From the Desk Of
Aug 1st, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

Why Your Android Battery Life Is Probably Your Own Damned Fault and How to Fix It

People love to bitch to about things. It makes them feel legitmated in their bitching — as if their bitching will affect the thing they want to change just through vocalizing their disatisfaction, instead of actually trying to make it better.

Battery life on Android is a prime example of something that people love to complain about, but rarely take any action to understand or change. Yes, I’ll say it, battery life can be terrible on Android, and there’s a pretty good argument that it’s an endemic problem to Android. Further complicating the issue is the fact that there are so many Android devices, each of which have their own individuals quarks and power consumption requirements.

Android phones — just like cars or computer — require a set of best practices and maintenance to keep them running and performing well. In the same way that it would be silly to call a car “unreliable” if you didn’t maintain it, it’s equally as silly to doom your Android phone to eternally bad battery life because you don’t know how to use it. Good battery life on Android is possible, and I’m going to tell you how.

 

Best Practices

There is no magical battery life fix for Android. Why? Because, in principle, there’s nothing wrong. Your phone is operating and running applications as it was designed to do. In some ways, I’d argue that, as an operating system, Android is designed to run so many applications at once it can cause poor battery life. Applications running in the background, widgets, live wallpapers, etc. — all require power to run, and the more of them you have running the less battery life you see.  Obviously, the best choice is to not, you know, use any apps; 100% battery saving guaranteed.

If you do like using your phone, however, you’ll have to learn to manage your battery life.  It sounds painful, but it really isn’t. Moreover, I promote ways to save your battery without having to sacrifice your ability to use your phone the way you like.

 

The Basics: Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth

The big three, Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth, are always common culprits for using up battery life and should be turned off when not in use. Both Bluetooth and Wifi can be on even when you aren’t using them, but GPS will only be active when an application is using it (e.g. for Navigation in Google Maps).

Most Android phones these days either have shortcuts built into notification menu, which gives easy access to turning off Wifi or Bluetooth. Alternatively, there are tons of widgets devoted to turning these functions on and off and most phones have built in widgets that do the same thing. Good apps that make easy toggle widgets include Beautiful Widgets and widgets from DroidMania.

 

The Power Control Widget is an easy way to turn your wireless on and off.

Cut Down Your Brightness

After you’ve started to manage your wireless connections, you should to focus on screen brightness since it’s probably the biggest factor in determining how much battery life you’ll have. Now, most modern Android phones have built in light sensors — No I’m not making this up. Your our phone can automatically detect how bright a room is and adjust your screen brightness accordingly. Depending on your phone, these settings may be more or less aggressive than you really need — I’ve have phones that were blindingly bright at night (when I didn’t need it that bright) but not that bright in direct sunlight (when I needed it the most).

A better approach for your eyes and your battery life is to adjust the screen brightness to what you need. But, lets be realistic, this is a pain in the ass. You have to dig down into the settings of your phone to be able to adjust the screen brightness, and it can be annoying to try this several times a day.  Luckily, I have a few options for you.

Widgets are always a good option. The default Power Control widget (pictured above) will let you select different levels of brightness but won’t allow much in the way of specific brightness levels. Instead, I like Brightness Level by Curvefish.

 

The Curvefish Brightness Level widget gives you control over screen brightness.

 

This widget will give you more control over brightness levels and take the pain out of having to go into your phones settings when you want to adjust things. More advanced users should look at Screen Filter, which gives you a larger range of control. However, the developer warns that you might have to “uninstall the app” if you make your screen completely dark… so don’t do that.

If you’re not so much into widgets, there are some really creative options for adjusting screen brightness out on the market, one of them being Brightness Motion. This app will let you control the brightness of your screen by shaking your phone to the left or right. Another good alternative is Brightness Rocker, that brings up an option to lower your brightness whenever you press the volume rocker.

One special note to keep in mind is that if you’re devices has a AMOLED Screen (e.g. a Nexus One or a Samsung Galaxy S), choosing wallpapers that are darker will help save your battery life. AMOLED screens simply turn off the black portions of the screen, while traditional LCD or SLCD screens remain backlit.

 

Notifications Intervals

Each application, from Facebook to your Twitter client, has a specific interval that it checks for updates. So, for example, your Facebook for Android is usually set for 1 hour updates (meaning that it will check your Facebook account for new activity once every hour).  The longer you space out these updates the more battery life you’ll save since applications won’t be running in the background as often.

 

Most applications allow you to adjust the frequency of notifications in Settings.

 

Most applications have an option for adjusting the frequency of notifications; I recommend adjusting them for each app depending on your needs. For example, I want Plume, the application I use for Twitter, to let me know about new tweets almost as soon as they happen. But, Facebook isn’t as much a priority for me, so it only updates twice a day.

 

Get Aggressive with Battery Apps

If you’re an Android pro, you’ll know half this stuff already — none of this information is particularly new or novel. If you aren’t used to mucking around Android settings you’ll probably want something to simply “take care of it” for you, and there are number of apps that do just that.

 

JuiceDefender

 

I’ve always been a big fan of JuiceDefender, since it automates the process of turning your wireless connections on and off. JuiceDefender was one of the first battery apps for Android and has evolved quite rapidly within the past year. Today, set up and operation is relatively simple — you just need to install the app and select one of the preset profiles that it offers and it will turn your data connection, wifi and bluetooth on and off as needed thus saving you significant battery life (I’ve seen mine double at times). If you haven’t already, check out our previous article on JuiceDefender. A good alternative to JuiceDefender is Green Power, which works on a similar principle and is geared more towards the “set it and forget it” types.

Steer clear of apps that claim to do the same thing without offering much explanation, namely, apps that say task killing is the way to save battery life — it isn’t. Android is already set up for memory management and 9/10 task killers in any form are not needed and may even cost you battery life since applications must completely restart.

 

The Wrap Up

I say it again: it is absolutely possible to improve your Android battery life — if you take a few simple steps to properly manage how you’re using your device. Perhaps you could try these things and complain less? Crazy talk, I know.

 

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