The Mobile Battery Life Crisis

I held out as long as I could, I really did. I stuck with smartphones that had removable batteries so I could field-swap a fresh, fully charged battery into my phone in a matter of seconds while traveling or just when away from my charger for extended periods. But when my Galaxy Nexus, the last phone I had which had a removable back and could have batteries swapped easily, finally became too slow and too buggy after a couple years of heavy use, I went shopping for an upgrade. My smartphone requirements are fairly strict – I need to be able to fully unlock and root whatever phone I get so I can load a non-bloated (and probably backdoor’d by my carrier) ROM on it. Second to that, I really want a removable battery, but when I went shopping for a new phone, every model that appealed to me had a fully sealed body, which means no battery swaps. So I bit the bullet and picked up a shiny new HTC One M8. It’s a great phone, and was super easy to root and treat with my choice of custom Android ROMs. But after about a year, the battery life is already an issue.

So now I’m one of those chumps who has to travel with a dedicated battery pack to recharge my phone while I’m traveling (I bought an older version of this one and it’s great, but still…). And this really bothers me. I used to simply carry a couple of thin and lightweight spare batteries in my pocket and could easily go a couple of days away from a wall charger. But now I travel with a super heavy and relatively bulky “power pack” (or two), and find myself recharging at airports and conferences regularly.

Charging Mobile Devices while Traveling

This is my world now. Constantly charging devices with a bulky battery pack.

The state of smartphone batteries today is absolutely absurd. I would MUCH prefer a thicker phone that could guarantee me a minimum of 24 hours between charges than a super thin and lightweight device that runs out of juice around dinner time after a day of what is, for many smartphone owners, normal daily use.

And yet device makers continue increasing screen size, making even thinner devices, and adding more powerful components. The inevitable result is a shitty user experience after anywhere from four to 12 months when the battery no longer holds as much charge and you find yourself running out of juice before the end of the day.

As the owner of both an Android and Apple smartphone, both of which I carry and use daily, I fully understand why Apple has made many engineering decisions with iOS which I find to be incredibly annoying from an end-user perspective. For example, iOS does not allow apps to run in the background the way Android does. While this is just one way in which they improve battery life, I find it to be very limiting, as I am so used to the Android experience of being able to, say, run a music app while browsing the web or replying to emails. And when I open Twitter on my Android, it’s right where I left it, whereas on my iPhone the app has to fully re-launch. Most people don’t care about this stuff, but come on, I’m a geeky linux guy who loads custom ROMs on his non-apple smartphones and immediately removes Windows from every new laptop so linux can be installed fresh and clean.

All that said, there may be hope on the horizon. Solid state batteries are just around the corner, promising to double the energy density of the best lithium-ion batteries available, which is what currently powers our modern mobile devices. But of course, this won’t likely double the battery life of new smartphones. Instead, manufacturers will just make even thinner, more powerful devices, because apparently that’s what the market wants.

While it’s hard to imagine life as an IT professional without my smartphones, particularly when I’m traveling, I do miss the days when we carried simple flip phones that could go days between charges. I would absolutely be thrilled if I could buy a bulkier smartphone that had a massive battery. I’m already carrying, at minimum, one dedicated battery pack when I travel or even if I know I’m going to be away from my home or office for more than eight hours. Surely someone could add a few millimeters to a modern phone’s thickness and put a larger battery in there.

And on that topic, I’d like to bring attention to this little gem regarding the new Apple Watch’s battery life that I came across in a leftover newspaper on a subway last week:

Apple Watch Three Hours Battery Life

Apple admits their new smartwatch will provide at most seven hours of actual use before recharging

At least I still have one device that doesn’t require constant recharging – my Pebble smartwatch.

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