This is a continuation of our first post on battery life. Be sure to check out that post here. This post continues the discussion of battery saving techniques that have minimal impact on functionality.
Radio Usage (continued)
As explained the the first post, radio usage and signal strength have a major impact on battery usage. There may not be much you can do about signal strength, but there is certainly much you can do about how you use the radios. Pickup up where we left off:
Control background syncing
While having the radios on uses power, actually using the radios uses even more. Making calls, checking email, uploading pictures, sending texts, notifications from Facebook, location check-ins, and more, all have the potential to eat up battery. You probably don’t want to stop getting calls, but changing how apps use data can make a big difference.
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It’s simple: the more often apps sync, the more battery they use. And there are dozens of apps that sync: email, calendars, contacts, dropbox, Weather widgets, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and more. Worse (and it looks like Android L improves upon this), each app syncs completely independently of every other app. So you might have everything set to sync once an hour, but still have sync events from 15 different apps 15 times an hour. If you’ve got email set to sync every 5 minutes, Facebook every 30 minutes, Twitter continuously, etc., you’re going to use a lot more battery than if email syncs once an hour, Facebook only when you open the app, and Twitter once an hour. Each app has its own settings, so go into each one and set the sync interval for the longest you can stand, or to manual / never for ones that don’t really matter very much. Check the settings in every app: some you might never have suspected of syncing at all may surprise you. And recheck once in a while. Facebook, in particular, seems to ignore what you set and turn automatic syncing back on all by itself. Skype likes to keep connections open and sync behind your back. Sign out of apps like this when not in use.
Control Google Account syncing
When you set up a google account, Android defaults to syncing almost everything associated with that account, email and calendar, which are important, Drive, Play Books and Play Music, which might not be, Internet, which isn’t if you don’t use Chrome on your computer, Google Photos and Picasa Web Albums, and more. Syncing photos can use a lot of data, and a lot of battery. Go to Settings / Accounts / Google, choose your account(s), and uncheck things you don’t need to sync all the time.
Turn off automatic updates in the Play Store
This is another kind of sync, and it’s one that can download huge amounts of data for some updates. Control them manually, and update when you have plenty of juice, and preferably when connected to WiFi.
Push email vs. regular sync intervals
This can be a tricky one if you need to check your email frequently. Let’s look at the simple situations first, though. If you don’t need to see your email frequently, set a long sync interval, like an hour or more. That will almost always use less power than push email.
But suppose you want to be notified about email more or less as it’s received? Is push better than a short sync interval? The answer really depends a lot on your email patterns. If you get lots of emails spread out fairly evenly, push can use a lot of battery. With push email, for each message received, the server notifies the phone there’s an email available; the phone’s email app connects to the server and pulls down the email. If it does this 200 times a day, getting only 1 email each time, that’s a lot of battery. Using a 15 minute interval polling interval and getting 10 messages at once is probably more efficient. But if you get 10 emails a day, waiting for the server to notify your phone will be much more efficient than polling every 15 minutes.
Control Location Services
By default, Android wants to keep track of where you are. You can control how it does this, and what it does with the data it collects.
How you control this varies with different versions of Android. In KitKat, go to Settings and find Accounts. Choose Google, then tap on Location. Power saving is probably the best choice for most people, most of the time. Unfortunately, there’s no way in KitKat to use ONLY mobile networks, as there was in earlier versions. If you’re on Android 4.3 or earlier, choosing that option will use the least battery. The phone will still turn the GPS on when an application needs it.
Look at your apps, and figure out which ones have location dependent activities. Google’s “Field trip,” for example, is cool, but needs to update your location pretty regularly. Foursquare, Facebook status and check-in, Locale, and any similar app will drain your battery in a hurry. There are tens of thousands of location-based apps in the Play Store, and many of them aren’t obvious. Some flashlight apps, for example, even track your location, so they can give you targeted ads!Any app that has ads may use location services, if you let it.
In KitKat, the Location screen will show you which apps have recently made location requests, and how much power they use. If there’s an app there you don’t think needs to know your location, go to that app’s settings and see if you can turn that function off. But understand the consequences. Turn location off in a weather app, for example, and you’ll need to tell the app where you are manually.
Also look at Google Location Reporting. In versions of Android prior to 4.3, location reporting can use a lot of power. In 4.3 and 4.4 it’s better, but you’ll still get better battery life with it turned off. Unfortunately, you’ll also lose location based functionality in Google Now.
Depending on how you use your phone, the screen may well be the largest drain on your battery. The large screens on today’s phones are big and bright, and we pay for that in power drain every moment they’re on. There are only three things you can control relative to the screen: how much it’s on, how bright it is, and (if your phone has an OLED screen) the backgrounds you use. Playing games, surfing the internet or watching videos for 3+ hours a day is going to use a lot of battery, no matter what you do. If this is your usage, be prepared to recharge more often, or buy an extended battery, extra chargers, or spare batteries. Micro USB chargers and car chargers are cheap and easy to find.
Turn down the brightness
The OLED screens on recent Samsung devices are a thing of beauty, with highly saturated colors and deep blacks. And many of us have a tendency to revel in those colors by keeping the brightness turned up. Using auto brightness, or manually turning it as low as you can comfortably use, will save power. Just like turning radios on and off, though, constantly changing your brightness gets to be a pain. Use TecTags or a profile app (see the section on radio usage, above) to automatically set brightness appropriate to your location.
Turn the screen off
Our phones will let you set the screen time-out from very short periods to 10 minutes or more. Set it to the shortest value that works for you. Samsung’s Smart Stay can really help here. You can set the time-out to a short value so you it doesn’t stay on when you set the phone down, while Smart Stay will keep it on while you’re actually looking at it. Profile apps can come in handy here, too. For example, I have my timeout set for 30 seconds normally, but have a profile set to a longer time period if I’m using my Kindle app or am in my car.
Use Dark Backgrounds (If you have an OLED screen)
OLED screens use signficiantly less power to display black backgrounds and dark patterns than to display light backgrounds. Choose dark wallpapers, or no wallpaper. If an app has a choice between a bright theme and a dark theme, choose the dark one.
Turn off Haptic Feedback
The little vibration motor seems to use a fair bit of battery. I don’t think haptic feedback really accomplishes much anyway so I have it turned off. If you like it, don’t worry too much. Compared to the radios and the screen, this is pretty minor.
Turn of vibrating alerts
See haptic feedback, above. Personally, having these alerts is more important to me than the slight amount of battery they use up, so I leave them on.
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