Anyone can make a few simple changes to their phone’s settings, or to their own behavior, that can have a significant effect on how much power a device uses.
USE THE SCREEN LESS— OR AT LEAST TURN BRIGHTNESS DOWN
The screen is what uses the most battery on any portable device, so the longer the screen is on, the faster the battery will drain.
A quick and easy change is to shorten the delay until your phone automatically turns its screen off. On an iPhone, go to “Settings” then “General” then “Auto-Lock;” on an Android phone, go to “Settings” then “Display” then “Sleep.” Alternatively, you can manually put the phone to sleep whenever you’re done using it.
Most phones offer an auto-brightness mode that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness based on ambient light: In bright environments, the screen gets brighter, in dim environments, it gets dimmer. In other words, enabling auto-brightness will save most people a good amount of battery life compared with setting it to a bright level all the time, though not as much as if you kept
the brightness down all the time; the advantage of auto-brightness is that the screen will remain easily readable in all environments.
USE AN AD BLOCKER
Much of the debate around using this kind of software, which is designed mainly to prevent certain kinds of ads from loading while you’re browsing websites, focuses on revenue (for publishers) and annoyance (for readers). But ads, just like any other form of online content, use resources: Your phone must download the ad images and video and then display them (often running browser scripts too), and these tasks use energy.
SWITCH FROM PUSH TO FETCH EMAIL IF YOU HAVE MANY ACCOUNTS OR GET LOTS OF EMAIL
A feature called push automatically delivers new email, new or revised calendar events, and updates to your contacts list (such as
from a Gmail or iCloud account) to your smartphone whenever such changes occur on a central server. Although push is convenient, the feature can use a sizable amount of power, as it requires your phone to always be listening for new communications from your account provider. Most phones let you configure them to use “fetch” instead, where the phone polls a server on a schedule—say, every 30 minutes—or only when you manually tell the phone to do so.
If you have a single email account and you don’t receive much email, you won’t see a real difference in battery usage between push and fetch. But the more accounts you have on your phone, and the more messages and events each of those accounts receives,
the more energy your phone will use, as it has to communicate with those account servers continually.
STORE MUSIC LOCALLY
Streaming services— such as Pandora, Spotify and Apple Music— require your phone to maintain an active wireless connection—Wi-Fi or cellular—to the service you’re using to stream music. This active connection consumes a significant amount of power in comparison with playing that same music if it were stored locally on your phone.
CONSULT YOUR PHONE’S BATTERY-USAGE SCREEN TO FIND THE BIGGEST OFFENDERS
Both phone platforms provide a simple way for you to see which apps are using a lot of battery power. For example, on an iPhone running iOS 9, go to “Settings” then “Battery,” and scroll down to “Battery Usage” to see a list of the apps using the most battery power, sorted by the amount consumed. By default, the list shows battery use over the past 24 hours, but you can tap “Last 7 Days” to see data from the past week, which is often more useful; be sure to tap the little clock button to reveal information about
how much of your battery life each app is consuming when you’re actively using the app (“screen”) versus when you’re not (“backg…” or “background”).
On Android, you can see a similar list by going to “Settings” then “Battery;” here, too, you’ll see a sorted list of the items that are using your battery power. “Screen” is just that, your backlit display, while “Google Play Services” is a catch-all label for many apps background actions. Tap on an app, and you’ll see detailed statistics. You’ll find the most useful information in the “CPU total” and “CPU foreground” timers. The “foreground” figure refers to how much time you had the app open; subtract “foreground” from “total,” and you’ll know how much time the app has been busy in the background.
Using this list, you can quickly see which apps are the biggest battery-use offenders. You’ll likely find that the apps with the highest battery usage also have the longest on-screen time—in other words, they’re using a lot of battery because the screen is on most of the time you’re actively using them. You won’t be able to do much about those apps other than to use them less.
BATTERY SAVING MYTHS MYTH: TURN OFF WI-FI
A similarly common suggestion for extending battery life is to disable Wi-Fi. However, if you’re in range of a strong Wi-Fi signal,
your phone uses less energy to connect to the Internet with a Wi-Fi connection than a cellular one. In addition, if you regularly use apps that rely on your location, having Wi-Fi enabled helps your phone determine its location without relying solely on power-hungry GPS features, so it actually helps your phone’s battery last longer.
Unless you’re at the edges of a Wi-Fi network, where your phone is struggling to get a solid connection, and you have a good cellular data connection—in other words, your phone is keeping both Wi-Fi and cellular active, and switching between the two—you’re usually better off keeping Wi-Fi enabled.
MYTH: CLOSE OR QUIT INACTIVE APPS
There’s a good chance you’ve seen this “tip” for extending battery life: Close (or force-quit, as it’s commonly called) apps that you aren’t currently using. (On Android, you press the task-switching button and swipe an app to the side to quit it; on an iPhone, you double-press the home button and then swipe an app’s screen upward.) The theory here is that apps running in the background are using your phone’s processor, memory, and other components, so quitting them will use less energy.
Although that may sometimes be true on a computer, smartphones are designed differently: Once an app is no longer in the foreground— meaning you aren’t actively using it—most or all of its processes are frozen. While an app may still be loaded in RAM (temporary memory), the app is unlikely to be doing stuff in the background to drain your battery. Your phone’s operating system also automatically closes apps in the background when it needs RAM for other tasks.
Finally, quitting apps can actually have drawbacks: When you force quit an app, that may purge all of its code from your phone’s RAM, which means that the next time you open the app, the phone has to reload all of that code—which, of course, requires energy.
IF YOU STILL NEED MORE JUICE: BATTERY PACKS
These accessories, which can take the form of a bulky case with a built-in battery, or a separate battery that connects to your phone with a cable, provide the power you need to last an additional few hours at the end of the day, or even to fully charge your phone’s battery.
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