Five Tips: Get More Battery Life from Your RIM BlackBerry
Nothing lasts forever--especially your BlackBerry's battery. But you can prolong the life of your power supply. Follow these five tips to extend your RIM smartphone's run time.
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
How long will your Research In Motion
(RIM) BlackBerry battery last? That depends on a wide array of factors, starting with the device model you’re using, your proximity to cellular towers, and how often you’re talking on a call, sending messages or surfing the mobile Internet.
But regardless of whether or not you’re constantly using your a BlackBerry 8830, 8700g or Curve in the city or the sticks, you can learn tricks to squeeze every last bit of juice out of your device. For instance, you can make sure all your unused connectivity options are disabled, your notification settings are optimized for extended battery life and your screen backlight is only as bright as you need it to be.
We recommend carrying an extra BlackBerry battery along whenever possible–or better yet, an extended-life battery–so you don’t get caught in the dark even if your main power supply dies. But these tips can help extend your battery life even if you have another at the ready.
1) Set Connectivity Options Wisely
Wireless connectivity options such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth eat up BlackBerry battery life when they’re on but aren’t in use, because they constantly try to connect to networks or devices. Even leaving your device’s cellular radio on when you’re not using it drains battery life, because it’s communicating with cellular towers to determine if you’re still in range of the network and to update various services or applications.
Not all BlackBerry devices have Wi-Fi–in fact only a few of them do, like the 8820 and the new Pearl 8120–but most new RIM devices have Bluetooth support, and the vast majority have cellular radios.
To turn off one or all of these options, go to your device’s icon screen and click the “Manage Connections” icon. (It looks a bit like a camera tripod with a few halos around the top.) From there, you can deactivate all connectivity options by hitting the “Turn All Connections Off” option, or turn individual connections on and off by checking or unchecking the boxes next to each. One caution: the cellular radio enables your device to make and receive calls, as well as view Web pages and transfer data, so you won’t be able to place calls or surf the Web when your radio is turned off. If you enter an area with poor or no cellular coverage–when riding on a subway, for example–turn off you radio unless it’s absolutely necessary, because it will drain battery trying to reconnect with the network.
You can also set your device to automatically shut down at night (or other little-used times) and turn itself back on, to save battery life. To do so, go to your device’s icon screen and click the Options icon. (It looks like a wrench.) Then click Auto On/Off, select whether or not settings should apply to weekdays, weekends or both, and choose stop and start times.
2) Examine Your Notification Profiles
The notification alerts that you use to signal new phone calls or messages can have a significant impact on your BlackBerry battery life. For example, if you set your call notification to vibrate three times and then ring loudly, your battery is going to drain faster than if you turn off the vibration and reduce your ring tone volume to low.
If you use a custom ring tone–a little Buffett, say–you’re also using more battery life than with a traditional ring. The most energy efficient way to employ call or message notifications? Set your ring tone to the lowest volume you can and reduce or eliminate the use of vibration alerts.
We all need to set or devices to vibrate occasionally while in meetings or other locales that require quiet, but you can modify your vibrations settings.
To reduce the number of times that your device vibrates when a new call or message is received, go to your device’s icon screen and click the Profiles icon. (It looks like a speaker.) From there you can adjust your various profile settings–Loud, Vibrate, Quiet, Normal and Phone Off–and access Advanced settings. Scroll down and click the Advanced option, and you’ll see another list of the same profile settings. To modify these settings, just highlight one, hit your BlackBerry menu key and click the Edit option. This displays all the various applications and services with notification options, like your phone, e-mail inbox, text message inbox, IM application and more. To change notification settings for an app or service, simply click one and select whether you want your device to both ring and vibrate when you receive a call or an email message and how many times for each.
If you use an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) holster from RIM, you can also set different notification options for when your device is holstered. (RIM’s newer holsters have built-in magnets that let your device know it’s secured.) These options can save precious battery life, as well, because you can set your device to remain silent and still while holster and then revert to normal settings when it’s removed.
As a general rule, the fewer times you BlackBerry rings or vibrates, the less battery life your notifications use.
3) Adjust Your Screen Backlight
Newer BlackBerry devices enable you to heighten or reduce your display’s backlight brightness. The brighter your screen, and the longer that screen stays lit, the more battery life you’re using.
To modify backlight settings, go to your BlackBerry icon screen and click on the Options icon that looks like a wrench. The click the Screen/Keyboard option and set your Backlight Brightness to the lowest level you can stand without needing to struggle to see your display. Then set your Backlight Timeout–how long your screen will stay on before going black–to the shortest time period you can handle.
An OEM BlackBerry holster can also reduce the amount of time your screen stays lit regardless of your settings, because it blacks out your display whenever the device is holstered.
4) Use Power-Hogging Applications Wisely
The larger the number of BlackBerry applications you use, the more power you’re going to need. If you constantly use a couple of apps, say the Viigo RSS reader and Facebook for BlackBerry, you need to consider how much power those specific applications employ. If battery life is of the essence, you probably want to use them sparingly.
Some applications eat up power only when in use. For example, Google Maps mobile application for BlackBerry drains significant battery life when you search for directions or satellite images of a specific locale, but it doesn’t use much power when not being employed.
But, many BlackBerry applications drain battery life even when you’re not using them by pulling in new content or updates. Viigo, a mobile RSS reader for BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, for instance, pulls in content from whatever feeds you select. If you use Viigo and you’re receiving articles from 30 feeds, the application is going to eat up a good chunk of your battery, even when you’re not reading the stories it’s collecting. Or take the Facebook for BlackBerry application: Depending on your Facebook notification settings, you could be receiving BlackBerry alerts every time a Facebook Friend sends you a message, writes on your wall, pokes you, or interacts with one of your widgets. All of that back and forth activity takes a lot of power.
So be aware of how much battery your BlackBerry applications need, and why, and be selective.
5) Keep Battery Connections Clean
Over time, the battery connections within your device can gather dust and other particles and impede the transfer of power to your hardware. Every few months, it’s a good idea to remove your battery and wipe clean the small sections of metal through which battery power is transferred, as well as the metal prongs inside your device’s battery slot that connect to the power supply.
Those prongs are delicate, however, so you should be very careful cleaning them. Q Tips and cleansing wipes made specifically for electronic gadgets work well, though they can leave residue, so you should ensure both surfaces are clear before replacing your battery.
Finally, your battery will become less efficient over time, so it is occasionally necessary to buy a new one. If your battery is a year or older, and you’ve determined that its poor performance can’t be attributed to a weak cellular connection, a power-hogging app or a similar issue, you may need to replace it. You can purchase a new OEM battery for around $10; extended-life batteries sell for about $40.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.