Android Headliner: Why Battery Capacity Isn't Everything

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Ah… battery life. I believe that most of you agree that battery life is one of the biggest issues in today's smartphones. Technology has been advancing rapidly in the last couple of years, and our smartphones have become real machines. We're getting phones with 64-bit octa-core processors manufactured using 14nm architecture, with 4GB of RAM and 2K or 4K displays, and yet batteries haven't really gotten any better, they just got bigger. To make things even worse, a ton of OEMs opt not to sacrifice overall design and make a phone 1-2mm thicker in order to fit a bigger battery in there, so they end up using a battery which is way too small to keep such powerful devices alive throughout the day, as long as you're not a light user, of course. That's just the thing, the vast majority of those of you who are reading this, and using such powerful devices, are not light users. A smartphone has become an integral part of our lives, pretty much everyone has one these days, and pretty much everyone gets to use it for more than just SMS and phone calls.

I could ramble on about how we need new battery tech, how batteries are awful these days, etc. But we'll get way off topic here considering the topic at hand is 'Why Battery Capacity Isn't Everything', so, why is that? Well, it's true that today's battery packs are obsolete in a way, and that we need a completely new approach, but there are tons of smartphones out there that don't pack in huge batteries, and yet they tend to provide great battery life despite that. Now, most of you would probably agree with me on this one, battery capacity is definitely not the most important thing. There are two variables to consider here, and those are hardware and software, which is logical. The more battery friendly your hardware is, the better battery life you'll get out of your device. Now, the display tends to be the biggest battery draining factor around these days, especially if you have a QHD panel on your phone. The 2560 x 1440 resolution is… well, let me just put it this way, that's a lot of pixels. Hardware needs to 'push' so many pixels around when reproducing an image on your phone, and the brighter the display is, the more battery it'll need. Now, we can dig deeper here and talk about the backlight on today's displays, and the fact that backlight is more efficient in displays with lower resolution considering it's easier for it to light up the screen, it has fewer pixels it needs to shine through, in a way. But there are quite a few variables here, different OEMs use different panels and place backlight differently, so… we won't go into too much detail here in order not to step away from the topic.

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Speaking of hardware, the processors play a huge part there as well considering some processors are significantly more power efficient than others, and the aforementioned manufacturing process plays a huge part in this. Samsung's recently announced Exynos 7420 14nm processor is significantly more power efficient than its predecessor, and the Snapdragon 810, for example. Now, the other side of this coin is software, and it's an extremely important factor as well. The better optimized the software is, and the less stuff the phone has to run in the background, the better battery life you'll get. Some OEMs tend to load a ton of bloat on their software, which, in the end, affects battery life. Now, pre-installed software is not the only culprit, even though it's the main one. Each and every one of us who use smartphones have installed third-party applications on your devices through the Google Play Store, and some of those apps are lighter on your battery than others. Let's take Facebook for example, the main Facebook app is not example the most battery friendly application out there, and many sources have confirmed that. There are quite a few of similar apps out there that are not exactly gentle on battery life, this was just an example after all. So, we have pre-installed software by various OEM, third-party apps, so… what's left? Well, there's Google's own software which is a part of Android, like Google Play Services for example. On some phones, Google Play Services can go AWOL and really start draining your battery, and a software bug is a reason why. Every software has its flaws, and it's up to companies to keep those flaws to a bare minimum, try to squash as many bugs as possible and make sure the software is optimized properly.

That being said, let me give you an example of what I mean. I currently use two smartphones, the Meizu PRO 5 as my daily driver, and the LG G3 as my secondary handset (though it's being repaired at the moment). The PRO 5 has a 3,050mAh battery on the inside, while the LG G3 has a third-party 6,000mAh unit in it considering I couldn't get through the day with its regular 3,000mAh unit. These two smartphones are quite different, the PRO 5 features a 5.7-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) AMOLED display, while the LG G3 ships with a 5.5-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) IPS LCD display. Just to put things into perspective here, I am able to squeeze out around 4.5 hours of screen on time with the PRO 5, sometimes 5, before the phone dies on me. The LG G3 is able to pull off 5 hours of screen on time. Now, keep in mind that Exynos 7420 14nm 64-bit octa-core processor fuels the PRO 5, and the Snapdragon 801 32-bit quad-core chip is placed inside the G3. The Exynos chip is somewhat more efficient as far as battery life drain goes, despite the fact we're talking about an octa-core chip here, the Full HD display is lighter on battery drain as well, and it is possible that software plays a huge part here too. To make things completely transparent, when I use my 3,000mAh unit in the G3, the phone dies around a 3-hour (SoT) mark, sometimes even before that. Some of you might say a battery pack is a solution, but I sure don't see it that way. I do believe that smartphones should be able to last through a day of heavy use with no issues without a hassle of bringing along a battery pack which you then have to plug in at some point, or a charger for that matter.

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The point I'm trying to make here is… a bigger battery doesn't always equal better battery life. There are tons of examples like this one out there, but as long as proper software and hardware are in place, with at least a decent battery life included in the mix, your phone will last you through the day without a problem even if you're a heavy user like myself. Hardware is getting better and better with each day, but unfortunately, some hardware aspects are really not power efficient, which is why I actually prefer Full HD displays over QHD ones when I need my phone to last, which is more or less always. There are quite a few variables included in all this, and there are really some devices out there which can go the distance even if their battery life isn't huge. I do hope that we'll see a major battery tech breakthrough this year, and that battery life on phones will significantly improve, improve to the point that we don't have to think whether to bring the charger with us, or leave it at home without having to worry whether our phone will die on us in the middle of the day or not. As it's always the case, we'd love to hear what you have to say when battery life is concerned.