How do I keep my Surface RT battery from draining when it's not in use?

How do I keep my Surface RT battery from draining when it's not in use?

Summary: Microsoft Surface RT users, I need your help. How can I stop the Surface RT battery from draining when the device isn't in use? Suggestions?


Whenever anyone says I'm the only one having a particular computing issue, I'm usually 99 percent sure it's not just me.


The latest example comes by way of the Surface RT, Microsoft's ARM-based tablet/PC hybrid. I wrote earlier this week about my experiences (mostly positive) with the Surface RT and why I'm not going to dump it for a Surface Pro when that device starts shipping February 9.

But there's been one issue with my Surface RT that's been bugging me since almost the first day I bought it. Sometimes, my battery drains quickly when I am not using the device. So quickly, in fact, that I have to recharge my Surface RT almost daily, even if I actively use the device for only an hour or so.

I asked Microsoft officials for help with this late last year. I was told my battery-draining problem was "atypical," and that "Windows RT devices should get 320-409 hours of battery life on connected standby, slightly higher than 10 hours." If 10 hours is the total amount of time one should expect the Surface RT to hold a charge, regardless of whether it's being used, I guess my results are typical. But I see some of my colleagues claiming they are going three and four days without recharging their Surface RTs. How?


Last night, Tom Warren of The Verge tweeted that he was having the same issue as I am with his Surface RT -- reminding me that even after I've applied all the requisite patches and firmware updates, my Surface RT still requires recharging almost every day. Comparatively, with my first-generation iPad, I was going days and sometimes longer than a week without a recharge.

Warren's not the only one who has complained about this issue. I searched and found a number of references to users being frustrated by the Surface RT battery drain when their devices are not in use.

Microsoft supposedly built Windows RT to optimize for battery life. In a blog post from a year ago, officials said that ARM-based Windows devices with their Connected Standby power mode should allow the battery to last "for weeks." 

Happily, the Surface RT powers back up very quickly (once you get the magnetic charger to stick and stay in the correct position, that is). And I usually power it up right before I take it anywhere with me, so I can avoid carrying the power cord. 

But there's got to be a reason why some of us Surface RT users are getting great battery life and others just so-so. (And given how few apps I have running on my device, I'm doubtful it's some rogue app killing my battery.)

A Microsoft spokesperson pointed me to a list of battery-saving tricks on the Surface site, which includes all the usual suspects -- adjusting screen brightness, turning off notifications and turning off Wi-Fi "for a while" when possible. (I haven't tried the Wi-Fi one, as it seems to defeat the purpose of having a mobile, always-connected tablet, but I have tried the other tips with no success.)

One Microsoft Store employee suggested I close all my apps when not in use (which can be done by swiping downward from the top in a one-fell-swoop kind of motion). From all I've heard, this isn't necessary, and if it were, it would be a major pain.

Another colleague (thanks, Mary Branscombe) suggested that I check task manager history (available by using Task Manager in the Desktop) to check if any of my apps were consuming an inordinate amount of resources. Internet Explorer was the only one that is off-the-scale here. But as Branscombe reminded me, IE's Chakra JavaScript engine is handling some processing tasks on these devices, so this may not indicate anything amiss.

So, I'm at my wits' end. Maybe someone out there in reader-land has found a solution to this issue -- which is definitely not just my problem. Let's crowd-source this.

Meanwhile, speaking of tips and tricks, XNA Developers has a nice list of 50+ tips and tricks for Surface RT users. There are a couple battery-related tips there -- including shutting off Bluetooth when not needed (which I've now done), but nothing much beyond that.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Maybe a difference in hardware

    from the standpoint of a chip or two?
    William Farrel
    • I have to be fortunate then.

      I have not noted any battery issues with my Surface RT. I use Mail, calendar, Web browsing, play music, Skype, watch 4OD, Office and charge once every three days. The only thing that I do not use with it is the touch cover keyboard or any other keyboard. May be this makes the difference, or I am lucky!
    • In that vein

      I don't own an RT but I do own an HP Envy X2 which is an x86 Atom tablet. It has a couple of battery drain issues I can mention to see if one can help you. The Envy has a BIOS setting called USB Charge Mode. Basically it powers the USB port even when the device is shut down so you can charge your phone and what not off the laptop. This is a horrible feature that drains the battery even when nothing is plugged in to a USB port. Maybe the RT has that feature. Second, and probably not helpful for you, is that the Envy has a second battery in the detachable keyboard that always tries to recharge the battery in the tablet portion even if the tablet is at 100%. It is a 2S battery and the tablet has a 1S. So even in a shutdown situation the second battery churns itself to death. If your tablet is going dead in "Sleep" mode but not in "Shutdown" then likely the tablet is not entering Sleep due to a bug or misadjusted power setting; or a device in the Device manager or Metro App is waking the tablet or setting a Wakelock. That is annoying. The Envy and Lenovo tablets have a worse bug running Windows 8.1 in that Sleep mode hangs the device with a Lid action. So there's what I know about power issues specific to W8 tablets.
  • Hardware issue?

    It is possible that there is a hardware issue. MS has excellent customer support. Have you tried to do a warranty exchange?

    I can certainly report that from my experience, my Surface RT has never experienced any unusual battery draining. On the odd day that I don't use it, the battery drop isn't even noticable on the little icon. I leave WiFi on but Bluetooth off.
    • Could be. My wife has one and get 3-4 days with 3-4 hours of use per day

      She raves about how great the Surface battery life is. I'm sure her BT is using the default setting so I'll have to check on that. If the default is on it'll get even better when I turn it off. Thanks for the tip.
      Johnny Vegas
    • Very strange

      Have two Surfaces and they last 3-4 days each. You may have a hardware problem.
      • Ditto here

        We have two Surface RTs at home and I use almost entire evenings and weekends with it and never experienced shortage power. I take that one road during weekends between dance classes and sports clubs with kids and Starbucks times with wife. And we both never experienced it. I also won a VivoTab RT recently, and I haven't tested it thoroughly though, but from what I see is, it might be a hardware issue related to a particular batch. We also bought ours on 10/26/2012 from St. Louis popup store and Microsoft Store has tweeted our picture too. :)
        Ram U
        • No problem here either.

          On my Surface RT I have EVERYTHING turned on: all the live tiles that can possibly be live, Bluetooth, WiFi; and I make no effort to manage what is running in the background. I use Mail, with Hotmail on IMAP and three other accounts on Exchange ActiveSync (basically, one account on fetch, three on push). I have jailbroken it and have Rainmeter permanently running on the desktop (my feeling is: go large, or go home). I leave it in standby all the time between use and overnight, without charger plugged in. I experience no appreciable drain whatsoever.

          So you must definitely be experiencing a bug, whether hardware, firmware or app. BTW I do not have any of the apps installed that others in this thread identify as vampires.
    • Android as well

      I have similar problems with my Galaxy SIII. The first one would last a couple of days, the new one barely lasts a day, with the same apps. It also blinks the LED when I get a message, even though I have disabled all the LED settings.

      One of our iPhone users has been through 7 phones in 2 years, the batteries keep failing and 3 of the replacements have had faulty WiFi and Bluetooth antennas (< 1M range from the wifi).

      There are always rogue devices.
  • Battery Drain

    I do not typically get more than a couple of days from my Surface RT before I need to recharge it. I do use it quite a bit though.

    I have conducted some connected standby tests with my Surface and on average I lose between 2-3 percent on hour which is pretty bad. I have 6 live tiles, 1 push email and 2 other email accounts that pull every 30 minutes. I have had 3 Surface RT's since launch and they all have behaved the same way. I were not to use my Surface at all and leave it in connected standby I would only get a little over 48 hours before the battery would run out which is far short of what MS states.

    Besides the battery drain I am VERY satisfied with the Surface RT and like you I have decided not to "upgrade" to the Surface Pro.
  • There is no more annoying and condescending answer

    than "Your situation is not typical."

    So what? That doesn't make it any less real or annoying.
    • Well...

      Perhaps what they mean by that is, call support and try to get to the bottom of it instead of whining about it on the internet. Whining about it on the internet isn't going to fix it either.

      Just saying.
      • Exactly

        The irony of that particular poster (baggins) is that he is the first to claim that "your situation is not typical, take it back to the apple store to get it fixed, there is probably a hardware problem" whenever anyone mentions that their apple product is exhibiting anything less than "perfect" behavior.
        • So predictable you're becoming boring.

          If the MS rep had said: That's not typical, send it in and we'll take a look at it and replace it if necessary, I'd have said good customer support MS. That's not what happened. The answer was dismissive.

          Of course, you know this. You just have a dishonest nature.
          • Where was the full transcript?

            Do you have access to the full transcript?


            Then you do NOT know what the official suggested. You only know 1 word: atypical.
        • Pathetic

          Toddbottom3 is pathetic

          Microsoft = Perfect

          Apple = Disaster

          GTFu (Grow the F Up)
          • Long live toddbottom3!!11!!!!!!11!1!

            We love you. Dont listen to grib.
  • inferior RT vs iOS

    Checking task manager and killing tasks is not an option. There shouldn't even be a task manager. I'm sure "in theory" these can get that battery life based on design calcuations from datasheets and with no outside apps being installed, but once any real world use takes place that goes out the window. If "runaway apps" cannot be dealt with properly by the OS then that's all it takes.
    I'll give this the benefit of the doubt for now that its some isolated defects, before I really lay into the RT OS. If anything, in-house design of the surface and exceedingly closed nature of its OS should allow optimal battery life more akin to the Ipad than the more general purpose android, for example.
    • If you have first hand experience with Surface RT and Windows RT

      for at least few days please say so, otherwise you are just one ignorant.
      Ram U
    • ios has a task manager

      "There shouldn't even be a task manager."

      It happens to be an extremely primitive task manager but don't kid yourself, it exists.
      "iOS: Force an app to close"

      Back when I used my iphone, I had to be very careful to make sure I force closed the navigation app I used or it would continue running in the background, sucking the battery at a horrific rate.