Smartphone battery myths that need to die
Columnist Jennifer Jolly goes over top tips that will get you longer life out of your smartphone battery. Jennifer Jolly Special for USA Today
The battery tech that powers most of our smartphones hasn’t changed much in the past few decades, but common knowledge about how to keep them in tip-top shape? That’s even worse.
Here are the top five most common smartphone battery-life myths that need to die if you want to prolong your phone's overall lifespan, straight from the world’s leading battery experts.
Myth #1 Smartphone batteries are made to last forever.
Fact: The lithium-ion batteries found in most smartphones today are expected to maintain at least 80% of their original capacity for around 300 to 500 full charge cycles. That’s a pretty wide range. For me, a heavy user and charger, that means I get about one good year before my battery starts to poop out. For most other people, the average is about two years it shows significant signs of wear and tear.
“They’re made with built-in obsolescence,” says Isidor Buchmann, CEO of Cadex Electronics and educational website Battery University. “The battery doesn’t die overnight, but they all fade without most people even knowing that it’s happening.”
Apple has a few web pages dedicated to this very topic and explains it this way, “with lithium-ion batteries, the capacity diminishes slightly with each complete charge cycle.” But on the same Apple site, it also says that you can “charge your Apple lithium-ion battery whenever you want,” which gets confusing if misunderstood and leads us straight to myth #2.
Myth #2: It doesn’t matter when or how long your charge your smartphone battery.
Fact: If you don’t use your smartphone much, or upgrade every time a new model comes out, charge it whenever and however you want. But if you want it to be at it’s best the longest, “never run a battery to zero. That’s bad for it,” says Carl Howe former mobile analyst and Principal of Think Big Analytics. “The rule of thumb: To get your smartphone battery to last the longest, charge it to 80% and recharge it when it hits 20% to avoid stressing the system.”
I think of it like snacking. Eating smaller portions several times a day is better than starving and overstuffing. Chronically letting a battery go all the way down to zero puts unneeded stress on the materials inside. Believe it or not, the same goes for letting it sit on your charger overnight, because being continually juiced up quickly — and to the max also leads lithium-ion batteries to corrode faster than they otherwise would.
There isn’t any perfect solution, but all five of the experts we spoke with agreed, the sweet spot for smartphone batteries is indeed between 20% and 80%, and if you can keep it in or near those limits more often than not, you’ll be rewarded with a battery that lasts in the long run.
Myth #3: It’s terrible to let your phone die.
Fact: We just told you not to make it a daily habit, but if you want your battery to stretch its legs a bit every now and again, it’s okay to let it run a “full charge cycle,” or to let it die and then charge back up to 100% again. This helps the little computers that control the battery remember where its high and low points are, and will give you a more accurate reading of your charge.
“My personal best practice is to let it drain completely every one-to-three months” says Stewart Tomassian, with gadget set-up service Enjoy in San Francisco. “all the way up and all the way dead, and then all the way back up again.” It’s not a must-do, and it will impact overall lifespan of the battery, but it can help keep your smartphone’s power gauges working as they should, and displaying the most up-to-date information possible.
Myth #4: All chargers are basically the same.
Fact: When it comes to charging, you really shouldn’t skimp on cords and adapters. When a company like Apple or Samsung makes a phone, they make their chargers to work in harmony with it. Reputable third party chargers are fine, but that cheap-o do-it-all charger you got from the gas station might not be. Poorly-made chargers might provide too little or — and this is the scary one — too much power for your gadget to handle.
Too little juice and your phone charges super slowly, but too much and the battery has the potential to overheat, even to the point of failure. Spend the extra dollar or two and pick up officially approved chargers for your smartphone, and you’ll be much better off.
Myth #5: If your battery’s dying, you have too many apps running.
Fact: I love closing all my apps with a simple double tap and finger swipe up. It’s like cleaning house, but only takes a few seconds, and you have this seemingly clean slate to work from. It’s so darn satisfying, and yet so silly to do if you want your battery to stay alive.
Certified Apple Consultant and former Apple Genius, Scotty Loveless explains, “yes, it does shut down the app, but what you don’t know is that you are actually making your battery life worse if you do this on a regular basis.” By closing the app, you also take if off the phones short-term memory list. So the next time you need it, it has to load it back up again from scratch. “All of that loading and unloading puts more stress on your device than just leaving it alone.” Loveless says.
Less befuddled about batteries?
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and I look forward to comments and insights from battery-wise readers who can add to all of this. We also asked our handful of experts how to figure out, once and for all, what’s making your battery die so dang fast on a daily basis. That story, coming soon.