Opinion: Smartphone Battery Tech Feels Like A Major Gimmick

When it comes to smartphones, there are more than a few useful features, and many of them are enjoyed by the millions of users who own these devices. Among the things like a large display, a better camera, and a faster processor, batteries are likely to be the one thing that many people feel still need plenty of improvement. While battery technology has come quite a long way over the last few years, with advancements like the third version of Quick Charge and the more recently announced Dash Charge for the OnePlus 3, fast charging techniques still feel a little gimmicky and somewhat of a major step in the wrong direction. While the fast charging is useful as it allows for a fairly decent amount of battery life to be put back into the phone in a short amount of time, it would be a much better scenario if you didn’t have to place your phone on a charger in the first place, and that can only really become within reach if smartphones have bigger batteries, or a more advanced system for managing the draw of power from the device.

Perhaps smaller batteries are a reaction of the thinness of newer devices. Larger batteries require more room, and with devices getting thinner, there is less room for larger batteries to be integrated, which makes sense. As an example, last year’s LG G4 is 9.8mm thick and came with a 3,000 mAh battery, and while only a couple hundred mAh more than the more recently launched LG G5, which sits at 7.7mm thick and is powered by a 2,800 mAh battery, more mAh is more mAh, and that’s what phone companies should be looking at with future devices as a priority instead of looking into ways that can help users charge their devices faster. This is an issue with many phone vendors, as just about any new flagship these days has seen either a decline in the mAh for the battery provided compared to their predecessors, or only a minor increase in the mAh with more of a focus on fast charging instead of better battery management and a significantly larger battery, which would be a much more simple solution. Take Lenovo’s recently announced PHAB2 Pro, for example. Lenovo has fitted this device with a 4,050mAh battery which is going to be plenty of battery power for the device, and while it hasn’t been tested yet to see if that larger battery will last longer than say, the Galaxy S7 with a 3,000 mAh battery, it’s no doubt going to have a decent chance. Larger batteries should last longer as there is more juice to go through with less of a need to utilize battery saving functions or fast charging, but having those in conjunction with a larger battery would certainly be beneficial.

While there is no practical need for a massive battery inside of smartphone, one that could be considered excessive in its execution, those around the 3,000 mAh range and below are simply proving to be less than what’s needed. Sure, the battery management has gotten better, and batteries charge quicker, which is great, but most fast charging technologies require a particular adapter and/or cable for them to work, otherwise the charging reverts to a regular charging speed, and unless consumers are willing to always carry their supported Quick Charge, Fast Charge, or Dash Charge chargers on them at all times, these functions become less useful where a larger battery that doesn’t need charging at the end of the work day would prove to be more of a useful solution. There's no doubt that technologies like Quick Charge 3.0 are impressive. The LG G5 with Quick Charge 3.0 for example, charge up to 80 percent in just 35 minutes. That's fast, but again, the LG G5's battery is only 2,800 mAh and you'll need a Quick Charge 3.0 adapter for that power to be fed to the phone's battery at that speed. A larger battery that doesn't need to rely on a faster charge, but does have the option there when needed, would be an optimal combination.

Motorola's DROID Turbo 2 could be used as an example here, carrying a 3,780 mAh battery, which is significantly larger than any of the major OEM flagships that have been launched this year, yet it also offers a fast charging option that can deliver up to 35 percent battery in just 15 minutes. So while it has fast charging options, it also offers a pretty big battery. Motorola rates the DROID Turbo 2 at being able to last 48 hours on a single charge which, may not be true for every user as mileage will definitely vary, but it will definitely have no trouble lasting you through an entire day and, should you forget to charge it overnight, it won't take much time the next morning to juice it back up to full or at least nearly full, and this is the sort of thing which more manufacturers should be bringing to market-larger batteries with a speedy power top-up instead of smaller batteries and a thinner profile.

Now, according to a battery test of five top smartphones from Consumer Reports earlier this year, the Droid Turbo 2 didn't actually finish first, and was in fact actually rated lower than the Samsung Galaxy S7 which carries a 3,000mAh battery, however, the top 2 smartphones in their test were the original Motorola DROID Turbo followed by the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which carry a 3,900 mAh battery and a 3,600 mAh battery respectively. Third place was taken by the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active with a 3,500 mAh battery, while fourth and fifth place were the Samsung Galaxy S7 with a 3,000 mAh battery and the DROID Turbo 2 with a 3,760 mAh battery. So while the DROID Turbo 2 with a larger battery than one of this year's top flagships came in last, its predecessor with the largest battery on the list came in first, and two of the other phones on the list carry a battery at 3,500 mAh or above, which just goes to show that having a larger battery can be useful. What's also important to remember here is that this was a controlled test and while it does state that they test battery drain under various conditions like cell signal, display, and different activities being used by the processor, the conditions for the battery life listed are optimal and more than likely aren't going to play out that way for consumers. This is because everyone uses their phone differently and although phones like the Galaxy S7 have rapid charging speeds available, it will only work if you have an adapter which can deliver the fast charging speeds, which means you would likely need to have at least two rapid chargers, one for home and perhaps one for work, or one that you could keep on you so you're never without. That's also considering that you'll want to use your phone without having to manage the battery constantly.

Instead of having a larger battery in the smartphone you could also opt for a device that has a removable battery like the LG G5, but then again this is still an extra piece of equipment you'd have to carry on you. Of course, as the Android operating system progresses Google is making strides in the software for managing battery drain even better than with previous versions of Android, so perhaps in time, a larger battery may not really be needed, and while fast charging technology is great and it proves to be a useful functionality, it would still be better with a larger battery than a smaller one. It's also worth considering that while battery life has improved somewhat in newer devices, we're also more connected, with smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other types of wearables that all connect to our mobile devices through Bluetooth, and that constant connection is only going to add to the battery drain along with the other factors. A larger battery could help in these situations where people are using their phones as they would normally while also throwing the battery drain from a connected wearable in the mix. Of course, not everyone is going to share in this particular view entirely, but most people could likely agree that battery life on most smartphones is still not quite up to par and could use more improvement. The battery technology for extending battery life just feels a little bit gimmicky, and seems like a way for OEMs to sidestep using larger batteries.

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About the Author
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Justin Diaz

Head Editor
Lover of food, craft beer, movies, travel, and all things tech. Video games have always been a passion of his due to their ability to tell incredible stories, and home automation tech is the next big interest, in large part because of the Philips Hue integration with Razer Chroma. Current Device: Google Pixel.
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