I talked about capacity, cycle life, tricks of the industry….today, I will distill it down to some simple thoughts for you to keep in mind when you are ready to select your next mobile device or smartphone. In particular, today’s writing is about selecting a device with the proper battery capacity that can last you an honest day.
Mobile device manufacturers will give you an estimate of the battery life for their devices. For example, Apple’s tech specs say that the battery on the iPhone 6 will give you up to 14 hours of talk time on 3G. Samsung’s web page says that the Galaxy S5 will last up to 12 hours of internet use time on 4G. Plenty of independent sites on the web try to give a more objective analysis of the actual time a consumer can expect of their new device. Anandtech, for example, does their own thorough battery testing and provide a comparison of the battery performance of different devices. GSM Arena assigns a battery “Endurance rating.” Think of it as an index meant to give you the user an understanding of the battery’s ability to last.
Yet, the landscape remains confusing. What do the numbers mean in real life? Why is it that so many users can’t reliably get a full day of use when these sites clearly claim a full day of use. Generally, predicting battery life has been difficult for the industry because the usage patterns of consumers vary wildly across the board. An employee with a desk job who uses their smartphone for limited personal use will see a very different performance relative to a traveling executive or salesperson who is constantly using their device.
Early cell phones had far smaller battery capacities (only about 600 or 700 mAh), yet they lasted an entire week if not longer. But these devices did not have too many features…only a radio transmitter-receiver to make phone calls. Today’s mobile devices have multiple radios for the different frequencies and bands (2G, 3G, 4G, LTE…); they have beautiful but power-hogging displays with increasing resolution (meaning more power); they have GPS and navigation components that also need power from the battery; and worst of all, we, you, and all of us users, want to use them constantly in the day as we check emails, write texts and SMS messages, and check our favorite apps that want to access radio, displays, GPS, all simultaneously.
It is no surprise that the battery capacity in smartphones has grown massively since the introduction of the first iPhone to accommodate this extra demand for electrical power. From a battery capacity of about 900 mAh in 2007, most smartphones today have a battery capacity ranging between 2,500 mAh and 3,000 mAh for Android phones. iPhone 6 uses 1,810 mAh and its larger brother, the iPhone 6 Plus, packs more than 2,900 mAh of capacity.
For the most part, as experience and feedback from users have shown so far, smartphones with batteries closer to 3,000 mAh in capacity seem to provide their users with an honest full day of use (or more), even heavy users seem satisfied. So if you are shopping for a new smartphone, try to shoot for 3,000 mAh unless you know you are only a casual and occasional user in which case, about 1,800 to 2,000 mAh will likely be sufficient. Don’t get too fooled by the marketing gimmicks.
So why can’t we get smartphones with 4,000 mAh or even higher capacity? Trying to fit more than 3,000 mAh in a standard 5-in screen device is very difficult. Remember yesterday’s writing and the whack-a-mole problem…if battery manufacturers increase the capacity, they will take a hit in cycle life or charge times. It is getting quite uncomfortable for them. So for the foreseeable future, expect smartphones to have batteries in the neighborhood of 3,000 mAh, but not much more than that, unless of course you are in the market for a huge 6-in phablet.
Tablets have it a little easier. They have a larger form factor and therefore can carry a larger battery — 6,000 mAh up to 10,000 mAh. Most tablets on the market have a decent battery use time.
But wait, there is another problem. What if you forget to charge your smartphone’s battery overnight? You wake up in the morning and realize your battery is down to 20% or less, and you need to run out the door to the office, school, or take your children to their school…As batteries have grown larger in size and the anxiety about getting a full day of use has dwindled, we are now beginning to face another problem, one of how long does it take to recharge the battery — or refilling the tank.
If we use the car as an analogy, most vehicles manufactured today have a range between 300 and 400 miles (500 to 650 km). We, as a global society, seem to be content with that range. We don’t complain to General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, and the other car makers about the “limited range.” That’s because we know, implicitly, that if the tank is low on fuel, we are very often within reach of a refill station and, most importantly, we can refill our tank in a matter of minutes. This is the use model that mobile devices have to reach soon. We will soon expect our devices to last a full day of use, but also expect that our devices can be recharged substantially faster.