Getting the best out of your smart phone’s battery, or The Great Smartphone Conundrum.

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Getting the best out of your smart phone’s battery, or The Great Smartphone Conundrum.


As a smart phone user, you are increasingly having to choose between performance and battery life. Smartphones keep getting faster. If you buy a new high-end phone this year, you’ll find it’s noticeably more powerful than last year’s best gadgets. It will let you run much more demanding apps, it will load up web pages more quickly, and it will deliver sharper, more advanced videos and games.

This might not sound like a big deal but what’s striking about phones is how quickly they’re getting quicker. This year’s top-of-the-line phones are likely to be twice as fast as those released last year. And last year’s phones weren’t slouches – they were twice as powerful as the ones that came out in 2011.

This pace is remarkable. If you study the speed increases of smartphones over time, you notice a thrilling trend: phones are getting faster really, really fast – much faster, in fact, than the increase in speed in the rest of our computers. If you scrutinise this quickening pace, though, you’re bound to get disillusioned.

One of the reasons phones have been getting faster is that they’re also getting bigger. A bigger phone allows for a bigger battery, which allows for a faster processor. But now we’ve hit a wall in phone size: Today’s biggest and fastest phones carry screens of around 5in, and they’re not going to get any bigger than that. (If they did, they wouldn’t fit in your hand.)

So if the size of our phones – and, thus, the size of their batteries – is now fixed, phone makers (and phone buyers) must make a sharp trade-off. Over the next few years, at least until someone develops better battery technology, we’re going to have to choose between smartphone performance and battery life.

A good example is the new Samsung S4 with all sorts of nice new power intensive features. For ‘normal’ use you can expect up to 8 hours of battery life, but as soon as you start to use the non-touch swipe features etc. you can expect may be half that. Remember your early mobile phones? You would go typically three or four days without having to recharge them.

The most powerful phones are aleays going to be much more fun to use than everything else on the market – until about lunchtime, when you’ll need to recharge them. The phones with the longest battery life, on the other hand, might stutter as you put them through their paces and won’t let you play the latest games or other demanding apps – but at least they’ll be around when you need them at midnight. Which is better, a fast phone or a long-lived one? I really don’t know. I want both. But the days when you can have the best of both worlds in one package will soon be gone.