Getting The Most From Your Cellphone Battery

By Ian Knott

I recently bought a new smartphone — an HTC 7 Trophy Windows Phone to be exact. I’d trialled one and loved the Windows 7 operating system so much that I was determined to make it my next mobile phone.

I knew that modern mobile phones shipped with a partial battery charge and so keen was I to play with my new toy, I slipped in my SIM card and began enjoying my phone. I got about half a day’s use out of it before the battery died, after which I left the phone on charge overnight.

From that point on I found I was only getting 1.5 days usage out of my battery before it required charging again, even though I wasn’t using the phone for anything more than the occasional text and call. This just didn’t seem right to me.

I was well aware of batteries requiring a solid 12 or so hours first charge, but I also thought modern batteries made that requirement not so important. I was wrong — well kind of.

I decided that my battery was faulty and rang up the shop where I bought it. The staff member asked me if I gave the battery a 24 hour charge straight out of the box.

Twenty-four hours? Seriously? I replied that there was no mention of that seemingly bloated requirement in any of the documentation that accompanied the phone, and that I had given it an overnight charge instead (I neglected to mention that I had drained the battery first). After a few more questions, we agreed that the battery must be faulty and I got it replaced with a brand new one that I took straight home and gave a 15 hour charge before I even turned the phone on.

This prompted me to do some research into the facts and myths surrounding mobile phone batteries, what the initial charge requirements are and how you can get the most out of your battery life.

Essentially there are two types of mobile phone battery (with some small variations of each). Older phones use a Nickel-cadmium or Ni-CD battery and more modern phones use Lithium-ion batteries. Each type has very different charging requirements, so it pays to check (it’ll be noted on the battery itself) or in the phone specifications.

Ni-CD and lithium-ion batteries operate differently but both require ‘initialising’ before first use. Ni-CD needs a good 16 hours first charge and after that needs two to four full discharge/recharge cycles before the battery is at its optimum. After that they can handle recharging at any stage of discharge.

Lithium-ion batteries only need a 5-6 hour initial charge straight out of the box. It’s highly likely that the battery meter will be telling you it’s fully charged after about an hour or so — it’s lying to you. Resist the urge to start using the phone until the 5-6 hour initialisation period is up.

One of the most important, yet least known facts about lithium-ion batteries (and this is where I went wrong), is that you should NEVER fully discharge them. Always put your phone on to charge when there is about 1 bar of battery life remaining.

There is a common myth regarding the ‘memory effect’. This is in regard to people thinking that if you charge your phone before it’s fully discharged enough times then the battery will actually forget how to fully charge. This simply isn’t true. Believing this will cause you to constantly over-discharge your battery and therefore inadvertently shorten its life.

It’s worth noting that your battery begins oxidising (degrading) from the moment it is manufactured. For each year the battery has been stored at room temperature, the battery life will decrease by 20 percent. So unless you’re buying the latest model phone then you might not be starting with a fully capable battery.

Here are some more handy tips for extending your battery life,
although some might defeat the purpose of owning a smartphone altogether:

■    Don’t leave your mobile in a hot car for lengthy periods of time, or in your pocket if you can avoid it. Nothing drains a battery faster than it being hot

■    Turn off Bluetooth — it’s a massive power drainer. Also turn off WiFi if you know you’re not going to be using it. Your phone will constantly be searching for wireless networks otherwise. Likewise with GPS and infra red capabilities

■     If you’re not using your phone for an extended period of time (a spare back-up phone for example) store the battery in a sealed container in the fridge. Don’t store it on full charge or empty — about 40 percent charge is ideal. This will prolong the life of the battery a great deal. Make sure that battery returns to room temperature before you use it

■    If you get emails on your phone, having an automatic send and receive every few minutes uses a lot of battery. Change it to manual, or a longer period if you can

■    If you only use your phone for texting and calls then turn off 3G and just use the GSM network. This alone will make a big difference

So ultimately, yes, the initial charge out of the box is important, but it certainly doesn’t need to be a whole day. Follow some simple battery care and preservation guidelines and you’re less likely to be caught out with the “low battery beep of death” when Murphy’s Law dictates that you’ll need it the most.

Ian Knott has been commentating on various forms of technology for the last 16 years.
He’s had columns on gadgets, gaming, computing and digital entertainment in many newspapers, magazines and websites in New Zealand and overseas.


Share This Post On