10 ways to make your smartphone's battery last longer in an emergency

Hurricane Florence is expected to devastate the East Coast. Here's how to stretch your phone's battery life in an emergency.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
4 min read
Watch this: Make your phone's battery last longer when the power goes out

Let's face it, at this point in your life, there are few things more important than your phone. That's why keeping it alive is more important than ever.

That's especially the case during a natural disaster. With Hurricane Florence, which is expected to touch down on Friday or Saturday, poised to devastate large swaths of the East Coast, staying in touch is critical.

Fear not. This handy phone survival guide will help you make the most out of your battery. If a power outage hits your area, you'll know exactly what to do to ensure you remain connected.

Turn off the extra wireless connections 

Your phone has a myriad of different connections, few of which are really that integral during a blackout. Wireless connections such as Bluetooth and WiFi are great during a regular day, but they can quickly drain a battery. In power-saving situations, GPS is also a no no, and disabling location services is another smart move. 

The only exception, of course, is if you're using a location-based app to help get first responders to you. Otherwise, keep it off. 

Watch this: Make your phone's battery last longer when the power goes out

Resist the urge to check your phone

For most of us, the smartphone is the equivalent of a drug -- one you can't quit. Well, a blackout is a good chance to go cold turkey. It's smart to limit the use as much as possible. Each time you turn on the display, you're cutting into the phone's battery life.

Share phones

If you're with a group of people, it might be useful to shut off all but one of the phones. That way, if one goes down, someone else can turn on a phone that still has a full charge. If you commit to this, it might be handy to take down some critical phone numbers before turning off the devices.

Switch to airplane mode

If you don't want to completely shut off your phone, switch to airplane mode to shut off all of the radios, and switch back out of airplane mode only when you need to make a call or send a text message.

Keep your phone plugged in before a blackout hits

If you still have power and are looking to limit your usage already, why not let your phone rest near an outlet? When the power goes out, you'll know your phone is holding as much of a charge as it possibly can.

Charge backups

If you're lucky enough to have a phone with a swappable battery, as well as an extra battery, make sure that backup is fully charged before a blackout hits. Alternatively, a fully charged laptop can also be used as a battery of sorts, since it can charge a phone through a USB connection.

Disable push notifications

Most smartphones are hooked up to one e-mail account or another, and these devices either get messages pushed down to them or they fetch the e-mails. You can save a lot of battery by turning off the push notifications. 

Take a break from streaming

If you have to listen to music or video, don't use streaming services, which constantly puts a strain on the phone's battery. Only play videos or songs already loaded on the phone (you may need them to comfort a distressed child). 

Likewise, try not to play games that require a connection, like "Pokemon Go" or "Candy Crush Saga," or games that require phones to rev up their processors, such as the "Infinity Blade" series.

Dim the display

Displays often take up the most power, particularly if the phone has a large and bright screen. Most phones have an automatic brightness option, though you could manually dim the screen to preserve battery. Lock the phone and turn off the display as much as possible.

Send text messages instead of calling

Because of the nature of text messages, the conversation is usually kept short and concise. Phone calls can drag on, sucking up valuable battery life, but a text message gets the information out far more efficiently, and isn't constantly running. Likewise, you can use instant message services like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Need to know how to use your phone to stay on top of the latest weather alerts regarding the hurricane? Check out this CNET How To piece.

A different version of this story was published on Oct. 29, 2012.

Update, Aug. 25, 2017, at 12:40 p.m. PT: Recasts top of story with references to Hurricane Harvey. 

Aug. 26 at 10:32 a.m.: Updates information on Hurricane Harvey.

Sept. 14, 2018, at 5 a.m.: Updates with information on Hurricane Florence. 

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