Five battery life savers for HTC Thunderbolt (and other Androids)

The HTC ThunderBolt may be breaking land speed records with its 4G LTE connection, but all that speed seriously drains the battery. Here are practical tips for squeezing out more battery life.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief

As I mentioned in my review of the HTC ThunderBolt, the ThunderBolt is a top-notch device that breaks through the speed barriers of the traditional smartphone. However, the ThunderBolt also has one big caveat: Battery life. This is a foible that many Android devices suffer from, particularly HTC devices. The HTC EVO and HTC Incredible are both excellent smartphones that struggle to get through an entire business day on a single charge.

For the ThunderBolt, the primary issue is when it's in 4G LTE mode. That's when it really screams -- in terms of speed -- but it's also when the battery can completely drain in as little as four hours with heavy use. In order to help ThunderBolt users get the most out of this otherwise useful device, I've put together some power tips for squeezing extra battery life out of the ThunderBolt. While these tips are aimed primarily at the ThunderBolt and reference HTC-specific widgets and settings, they can also be applied more generally to almost any Android device (and specifically other HTC devices), with just a few adjustments.

I should also note that when the ThunderBolt is not in 4G mode, its battery life is actually very respectable. Using the tips in this article, I was able to get through a full day of normal use with the HTC ThunderBolt on a combination of 3G and Wi-Fi and still had 70% of the battery left after 10 hours. On 4G, I was able to use these tips to stretch the ThunderBolt battery to almost eight hours.

1. Tweak the display

If you want to see what's draining most of your power, go to Home screen | Menu button | Settings | About phone | Battery | Battery use. You'll see a screen like the one below. In most cases (except for when you're on 4G), the display will be at the top of the list because the display is the primary power drain on nearly all smartphones.

There are several things you can do to reduce the display's hit on your battery. Go to Menu | Settings | Display and adjust the following settings:

  • Turn off auto-brightness: Uncheck the box for "Automatic brightness" and drop the slider down to about a third. The ThunderBolt screen is still bright and clear, even at this setting.
  • Decrease screen timeout: The default is 1 minute. Drop it down to 30 seconds.

2. Throttle sync settings

Once you get your display settings under control, another quick thing you can do that will immediately make a big impact on your battery life is to get your sync settings under control. When you install and use various apps and widgets, they often set themselves up to automatically sync without warning you or allowing you to set up the sync settings such as how often to update. As a result, most Android devices end up with a bunch of things running in the background updating themselves constantly, which drains battery life and quietly eats away at your mobile data allotment on 3G/4G.

To see which of your apps and widgets are doing stealth syncs in the background, go to Menu | Settings | Accounts & sync. I prefer to uncheck the "Auto-sync" box and simply disable background syncing altogether (especially when I'm trying to ring out every last drop of battery life). You can always compensate by using HTC's "Sync all" widget so that when you unlock your phone you can just tap the Sync all button and all of your data for all of your approved apps and widgets get synced (on 4G it will sync really fast anyway). If you want to take it a step further, in the Accounts & sync screen, uncheck the "Background data" box so that no apps are allowed to quietly transfer data in the background.

Alternatively, in the sync settings you can also grant just a few select apps the ability to sync and then set the frequency for syncing to a longer interval.

3. Manage your radios

Another way to have a quick impact on battery life is to shut down some of the radios. Nearly all modern smartphones are packed with multiple radio transmitters and each one draws power when they are turned on. Turn them off when you're not using them. HTC makes this easy on the ThunderBolt because it has a bunch of toggle widgets that you can tap to enable/disable the various radios/features (see screenshot below).

I always turn off Bluetooth and GPS, except when needed. If I know I'm going to be on the mobile network for an extended period of time then I turn off Wi-Fi so that the Wi-Fi radio isn't wasting power searching for connections. One of the things I did to save battery life when I was on the 4G LTE network was to use "Airplane mode" when I was in meetings or other long periods where I knew I wasn't going to be using the phone. This turns off all of the radios, including the cellular network.

4. Turn down the eye candy

One of the attractive things about the HTC Sense UI -- as well as the newer versions of Android and some of its third-party add-ons -- is that it has some great eye candy. The animated weather on HTC's default home screen clock, the live wallpapers that move in the background, and the eye-pooping skins and alternative home screens all look great, but they can be an additional drain on the phone's resources.

I'd recommend using the simple and elegant "Slate" skin (below) on the HTC ThunderBolt. I'd also recommend avoiding the live wallpapers and selecting a static image. For battery savings, I'd also recommend turning off animations by going to Menu | Settings | Display | Animation and selecting "No animations."

5. Manage apps and widgets

We've already talked about how some apps and widgets can slowly siphon resources by syncing in the background. Many apps will also turn themselves on automatically (or remain in memory even after you close them). Of course, the widgets that you put on your various home screens are also running quietly at all times as well, so you'll need to be wise about which ones you use and keep an eye on them.

To monitor and manage your apps and widgets you'll need to download a task manager like the popular Advanced Task Killer. This lets you see what you've currently got running (and what is quietly turning itself on without your permission). You can do this periodically and manually kill all of your open apps to avoid letting power-hogs drain your battery. Advanced Task Killer even comes with a handy widget that you can place on your home screen. Just tap it once and it kills all your apps, and gives you a short message telling you how many apps were killed.

Even better, open Advanced Task Killer and go into Menu | Setting and set the "Auto Kill" option. I'd recommend setting the Auto Kill Level to "Safe" and setting the Auto Kill Frequency to "Every half hour." If you're really paranoid and want to keep stuff under wraps, you can set the Auto Kill so that it wipes everything out every time you turn off your screen. Keep in mind that some people argue that killing processes on Android has dubious value, but I find that it's a good way of keeping potential battery hogs under control, even if it knocks out some harmless stuff in the process.

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

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