It's difficult enough to keep plain-vanilla cell phones charged for a busy day of just talking. But these days, we also use our smartphones for e-mail, surfing the Web, editing documents, accessing corporate networks, text messaging, enjoying music and video, playing games, managing our personal information and much more -- making it all the more catastrophic when our devices run out of juice.
The problem is that while smartphone capabilities have increased dramatically in recent years, batteries have not kept pace. "Phones do so much more now, but battery technology hasn't advanced that much," says Scott Riddle, digital sales supervisor at BearCom, a retailer of mobile equipment. Riddle regularly hears from customers about their struggles to keep smartphones charged. "Everybody has this problem," he says.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to significantly increase the time between charges, although no one solution is a silver bullet. "It's a lot of little things that help," according to Riddle.
We asked Riddle and other experts for their best tricks to extend your smartphone's battery life. Here's what they told us.
Remember the basics
First, some basics. You may already know these tips, but if you apply them diligently, they can help increase battery life.
1. Find -- and use -- your phone's energy-saving settings. A little time exploring your smartphone's interface will reveal where to go to change settings to preserve battery life. Remember that these settings cover multiple aspects of your phone use, so they likely will be in different parts of the interface. But on many phones, such as Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices, a logical first place to look is in the Settings menu.
Be sure to turn down the default screen brightness, since brighter displays use more power. Also shorten the interval before the display's backlight automatically goes off. The occasional annoyance of the screen going blank before you're done using your smartphone is worth the benefit of longer battery life.
2. Find online tips for your specific phone. For instance, Apple has a page dedicated to preserving battery life on its new iPhone 3G. In addition, there are nonvendor sites with useful battery tips. Here's one for BlackBerry and one for Windows Mobile.
3. Plug in your smartphone whenever you can. Since it's perfectly OK, even desirable, to "top off" today's lithium ion batteries, look for outlets in meeting rooms, airport terminals or wherever you are and plug in. It's also smart to charge up while you're driving. Car chargers for your specific phone are available directly from your phone vendor or cellular operator, and universal chargers are available from vendors such as APC.
4. Talk, don't e-mail. Cellular data connections use between two and four times as much battery power as voice connections, according to Isidor Buchmann, CEO of Cadex Electronics, a vendor of battery testing equipment. For simple communications, call and leave a message instead of e-mailing, he advises.
Manage your software
Many of us are loyal to a specific mobile operating system. And applications make your smartphone useful and fun. But both the operating system and the applications drain the battery, so manage them so they sip, not gulp, power.
5. Update your operating system. "The biggest battery drain is the operating system," notes Kristi Lundgren, Motorola's product manager for the company's Q smartphone. She said that vendors tend to improve power consumption from version to version, so update when you can.
6. Use simple ringtones. "Musical ringtones use the phone's processor, which uses more battery," says Derek Meister, who has the title of double agent with Best Buy's Geek Squad. Simpler, standard ringtones don't require such processing power.