To get a better handle on the iPhone 5's battery life, we decided to subject the company's first 4G LTE smartphone to talk time tests. After all the dust settled, our tests produced respectable and surprising call time numbers
Since it's the first device in the iPhone franchise to boast a 4G LTE connection, I was really curious to see how this device stacks up against other phones in terms of staying power. That has been many a mobile gadget's undoing. All you have to do is think back to HTC's groundbreaking 4G LTE handset, the ThunderBolt, or even the vaunted Evo 4G on Sprint WiMax to catch my drift. Both these products had great specs for their time but burned through their batteries lickety split when connected to fast data networks.
Going by the iPhone 5's Web site and associated spec sheet, Apple lists just about every way you can think of to assess smartphone longevity including talk time over 3G, standby time, plus video and audio playback (10 hours and 40 hours, receptively). Apple slices battery performance in terms of Internet usage as well, citing up to 8 hours on 3G, 8 hours on 4G LTE, and 10 hours over Wi-Fi.
That's all well and good, but while the iPhone 5 doesn't transmit voice over LTE, advanced LTE radios tend to put extra pressure on overall longevity. To find out first hand just what kind of impact LTE has, I and a few of my fellow CNET editors ran multiple talk time tests on Apple's latest creation. We also tested all the versions of the iPhone 5 we could get our hands on, specifically the AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint models, in New York and San Francisco. Here's how it all went down.
Making the first call
We called each iPhone 5 from a land line or stable mobile phone and piped spoken word audio through to its earpiece using earbud headphones. Volume on the audio player (laptop, phone, or MP3 player) was pumped up to maximum. Each iPhone on the other end had call volume set to 50 percent. We turned off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS and made sure the iPhone 5's screen stayed off by covering the proximity sensor.
After running our series of tests, we recorded results in line with Apple's claims. There were big performance differences between each iPhone model, though. The average talk time for the AT&T iPhone 5, for example, was 7 hours and 22 minutes, which, while solid, isn't quite Apple's stated time of 8 hours. On the other hand, the Verizon iPhone 5 chatted for an average of 8 hours and 3 minutes, just exceeding Apple's benchmark. Our Sprint iPhone 5 matched and even exceed the 8-hour mark, coasting for 8 hours and 29 minutes. We were only able, however, to complete one test run. Additionally, LTE isn't a factor in this case since Sprint's 4G LTE network isn't active yet in New York where we tested it.
|Talk time (hours)|
|AT&T iPhone 5||7.37|
|Sprint iPhone 5||8.48|
|Verizon iPhone 5||8.05|
|Sprint iPhone 4S||9.25|
|Motorola Droid Razr Maxx||19.78|
|Nokia Lumia 900||6.86|
Of course we're still in the first serious round of iPhone 5 call time testing and will update this post with more data as it comes in. That said, I'm surprised that both the Verizon and Sprint iPhone 5 units have performed on par to Apple's stated times, while the AT&T version has come out on the short end of the stick so far. Typically GSM phones such as the AT&T iPhone exhibit longer run times than their counter parts on CDMA networks (Verizon).
Even so, other 4G LTE devices we've recently tested leave the iPhone 5 in the dust, such as the LG Intuition. You might think that this monstrous phone/tablet hybrid wouldn't have much staying power, especially with its big 5-inch display and moderately sized 2,080mAh battery. You'd be wrong, though, since the gadget turned in a long talk time of 9 hours and 57 minutes.
Another smartphone, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, is admittedly an outlier since it packs a massive 3,300mAh super battery, but did deliver an outstanding talk time of 19 hours and 47 minutes. Even the ZTE Fury ran for 10 hours before shutting down. Apple's own iPhone 4S managed to cling to life for a long 9 hours and 15 minutes on the same test. Other phones weren't so lucky. The Nokia Lumia 900 chatted away for 6 hours and 51 minutes straight on AT&T's 4G LTE network. Of course, Apple hasn't officially disclosed what capacity battery powers the iPhone 5, but stay tuned since we plan to subject the device to more battery trials soon.