found the difference in battery life at full screen brightness was massive, with their iPhone 4 lasting 6.5 hours at ninja brightness, and only 3.5 hours at scald-your-eyeballs brightness. While that’s just to illustrate the difference screen brightness makes, that’s a huge difference.
They even found that, if you turn the screen brightness down, do some fiddling with a few other settings, and stop checking your phone every five minutes to see who just liked your latest Facebook selfie, you can make your phone last up to 18 hours. Tell that to your SO the next time they insist on mucking about with their phone while you’re trying to watch TV.
A brightly colored wallpaper and theme
It’s sharing time, so tell us about your phone’s wallpaper and theme. We’re going to assume you said that it was something that includes some bright blue sky, a field of daisies, and a matching theme. Life’s depressing, but who says your phone should be? For full disclosure, we’ll share that ours is a spiffy dark space theme. Guess who’s more battery-conscious?
To be more precise, we’re going to have to know just what kind of screen your phone has. If you have a newer phone, chances are you might have an OLED screen, which is the short way of saying your phone uses Organic Light Emitting Diode technology. Where older phones were backlit with a light that was the same no matter what color it was, OLED phones rely on individual diodes to light up the screen. The brighter the color, the more power they’re using and the bigger drain on your battery it is.
Research has it that a white pixel uses 5.8 times as much power as a black pixel, and when you spread that out over your whole phone screen, that makes a huge difference. After doing some science-and-math stuff (that we’re still not keen on — our brain goes off to play by itself when we see equations), he found that even factoring in other variables, changing your phone’s theme and wallpaper to a manageably dark one can save about 18 percent of your battery power. That’s not a bad deal, especially when you consider how many extra rounds of Mahjong that is. Speaking of, our lives have refilled.
Source: The Grunge.com