How to get the most battery life out of your Android Phone

A little over a year ago, we did an article on how to squeeze some extra battery life out of your phone. Most of those tips still apply, but Android has changed a lot since mid-2011, and I’m sure everybody could use a few extra tips on how to get your phone to last a few hours longer. A few of these things are simple, and have already been in past articles, but there’s a few tricks that most people don’t think about when they’re trying to conserve battery life. We’ll start with the basics and move up into the more complex things you can do to keep your device alive.

1. Pay attention to your screen.

The screen is the biggest culprit of battery drain. With newer screens pushing 1080p resolution, it takes a lot of juice to power those displays. You can’t remove pixels from your screen, obviously, so you’re going to want to pay attention to your brightness and your screen timeout. The brighter the screen, the more power it’s going to pull, so you’re going to want to keep that as low as you can stand it. Dim screens aren’t good for watching movies or using the device outside, though, so depending on your usage, your phone’s autobrightness may be the way to go. You can also use apps to lower the screen brightness below the minimum to manager your battery more effectively at night or in extremely dim rooms.  Night Mode is one such app, and it works extremely well. (Play Store link here)

Screen timeout is also important. If you set your phone down while answering a text and forget to turn off the screen, it’s going to chew through your battery if the timeout is set too high. Keeping this low (30 seconds or so) will keep things like that from happening. This can be a problem if the phone times out while you’re reading a news article, however. Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones has SmartStay, which fixes this by keeping the device awake only as long as you’re looking at it. An app called ISeeYou attempts to replicate that feature for those of you without a newer Galaxy phone.

2. Radios and phone signal

4G is one of the biggest new features to happen to cell phones lately, and it’s growing exponentially faster so more people can have access to those faster data speeds. There’s just one problem with 4G: battery drain. Specifically, LTE. HSPA+ is harder on the battery than any 3G, but not by much. LTE is a battery monster. It’s good for your battery life – and data cap – to be aware of when you’re on 4G and how much you’re using it. Sitting around the house and casually browsing the internet? WiFi is the way to go. Not at home, but not really using your phone to do any kind of serious downloading? Turn your 4G off.

This also applies to your GPS and Bluetooth on your device. If you aren’t using them, keep them turned off to avoid the unnecessary battery drain. GPS can be turned off in location settings, and usually from the quick settings tabs in many versions of Android. Bluetooth is also controlled through settings and quick settings.

3. Watch your applications.

Smartphones are powerful. They sync with Facebook and Twitter, they can do all kinds of word processing and run office apps, and they offer an excellent multimedia experience with games and videos. This probably won’t come as a shock to many of you, but if you watch Netflix on 4G on your phone’s 4.8-inch screen, it’s not going to last more than a few episodes. High-resolution games are even worse, but in addition to the cell signal, they’re also exercising your processor and GPU. It’s common sense, but if you need to make your phone last until you get home, avoid video streaming and games.

Sometimes, though, an application can chew up your battery without being active. Facebook, for example, has had notorious wakelock issues on phones while syncing. This can be easily checked by looking at your battery settings on your phone. The location of that is different for each phone, but it’s usually set up in its own battery menu, or in the about phone section. The graph there shows your phone’s awake time, and below that shows what apps are eating up battery. If your phone is constantly awake for eight hours and Facebook is using more battery power than your screen, you can probably figure out what’s going on.

Killing applications on Android has always been a hot topic. Irresponsibly using task managers to kill apps has always been a bad idea, and actually shortens your phone’s battery life. However, using a task manager to kill Facebook when it keeps your phone awake is definitely useful. A new feature in 4.0 and up is the revamped task manager/recent apps. Holding the home button or pushing your phone’s multitasking button will open several windows of all of your recent apps. A simple swipe will kill any particular application, freeing up some RAM and keeping a rogue app from destroying your battery.

4. Widgets and syncing

Killing Facebook after it’s kept your phone awake for two hours is a good reactive idea, but being proactive about it will keep the battery drain from happening in the first place. The more often your applications and widgets have to sync, the more often will have to wake up and lose some battery life. Social media and weather widgets are generally the worst offenders of this. If you check Facebook every three hours, don’t have it sync every fifteen minutes. Unless you’re really worried about the weather, you probably don’t need it to sync more than a few times a day.

5. Heat

This one’s weird, but it’s important to pay attention to. Because of how most phone batteries work, a high temperature will cause them to deplete faster. A lower temperature (within reason) has the opposite effect. If you work near a desktop computer at your job, don’t lay your phone in a cabinet with a roaring PC tower. It’ll get hot and the battery drains more quickly. On the opposite side of that, if you’ve been playing with your phone and the temperature has risen a bit higher than it should be, turn it off, take the battery out, and sit it somewhere cooler with some open air. Even a simple desk fan can do a bit to keep it cooled and running longer.

It’s very important that you do not freeze your phone. Dropping the phone or battery below a certain temperature is not good for it, and condensation can also ruin the hardware. Don’t go overboard with it.

6. Keep an eye out for low signal areas.

This was covered in the previous battery article also, but it’s worth mentioning now that we’ve got 4G in the mix. Low phone reception will cause your phone to constantly push for a stronger signal, which, in turn, sucks power from your battery. If you’re in an area that just doesn’t get signal, airplane mode might be your best bet until you can get to an area with a better signal.

But now that 4G has rolled out in many, many areas, there’s another dimension on this. If you live in a strong 3G area, but right on the outskirts of 4G coverage, your phone is going to act like it’s a low signal area and try to boost your 4G reception. Many people see their phones constantly move between 3G and 4G, and this is just as bad on the battery as a low 3G signal. This is another situation when managing your 4G, especially LTE, is helpful. Turn off the 4G radios and stick with 3G or WiFi until the reception gets better.

7. [Root] Block ads on your phone.

People know ads are annoying, sure, but not many people know ads can actually hurt your battery life pretty significantly. (Not to mention the privacy issues, but that’s an article for another time) Naturally, the more things your phone has to process and the more information that must come to it takes more power. Ads are no exception. Whether that’s on a website or in an application, it does have an affect on battery life.

There are several ways to block ads. On most apps, there are donate options, or paid apps to remove ads. This doesn’t always work on your favorite websites, however, so an ad-blocking app is the next best thing. AdAway is my personal favorite. It’s quick and painless, and totally automated. It blocks ads from applications, websites, and anything else that might try to stick an ad in your face.

8. [Root] Try a new kernel.

Sometimes, your phone just doesn’t do enough out-of-the-box. If you don’t mind a little tinkering, different kernels for your device can significantly improve performance and battery life. This all depends on your phone, however; a Nexus device is likely going to have a dozen kernel options, where a less popular phone may only have two or three. After rooting and unlocking your phone, flashing a kernel is usually pretty simple. Most are packaged like regular flashable zip files, but that can vary from phone to phone, so it’s important to read the instructions. XDA is an excellent source for learning about rooting, unlocking, and flashing your phone.

9. [Root] Adjust CPU speeds.

This is similar to using a different kernel, but it goes a little farther. On ROMs like Cyanogenmod, there are built in settings that allow you to change CPU governors and clock speeds. This essentially changes how much power your CPU is allowed to use and keeps it from running at full speed. The governors control how the CPU acts in different situations; a performance governor is going to ramp up the CPU all the time. Performance will be great, but the battery is going to suffer. Another governor I prefer is hotplug; it shuts down one core of a dual-core CPU when in sleep mode, which improves the idle battery life. There’s tons of different governors and clock speed combinations, so like changing kernels, it’s a good idea to read up on what each one does. XDA also provides some tutorials on this.

An alternative is an application to control your CPU. Not all ROMs have CPU controls built in, so an application like that can manage the clock speeds and governors if your phone is rooted. All of the same rules apply. Higher clock speeds mean faster, more battery draining performance. Lower clock speeds mean worse performance, but less power consumption. The trick is finding a middle ground where you can live with the performance and can see the extra battery life.

10. [Root] Try a new ROM.

Sometimes, the stock software from Samsung or HTC just might be optimized for battery life. It’ll have some features that you find a little superfluous that causes battery drain. If all else fails, flashing a new ROM onto your phone may be your best option. AOSP-built ROMs like Cyanogenmod provide an alternative to OEM-bloated stock ROMs. This can help with the battery life in many cases because there are less system applications and features that hog resources on a custom ROM like Cyanogenmod. There are even customized OEM ROMs that are optimized to reduce battery drain and bloat. Again, XDA is likely your best friend when trying this out.

Many of these ROMs also come with their own custom kernels. Together, they really can improve battery life well past what the phone is capable of on stock software. Mixing kernels with custom ROMs is also a great way to tweak your setup to get the best possible performance and battery life.

11. The worst case scenario: using spare and extended batteries.

Sometimes, your phone is just not going to perform as well as you’d like. Some phones just do not have great battery life, as was the case with the abysmal Verizon Galaxy Nexus, and no amount of lowered screen brightness or custom ROMs or tweaking is going to extend it by more than an hour or two. If you have a phone with a removable battery, consider buying an extended battery, or a spare battery or two if you don’t want the added bulk. As a CDMA GNex owner, I own three spare batteries that I swap out during the course of an 8-hour work day. It’s not the perfect solution, but it is a viable way of using your phone throughout an entire day. Of course, this only works if your phone supports a removable battery, and lately we’ve seen the trend of sealed in batteries in newer smartphones.

This is by no means an all inclusive list of battery tips. Searching the internet is going to pull up a ton of other tips for getting the most out of your battery, especially for rooted users, and some of these tips may work better for some phones than others. Hopefully, though, this list will give you enough to get started on tweaking your settings to get some longer battery life, and will help you be a little more mindful of how you’re using your battery and what applications and syncing are doing to it.

About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo's Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.

  • uzuma

    Thanks for the post!
    Regarding wakelock issues, which is quite often these days,
    There is an app called “Wakelock detector” to find out those issues!

  • e_cell

    “Irresponsibly using task managers to kill apps has always been a bad idea, and actually shortens your phone’s battery life.” And I opened my eyes widely! This has been my habit since. I’ll surely break that habit, but if I may ask, why does it shorten battery life?

  • Bkw

    e-cell: I think your phone will be constantly working trying to stop apps running whilst they’re made to automatically start back up, so it uses more ram/battery than of some were just running normally. Best to just disable or freeze (with titanium backup pro) if you know they aren’t important.

    Op: Thanks for the tips, the ad removal and using 1 cpu during sleep sound good.