On the brink of acceptable battery life in mobile

On the brink of acceptable battery life in mobile

Summary: A perfect storm of hardware evolution and software improvement have mobile devices providing longer time away from an outlet than ever.

Android battery
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

If you are like most folks, you remember how you had to structure your day around keeping your mobile gear running away from the power outlet.

Phones were likely to start running empty long before day's end. Laptops had to be topped off at an outlet at some point during the day to have any chance of lasting long enough. Even the newest member of the mobile family, the tablet, could start coughing before being put to bed.

That's all changing rapidly, and it won't be long until mobile device users will not even think about the time remaining on the battery.

We are on the brink of having acceptable battery life on almost all mobile devices, and we've gotten there in just the last couple of years. This improvement is the result of a number of advancements that work together to make gadgets run longer. While battery technology has improved incrementally over the years, it hasn't improved enough to deliver this advancement on its own.

It's largely hardware improvement that plays a great role in keeping gadgetry running for long hours. Processors used in mobile devices, Intel and ARM in particular, have gotten good at gently sipping from the power trough. Plus, the switch from moving hard disks to low power flash memory has factored heavily into the overall reduced power requirements of most mobile devices.

The Intel Haswell chipsets should make a big push to longer battery life. This will have a tremendous impact on both laptops and tablets.

Software has factored into the improved battery situation too, as platform developers have learned how to make operating systems with a lesser impact on power consumption. Programs running all the time in the background have especially improved to keep power usage down to a minimum.

Processors used in mobile devices, Intel and ARM in particular, have gotten good at gently sipping from the power trough.

The improvement in hardware and software in the mobile space have worked together to greatly reduce the load on the small batteries tucked inside gadgets. This goes hand in hand with device makers that have developed manufacturing techniques eliminating the use of brick type batteries, in favor of free form cells that can be fitted to the sealed casing now in favor. This allows cramming the biggest battery possible in any given gadget.

Extended battery life is quite noticeable in tablets, with many models offering 10 hours or more on a charge. This allows even the heaviest user to get through a whole day without the need to carry the power adapter.

This is significant as tablets are awkward to use while plugged into the wall.

Phones have historically been the worst mobile devices as far as battery life is concerned. It wasn't that long ago that it was almost impossible to get through a full day without either using extra batteries or plugging the phone in to charge. Car charging adapters were in virtually everybody's car.

That's not the case anymore, as most phones can go all day on a charge. Days of unusually heavy usage might stretch it to the limit, but most of the time it's all day performance.

Laptops might be the most improved category of mobile device when it comes to battery life. Most probably remember when three hours of heavy usage could drain a laptop dry. Getting through an entire day wasn't a consideration for the laptop; work days were planned around having an outlet nearby at some point.

All of that is a thing of the past with mobile gear. Tablets last 10-12 hours, phones pretty much all day, and laptops approaching 10 hours of constant usage on a charge. It might not be all day battery life but it's darn close. With just a little additional improvement we should soon see all mobile device owners leaving the power adapters behind, without giving it a second thought.

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Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • A lighter OS can also help

    The efficiency of small operating systems such as Chrome OS has allowed smaller batteries to be used in some models. That has resulted in the devices becoming more light weight. Older laptops feel like bricks to carry, because of their large batteries.

    In phones, the new Firefox OS can get through a few days without a recharge.
  • Battery life

    " It wasn't that long ago that it was almost impossible to get through a full day "

    Really? My old black-and-white-screen Nokia 6310i went for two weeks without charging, and the screen was visible 24/7.

    Going to a coloured-screen model was a shock. Down to four days...

    I think the big qualifier is "smartphone".
    • I agree with DAS01, "smartphones" only

      It's definitely been a push and pull with this history of cell phones, where we'd get an advancement in one area (screens, software) and it would negatively effect another (battery life, no-look buttons).

      Mostly what I'm reminded of with this topic is all the hollow promises made in magazines over the years about super batteries of various kinds being just around the corner. Either patents are being sat on or all these innovations turned out bunk. Either way we're still trying to eek power out of the same battery tech as always.
  • What ever happen to 72 hour battery life on cellphones???

    I'm sorry but I think if anything cellhpones are still lagging in battery efficency. I remember having cellphones that under heavy use would still go almost 3 days on a charge. I'm I even tried to use my smartphone in such a matter I'm out of power by early afternoon at best. They still have a long way to go in my book.
    Mr. Special
    • True, but...

      72 hours just to make calls isn't really comparable to around 10 hours to do calls, texts, search the web, check e-mail, watch videos, listen to music, etc.
      I've always had iPhones and though the improvements have been constant from generation to generation, iOs7 really killed the iPhone 5's battery life. I now have a Galaxy Note 3 and for what it is and the gigantic screen I think it has awesome battery life.
  • Facts backwards!

    If you have been around long enough, you would remember your smartphone as being able to run for several days on a charge (Palm Treo device).

    Fact was, the Treo had everything but a good browser - and that was as much about the web not being mobile ready as anything else.
  • Droid MAXX

    Just wish moto would make the MAXX for all carriers. There is no reason in my book, given a proper advertising campaign, that they couldn't dethrone sammy. They are built WAY better and I get 2 solid days, 4 if I'm not constantly using it.

    Sure a thin device is nice, but if it can last me 2-4 days, that is much better.
  • It's Already Here (It's called Droid Maxx)

    It's not that complicated and it's already here.

    My Motorola Droid Maxx routinely lasts two full days with room to spare. Heavy usage (videos, GPS, lots of on-screen time) don't faze it. I can recall exactly one time I had to recharge it before the end of a typical 18-hour day.

    The author says "it won't be long until mobile device users will not even think about the time remaining on the battery."

    And he's right. I never do.
  • Battery life getting longer???

    I hope Samsung gets the message soon. My Galaxy Q (SGH-T589), also known as the Ace.....has HORRIBLE batt life even when used strictly for phone use. It would be TOTALLY inept if used as a data device.
  • Battery Life?

    I sure hope you all are right. Yesterday my Galaxy Nexus barely made it to noon on the first charge. At 6:00 I unplugged it while talking and 5 minutes later it shut down dead.
    My new Note 3 arrives today. I am expecting two 18 hour days from the battery, while downloading all my data and software and talking on the phone at the same time.

    Computer bob
  • Droid MAXX battery life

    I too can attest to the battery life of the Droid MAXX models. I routinely get 3+ days of useful battery life out of my a phone, a Razr Maxx. My all-time record of uptime on a single charge, without going into airplane mode, was just shy of four days. Contrast that with my sig other's iPhone 5: she charges it to capacity in the morning, and by the time she gets home from work, it's down to ~10%.

    A big part of the Maxx's longetivity is it's relatively large battery capacity: 2 to 3 times as much as other contemporary non-Maxx smartphones. Smarter software helps too, as applications that run in the background 24x7 using the CPU are a constant power draw. Some newer Maxx models (newer than mine) might also have more efficient power conversion hardware or better cell/wifi radio designs.
  • So apparently it's a requirement to publish articles at ZD

    Doesn't matter if there's anything to say or not - write an article anyway.

    Doesn't matter if the little bit of anecdotal factoid you have has been written, published, and commented on ad nauseam already - publish anyway.

    And as for the stream of "my old phone lasted for days / weeks" and "my new phone doesn't last at all" comments... again: doesn't matter if it's been discussed to death - comment anyway.

    I came to this article thinking there would be something original, or at least noteworthy, to read here. I churned through the whole thing, hoping against hope that there might be some nugget of information, some gem of truth hiding somewhere... er, not so much. ZD is definitely competing with TechRepublic to become the "home of the content-free blog post".

    I only posted this comment in retaliation. If someone can waste my time with a pointless post like this then I can at least try to return the favour.
    • well said

      I agree.. good assessment.
  • A lot depends upon how you use the device.

    If you play a lot of games on your smartphone, or do a lot of streaming, you may not make it all day but if all you do is make a couple of calls and look at a couple of web pages each day, you will be okay. About the only thing that doesn't seem to shorten smartphone battery life is e-mail.

    Though battery life is better than it once was, my experience has been that no one's device really lives up to the claims that come with it.

    In the end, it seems that as battery life goes up, manufacturers ask those devices to do more and more so it becomes a zero-sum game. If I can go from 7:00am until 11:00pm without charging, that is a good day for my smartphone.

    Tablets can go pretty long but from my experience will not go all day. An hour or two at a time, yes, but not all day.

    I agree that this is more about efficient processors - which can adjust to load requirements - than it is about battery technology - which has reached its current energy-density limit with lithium-ion/lithium-polymer technology.

    Still, on a family road-trip, a car charger is a must to keep your mobile devices running all day long.
    M Wagner