Smartphone battery life - a battle that can't be won?

Smartphone makers are in a constant battle where battery life is concerned. The more goodies they cram into their handsets, the more power hungry the devices become.

Smartphone makers are in a constant battle where battery life is concerned. The more goodies they cram into their handsets, the more power hungry the devices become. Large screens, HSDPA, Wi-Fi, GPS, they all eat battery life like it is in infinite supply.

For several years I’ve been running a battery benchmark for smartphones that asks them to play music from a full charge for as long as they can manage it. Where it is possible to force the screen to stay on I do that.

Over the years battery life has moved forward, and on average I now get longer life than I used to under my testing regime. Sometimes there are spikes of wonderment when a device lasts much longer than I’d expect it to – or dies much more quickly.

I’ve just seen a real beauty, though. Acer’s beTouch E110.

The beTouch E110 exemplifies the dilemma that smartphone makers face. It is aimed at an entry level user. It lacks Wi-Fi and you can’t even use the Android Market to add more apps to those provided out of the box. It isn’t really aimed at Android fans. It is for those wanting a touch-screened smartphone at a relatively low cost.

And its battery life is superb. It played music for me for fourteen and a half hours. To put that into context, I got ten and a half hours from the HTC Desire, ten hours three minutes from the HTC Legend and just short of seven hours from the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10.

Now, let’s be clear. This is not an overly rigorous scientific test. It is just a test of music playback while keeping the screen on. It doesn’t measure the use of any other features. But on those other smartphones I mention it is entirely possible that people will make more use of things like GPS and 3G data than they will on an entry level device. They are more likely to have bought the smarpthone with those features in mind, after all. And that means relatively lower battery life for the Desire, Legend and Xperia X10 than for the beTouch E110.

Today’s smartphone users need to factor in daily battery charging as a general rule. But it is not new. I’ve been applying that rule for years. And I expect to be applying it for years to come.