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.
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.
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.
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
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.