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Summary:

Some reviewers are reporting the HTC EVO’s battery only lasts a few hours, while others (myself included) find it lasts as long as any other phone. A few simple steps can tune Android 2.x to give good battery life on any Android phone.

EVO power widgets

Today’s Android smartphones can do so much, with apps multitasking in the background, widgets grabbing updates from the web and system services running all the time. This power is not without a price — heavy power consumption. Android can do so many things at one time that even when it appears to be idle there may be many tasks running in the background. This means the battery is being drained even when it doesn’t look like anything is happening.

The best example of this are the wildly varying reports of the HTC EVO 4G battery life. Some reviewers report the EVO’s battery only lasts a few hours, while many find it lasts as long as any other phone. The different experiences with battery life on the EVO and other Android phones most likely points to different settings for apps and widgets on the phones. A few simple steps can tune Android 2.x to give good battery life on any phone. These steps focus on three different areas — user settings, system settings and app settings.

Jenn Lee of Good and EVO has published 20 tips to stretch the battery and it is a good place to start. She has detailed a number of things the EVO owner can do, obvious and less so, that can be tweaked to get that battery lasting longer. Some of her tips are just common sense but give it a look. In this article I will concentrate on the major areas that have proven effective in my own usage.

User settings

Android lets the user customize the look and feel of the home screens, and phones with HTC Sense even more so. As nice as pretty interfaces can be, some of them will hit the processor (and thus battery) harder than others. The Live Wallpaper is one such feature — animated desktops are cool but they drain the battery faster so go with the old school non-moving wallpaper. If you are really serious about power saving then turn off window animations. A drop saved here and there all add up to longer battery life.

Other settings that apply to any phone apply to Android too, such as screen brightness. Keep your brightness turned down as low as comfortable as this is a big power drain. If your phone has an ambient light sensor it’s usually good to use it, as it will keep the backlight turned down based on conditions.

System settings

Android is a very powerful OS, and Google has made just about every aspect of the system operation configurable by the user. This is great for power users, but the number of settings can overwhelm more casual users. Most settings never have to be touched by the user so this is no problem, as long as the system defaults are optimum. This is not always the case when the goal is to stretch battery life as long as possible.

The EVO 4G has special capabilities that can have an impact on battery life. These include Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, Bluetooth, GPS and Mobile Hotspot functions. All of these use at least one radio on the phone, and that means power consumption. It’s good to get in the habit of turning off the individual functions unless they are being used. If you’re on a Wi-Fi network, turn off the 4G. If you’re in a 3G coverage area, also turn off the 4G. The same is true for the GPS and Bluetooth — unless you are actively using them keep them turned off. You will save some battery life, if not a lot.

Android has some system settings that can be set to maximize battery life, and these are not always intuitive. Two of the most effective settings you can change are the Wi-Fi and 4G Notifications. The EVO constantly scans for Wi-Fi and 4G networks that are available, and this has a noticeable power drain. Go to Settings > Wireless & networks > Wi-Fi > Network Notification and uncheck it. Do the same for the 4G Notifications. This will not prevent the EVO from finding the network when you turn the given radio on.

Another setting that makes a big difference is a bit unclear on what it does. Go to Settings > Wireless & networks > Mobile networks and uncheck “Enable always-on mobile data.” All data functions work as expected with this disabled so I’m not sure what this does, but it does save a lot of battery life.

Wi-Fi uses less power than the 3G/4G radios, but the EVO does something by default that is not battery friendly. When the Wi-Fi is set to sleep after a certain time, the phone must fire up either 3G or 4G to do background syncing. It actually uses less battery to have Wi-Fi on all the time if it is turned on, so disable the ability to sleep. Go to Settings > Wireless & networks > Wi-Fi Settings and hit the Menu button. Tap the Advanced button and then tap “Wi-Fi sleep policy”, and then set it to Never. Believe it or not this has a noticeable affect on battery life.

App settings

It is possible with all the user and system settings properly set to still see the EVO battery draining dangerously fast. This is almost always the result of various apps/ widgets running in the background that are tapping the data network, even when the phone is idle. It is imperative that care be given to restrict apps from doing this with abandon. This is where the good multi-tasking ability of Android can bite you, if you have several apps in the background all polling the network.

The first thing you should do is control which social networks are allowed to auto-sync. Some of these default to frequent syncing, and this means heavy battery usage. Go to Settings > Accounts & sync and have a look at what is there. The first two settings, Background data and Auto-sync are both checked on my EVO. Some folks advocate restricting that, but I haven’t found turning these off to yield much value.

Below that is the list of accounts that can be set to auto-sync, and this is where you can take a lot of control over your battery usage. This is the list of accounts on my EVO:

  • Facebook for HTC Sense
  • Google
  • News
  • Stocks
  • Twitter
  • Weather

The sync icon to the right of each indicates if it is set to auto-sync or not. Mine only has three of these set for auto-syncing: Facebook, Google and Weather. News, Stocks and Twitter I have turned off for syncing. I found that they will sync too much and will use the data network a lot if set to auto. Note that they will still manually sync when I fire up these apps so I don’t lose anything other than background checks.

Facebook is set to sync every 2 hours, Google has all three syncs turned on (calendar, contacts, Gmail) as I want these to update right away. Weather is set to update every 3 hours. These are just my own preferences, you can turn these off completely or set them to some other update frequency. I get good results with these so that’s what I use.

Individual apps can be very greedy when it comes to background updating. I ran into one app that defaulted to do a sync every 30 seconds, believe it or not. I prefer to restrict all apps from updating in the background so I can control the system so as soon as I install an app I open up its settings and search for the update or sync setting. I turn it off or set it to manual, and that makes a big difference. Some Twitter apps have more than one setting so make sure you get them all. I also turn off notifications for these apps as that can trigger a background update too.

The HTC Sense package has its own widgets and apps and these can trigger auto-updating once they are run. Peep is a good Twitter client but will start updating and notifying you of updates all the time. It is important to go to settings and turn that off, especially if you use another Twitter client as I do. The Friendstream widget and app is a wrapper for Peep, Facebook and Flickr, and once you put it on a home screen you start all three of those apps/ networks to start updating. Go into the settings for each of these programs and turn updating off to prevent constant data network usage.

The EVO 4G has the unique front-facing camera for use in video chatting, and the apps to do that can cause a lot of network usage even when not active. Fring is such an app and it bears watching closely if used. It is critical to log out of the network when done calling, as otherwise Fring stays running in the background so your buddies can see if you’re online. Log out and close it for sure.

I see a lot of recommendations to use a good task manager to manually close apps when not needed to get better battery life. I used to be in that camp but had a conversation with an Android expert recently who set me straight on this misconception. According to this expert, Android 2.1 and up does an outstanding job managing tasks in the background and it should be left alone. Third party task managers used to kill apps actually interfere with the proper operation of Android, and should be avoided at all costs.

When I got the EVO I decided to take his advice and I have not installed any task manager. I must admit Android is handling tasks better than I could, and I have seen no reason to wish I had a manager. I believe that most people aggressively using a task manager to manually watch and kill background tasks would not have to do so if they set apps and system settings as I have indicated. My EVO is running smoothly all day, and Android is running things properly.

I am confident that with these simple steps any phone running Android 2.x will have better battery life. Those concerned that apps are not updating enough to keep everything up-to-date can rest easy that’s not the case. My apps and information is always accurate on my EVO, and my battery easily lasts all day with power left in the tank.

  1. Good info. I may have to exercise my 1 yr upgrade option once 2.2 is made official for the EVO. There is a little voice nagging me that I should not have to do this much tweaking to manage the battery life. But, like yourself, I have never found the battery life on any of my smartphones to be that outstanding. I have always wound up with some amount of tweaking to improve it. Anyway, the tech-demon in me is shouting down that little voice. I feel weak ;)

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    1. Android 2.2 has a built-in task/app manager which is very nicely done. You can force kill any task running in the background using the OS, as it should be.

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  2. Great article James. I just made a number of settings changes as you suggested. BTW – I agree about the Task Manager apps. I used one and abandoned it quickly (uninstalled app & rebooted) as it seemed to bog things down. These apps are fine for occasionally monitoring which apps are running, but avoid using the “kill” features and let Android do its own work.

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  3. Agreed. I’m finding the Evo battery life to be just fine…lasts the day. I would say better than “fine” but I’ve only had the device for 6 days. Let’s see where we stand after 2 weeks of battery conditioning.

    I have 4g off (none in my area,) Wifi off and Bluetooth on.

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  4. Thanks for the tips, a few of my settings were defitely incorrect.

    You might want to check out our app: Battery Sentry -http://www.kiuansoft.com – It detects abnormal battery drain while your phone is idle and alerts you, giving you a chance to find the rogue app before your battery drains to 0%. Has saved me a couple of times :)

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  5. Thanks so much for this in-depth but straight-forward post. I bought my Evo on June 4, abandoning the ol’ Blackberry. I love it, but feel I need trusty sources of advice for becoming a knowledgeable user, just as I do with my “real” computer. So, since last Friday I’ve been searching for just such sources. Glad to have stumbled upon you (thanks to Bnet). Since the Evo is a computer, I think it’s important to learn and follow good operating habits, as well as aspire to learn all the ins and outs of tweaking our systems just the way we like them, and know how to troubleshoot. – just as we would for our desktops or laptops. So the task manager bit was eye opening. I will immediately stop abusing the one I installed in my Evo. Whew – saved just in time!

    I think that’s the main difference between Android adopters and iPhone users – we actually want to understand our devices and be able to dig into them a bit.

    Sorry for the rambling comment! It got a bit off track from my original intention to just thank you for the good info!

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  6. I was really concerned the first and second day since my battery would only last about 8 hours. That’s when I realized that GPS was always on by default. Once I turned GPS off I now get an easy full day of moderate use without the battery dipping into the yellow. Plus, weather apps and such are still able to track my location using 3G.

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  7. Thank you very much for this, my x10i settings were all over the place, hopefully i can get a full day out of it now!
    Cheers!

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  8. You mention not to use a Task Killer. I am somewhat new to Android, and wonder, how do you close an app that has no “Exit” button. I notice that I have a bunch of apps running after some use and my device actually begins to lag until I run a Task Killer to kill these apps.

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    1. Android closes it as needed.

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    2. The EVO is my first Android phone so I’m learning something new every day. But I have a lot of friends that are long-time Android users and every one of them recommends using an app killer of some kind.

      Maybe 2.1 and 2.2 are smarter than older versions, but it doesn’t seem that way to me yet. An app called Battery Sentry monitors apps while the screen is off and alerts you to excessive battery consumption. I’ve gotten warnings three times so far. SystemPanel is an app that provides a lot of detailed information about the phone, and allows you to kill unneeded apps. Advanced Task Killer is the other one I’m testing.

      Until someone can prove that it’s unnecessary, or actually harmful in some way, I’ll keep pressing the “kill apps” button occasionally when I’m holding the phone. It only takes a second and doesn’t seem to hurt.

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      1. EVO is like another generation of androids on its own. it’s too smart for an app killer. You dont need it.

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  9. One note missed, is to let the battery charge at least 2 hours longer. You get more time out of it.

    This is posted on Seidio’s website for batteries on cell phones.

    Give it a try.

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  10. Does anybody else see a problem with getting a monster of a phone and having to turn off a bunch of standard stuff and reconfigure system settings to try to make the battery last? My wife and I both got the EVO and have both had battery issues. 4g is off bluetooth is off, GPS is on…. made about 5 or 6 texts to my wife, 1 phone call (10min) and checked the score of the Celtics game….. my battery was in the yellow by 2pm……. why come out with a cool phone like this and give it a weak battery…. I havn’t even played video on it or done some heavy web stuff….. I’m afraid too if I don’t have a power source around….. $200 for the phone and another $$$$$$ for a better battery………

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    1. I agree with some of what you’re saying. Unfortunately the thing we have to realize is that battery technology and innovation is lagging way behind mobile innovation. Believe me, I know how frustrating it is. I would love to leave everything on all day without having to worry about the battery.

      Unfortunately that’s not possible right now. That’s why we have to manage all the apps that run on the EVO. There is no need for certain apps to refresh every 30 seconds or every 2 minutes. That’s why if you set it manual refresh, you will only get new data when you go to that app. This can drastically lengthen your battery life.

      Try out the tips that JK recommended and if it doesn’t work out for you, return the phone. Luckily Sprint gives us all 30 days to see how the phone will work.

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      1. To answer both you guys, and add to what James said, you can indeed get a second battery, but it doesn’t have to be an EVO battery.

        I recently picked up an Energizer XP8000. It’s an external 8000mAh pack about the size of a blackberry and weighs just 8oz. The beauty is that it works with ANY phone, meaning you can go through multiple phones and still keep your battery. It’s far more powerful than a second EVO battery, giving about 5x performance. Third, it can power devices other than phones, so if you have a MiFi device, ZuneHD or a netbook, this battery can power them as well.

        Some may argue that a larger, extended battery may work in place of swapping two batteries. The problem there is that extended batteries make your phone fatter and heavier. It can also knock out the use of desktop cradles that cannot accommodate a larger back cover. The energizer XP8000 alleviates both those problem entirely.

        If you happen to be on the go all day with a smartphone, MiFi device and a netbook, a single battery that can power them all makes for an extremely versatile solution.

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    2. CB, it’s a difference of philosophy. Android is built around the idea of user and programmer freedom. I’m not saying this philosophy is superior; it’s a matter of personal preference. That said, such a philosophy allows people and app developers to have more choice–choice in the kinds of applications they want to run and how, choice in the applications built and the features available, etc.

      The downside is that this freedom allows for poor user habits and poor developers to make for potentially poor experiences: Programs that do not have clear/explicit protocols for background activity usage; users that are unfamiliar with the activity of the programs, etc. Because many users come from much simpler phones that “work”, this can be an unfamiliar burden for users. The onus should fall on developers to mitigate user inexperience, but this is hard too. Some developers are lazy or don’t have the necessary foresight to anticipate user problems. We could eliminate those apps or developers, but we go back to the original design philosophy of Android, and as is such, this will be a continuing challenge for Android.

      There is an easy option for you if you feel like your personal philosophy does not align with this idea, and I don’t mention it disparagingly at all — but there is the iPhone. Apple’s philosophy is more that of a utopian society. Things work in the most simple and consistent way possible, and for most people, this is an extremely rewarding experience. It is designed to work as most people would expect with as little fiddling as possible. The downside, of course, is a reduction in freedom: the inability to multitask in the same way, a curated app store, features that only make it in whenever Apple decides.

      These competing paradigms both have their advantages and flaws, and it’s up to the user to determine which better matches their personal profile.

      ***just to keep things relevant: I’m a big fan of tinkering with my phone, and it gives me more ownership of the device. With not too many configuration changes, I can tell you that when the phone goes off the charger at 8AM, I have battery run-time graphs (that I can share if anyone’s interested) that show only a 25-35% battery discharge twelve hours later.

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      1. 25-35%? How have you gotten it to do that? Are you still talking about the Evo as well?

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      2. MarFrickintinez Tuesday, November 9, 2010

        How do you get such good usage? I definitely want to know!

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      3. Are we still talking about the EVO? I am in the process of making a graph and I am at 37% after 7 hours. And this is with NO use of the phone and after I have already tried every optimization strategy known. The EVO is definitely one where “mileage may vary”

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      4. love to see your charts and any additional suggestions on keeping your evo running longer.

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    3. CB, it’s like @neoterix already said, there are different kinds of phones for different personalities. Some of us want pickup trucks while others prefer motorcycles. Nothing inherently wrong with either approach, unless you make the wrong choice and have to live with it until the lease is up.

      In my case I decided that I really wanted both, so I got the EVO to satisfy my inner geek’s need for freedom, and the WiFi-only iPad to experience the elegant design of Apple’s hardware and ecosystem. I love both devices and the EVO’s hotspot feature means I get to use Sprint’s 3G/4G network with my iPad while my friend can’t get a signal on his iPad. (I eventually let him share mine.)

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    4. My fully charged EVO was totally discharging and turning off in 4-5 hours overnight, just by sitting idle. I started experimenting and one thing that I found that the major source of discharge was Bluetooth on. When I turned it off last night, and checked in 4-5 hours, the battery indicator showed 67%. Quite a lot of battery consumption for the idle phone, but WAY better, than before.

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