Tips for Extending Mobile Battery Life

22 September 2016 by Coleman McCormick

With each new smartphone or tablet that hits the market, the manufacturers are always striking a balance on hardware design to squeeze more life out of the batteries in our devices. Using bigger batteries and upping the power usage efficiency keeps makers just ahead of the curve. New apps, notifications, and ever-increasing usage make it challenging to even make it through a full day with any life left.

With Fulcrum, we have users on their devices all day long to get a job done. They use all sorts of tricks of the trade to keep going during long days of field data collection. Here are some tips we’ve uncovered over the years to extending the maximum amount of life out of a single battery charge.

Extending battery life

Background apps

Both Android and iOS allow apps to run in the background, and some apps are pretty abusive of this ability. Both platforms have views in the Battery settings panel to view which apps are drawing the most power over time. It’s the simplest way to find out which apps you can close, change settings for, or delete completely.

Wireless radios

Modern devices have cellular antennae, wi-fi, Bluetooth, and sometimes more communications hardware that is “always on” but often not needed. One of the bigger drains on battery is the cellular radio, particularly in spotty areas where your device is constantly searching for service. If you’re in an area with poor service and don’t need connectivity anyway, it helps to disable cellular data so your device stops searching for service. Bluetooth and wi-fi are also frequently on by default, and easy to disable if they aren’t needed.

Screen brightness settings

The screen brightness setting is one of the most common culprits for battery drain. If the screen is on (and especially bright), power’s going to disappear quickly. Most devices now support “adaptive brightness” settings to adjust the display depending on surrounding ambient light levels. Since many Fulcrum users are outdoors, the brightness actually needs to be up to be able to see the screen in bright sunlight. In this case, putting the phone in standby mode as much as possible can stretch the battery further since it doesn’t need to light up all those pixels.

Screen brightness

Disable auto app update

Depending on your settings, your device might be configured to download app updates automatically, at any time when connected or only on wi-fi. Saving this activity for wi-fi connections is a good idea (to reduce cellular data usage), and auto-updates are typically good practice to keep yourself secure with the latest patches. But I’ve noticed in practice something that happens even with updates restricted to wi-fi connectivity: your device connects to an open wi-fi network on its own and starts attempting to download dozens of app updates in the background without you noticing. On a slow wi-fi network, this leads to the issue in the previous section of the device struggling to stay connected while downloading large files. I’ve seen my remaining battery life evaporate when this happens. Disabling the auto-updates completely helps to avoid this trap when you’re trying to get those extra hours of use.

Low-power mode

The latest iOS and Android versions support “low-power mode” for optimizing battery usage. These modes are special settings that turn off most background services to extend life. Things like mail fetching, visual effects, and automatic downloads are automatically disabled while you have your device in this mode. In my experience, low-power mode on iOS doesn’t affect much about whatever active task you’re performing (like collecting data in Fulcrum), and can greatly extend the life by an hour or more.

Battery saver modes

Location tracking apps

Many apps track location data, even while running in the background — sometimes for notifications, or maybe it’s essential for that particular app to be able to track where the device is. Regardless, checking your settings for location services shows you which apps are doing this so you can review and disable the non-critical ones. Constant usage of the device GPS for optional services can be an unnecessary drain on power, and optimizing which apps have permission saves some life.

Turn down the notifications

Push services are amazing for productivity; they get you the information you need right when it’s available. Calendar updates, to-do reminders, emails, messaging apps — the notification flood can not only be a distraction from getting things done, it also takes power to stay constantly connected. Take a look at your notification settings for apps you have installed and opt out of the ones that aren’t critical.

External battery packs

While not really the same as changing settings to extend battery life, the market for external USB-based battery packs is huge now with the wealth of mobile devices to charge. A quick search on “USB battery chargers” will show you dozens of options for battery packs. This Wirecutter review is jam packed with info for finding the best option for your needs — whether it’s about cost, size, capacity, weight, or more. Battery cases are another approach here, which keep from having cables strung between your device and the battery while trying to use it, but the downside is lack of flexibility. Battery packs can charge your phone, tablet, camera, Bluetooth headsets, or anything else that charges via USB.

Conclusion

In summary, these are only a handful of the easy techniques for getting more juice out of your mobile device. The more the app ecosystem advances and evolves, the more we’ll hammer our devices for additional power. Device manufacturers keep pushing the limits of battery technology, but there’s always room for efficiency improvement. If you have any other tips or suggestions for squeezing out those extra minutes, leave us a note in the comments.

About the author

Coleman is a geographer and our Executive VP, working every day with our customers to bring better data management capability to their operations.

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