Save your Android battery life

A single day's battery life needn't be a frustrating feature of owning an Android smartphone. If you learn to control the power your phone uses, you can double the time between charges.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
3 min read

We've had several inquiries recently about the best way to extend the battery life of the new Android smartphones. People new to always-on phone technology seem to think that a single day's battery life is a frustrating but inevitable part of the smartphone experience. But there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of your battery. In most cases we've found it's possible to extend the battery cycles from less than a day to more than two days.

(Credit: CBSi)

However, unlike simpler mobile phones of the past, achieving the best battery life will require some user input. Gone are the days when you could pull the phone off the charger and not think about recharging again for another week. If you can get into the habit of switching a few key power hogs on and off as you use them each day, you can take the worry out of when you'll next find a power source.

Wax on, wax off

The secret for new users is to discover which parts of your phone use the most juice and to turn these on and off as needed. Typically speaking, there are two keys areas to focus on: the screen and the numerous connectivity tools.

The screen is an easy fix. If you press "menu" > Settings > Sound and Display you find yourself presented with system settings relating to ringtones, vibration and the appearance of the screen. Under the menu "brightness" tab, you can choose whether to use the automatic brightness setting or to set the brightness manually. We don't love automatic brightness as it tends to fluctuate too frequently. So we suggest you play with the brightness slider until you find a level that you are happy with — hopefully towards the dimmer end of the spectrum.

Dimming the screen brightness will go a long to saving battery. (Screenshots by CBSi)

When considering connectivity options it’s important to remember just how many chips your phone could be using. There's 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. And depending on how your phone is set, they could all be active even when you're not actually using them.

In your phone's default widgets menu you'll find one called Power Control. This is a widget with a strip of five buttons which lets you easily switch your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS on and off. There's also another button for activating "Automatic syncing" (it's the one that looks like a little circle) which we suggest you leave switched off for the best battery life. Automatic syncing will detect and download all new emails as well as Facebook and Twitter updates without you having to select refresh. Unless you need to push email for work or you really need to know every new event on Facebook as it happens, we suggest you leave this option off and manually sync these apps when you actually have time to use them.

What about 3G?

The key option missing from Google's Power Control widget is 3G connectivity. All Android phones have the ability to use their 3G and 2G radios simultaneously or just to use their 2G radios by themselves. 3G is really only useful when you're web browsing or downloading files. At other times 2G is fine for making and receiving calls and messages. And it will save you a HEAP of battery life.

APNdroid lets you easily turn 3G on and off and complements the default Power Control widget (Screenshots by CBSi)

We suggest you download APNdroid from the Android Market. This free download includes a widget you can place on your home screen which will let you turn the 3G connection on and off as you need it. Leave it off when your phone is in your pocket and then fire it up when you want to browse the web. Reconnecting to the 3G network only takes three or four seconds, so there's no reason to have 3G switched when you're not using it.

Odds and ends

If you're really serious about keeping your battery life as long as possible, there are a few extra areas to consider.

Live Wallpapers — Android phone featuring the 2.1 firmware or later will have the option to display Live Wallpapers. These animated backgrounds are cool to look at, but replacing them with a static image will help with battery life. If you really want the maximum effect from this tip, try a background of pure black.

Vibration and LED lights — these notification tools are an essential part of the phone experience for many people, but if you can live without them you will save battery. Look for the appropriate settings under the Sounds and Display menus referenced above.