Yeah, but What About the Battery?

Yesterday I was catching up on my Instapaper queue and ended up reading an abundance of Sprint EVO 4G reviews – about five of them. The majority of the reviews complained in one form or another about the devices battery life. That really got me thinking about the battery life in today’s gadgets and what we (as users) really need out of a battery.

Here are what I think are most important when it comes to battery life in all mobile devices:

  1. All day life – this is not 8 or 12 hours of life, nor is it 24 hours. I want the device to last for the duration that I need it on an average day. No one talks on their phone for 24 hours a day, so a 24 hour battery is not needed. We do however use out laptops for more than 4 hours – we need more life out of these batteries.
  2. Fast recharging – the best example of this I can think of was back when I was 12 I had a really cool stable of remote control cars (about four) that all used a rechargeable Ni-Cad battery. If you remember these batteries (early cellphones and laptops used them) you had to charge them for about 3-4 hours and in my remote control cars they lasted about 20-30 minutes. I had about 4 of these batteries (they went bad fast too) and so I could at most play with my remote control cars for about two hours on any given day – the rest of the day would be spent charging. Today’s batteries or Li-Ion and are far better. They last longer and charge faster – but how fast is fast enough. For starters you should not have to charge a device for longer than you can use it for.

    Small gadgets like iPods, Cellphones, Bluetooth Headsets mostly fast charge to 80% of full then they trickle charge the rest of the way. This method helps users and prolongs battery life. This is great – but where the hell is it in laptops? My Macbook Pro charges for hours before it is 100% and I only get 4-5 hours of use (I wish I had one of those new ones with 8 hours batteries).

  3. Interchangeability – the real question is do we need to be able to swap out our batteries. If you had asked me a year ago I would have said yes. I used to carry two Macbook Pro batteries with me and a bag full of chargers. Then I said screw it and I have learned to charge when and where I can, rarely did I use all those backup chargers and batteries. It is always nice to be able to change a battery yourself, but the only time I can think of when it is really necessary is for long flights where you can’t get to a power source. The rest of the time it is easy enough to find a power source, especially if #1 gets fulfilled. To sum up: a user should be able to change the battery if it offers less than 10 hours of life – if you can squeeze more life than that out of a battery by making it non-removable, go for it.
  4. Cold weather – I hate hiking in the cold because I have to carry tons of camera batteries, they run out of juice very fast in cold weather, as do most batteries – we need this to be a non-issue.

Back to the EVO

That brings me to one last point – device usage. One thing that really bugged me about all the EVO reviews was that most agreed that in order to get acceptable battery life out of the device you needed to fiddle with the settings on a regular basis:

Battery drain depends on how the phone is used, and with so many radios in the EVO it can be hit hard. I find that a little diligence is all that’s needed to stretch the battery out all day. With normal use the lowest the battery has drained on a given day is 11 percent left in the tank at day’s end.James Kendrick

That is just absurd. You should never have to do anything special to get the best battery life out of your device. Ever. I know a lot of people will disagree with this, but we are buying a device because it will supposedly make out lives easier, not complicated them more by making us have to turn stuff off and on when we stop and start using them.

Apple shipped the first Macbook Pro Unibody computers with dual graphics cards that you can switch between, the catch was that you had to log out and back in to your computer if you wanted to switch – meaning that I only switch about 5% of the time that I should. They righted that wrong with recent updates to the computers allowing the computer to make the switch on the fly based on need.

If Apple can engineer their laptops to switch between graphics cards based on need (a pretty major component of your computing system) then surely cellphone manufacturers as large as HTC and Apple can engineer a device that switched Wi-Fi / 3G on and off based on need. It is only logical.

We need to demand better battery life – now.

Originally posted for members on: June 10, 2010
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