Battery Life: Why our expectations are unrealistic

Posted on by Mike Evans

Do we expect too much from battery technology? Apple’s iPhone and many other smartphones get a bad rap for battery life. The Nokia Lumia is the latest target for criticism but successive iPhones have launched to a barrage of negativity. Consumers expect one charge to last at least a full day despite demanding more and more speed and more get-up-and-go communicating apps.

Let’s face it. Today’s smartphone is an express bullet train with a stack of well-packed coaches compared with the Thomas-the-tank-engine Nokia of 1995 with its single tender. It’s no wonder the modern phone needs more power to function. Not only have speeds and capabilities grown exponentially, the modern phone is thinner and much lighter than the typical mid-90s dumbphone. Frankly, manufacturers such as Apple do a pretty good job of balancing consumers expectations with an acceptable battery life.

We want the slimmest, fastest phones, we want location services tracking our every move, we are using smartphones as small computers rather than simply as phones. And we still want the sort of battery life enjoyed by a weighty 1995 Nokia with a fat battery. Come on, guys, we’re aiming too high.

Battery technology lags

Everything about our modern smartphones, except battery technology, has changed beyond recognition since Apple introduced the original iPhone. We should stop calling them phones or smartphones because voice calls are the very least of the tricks available. These are small computers, packing more punch than a desktop of fifteen years ago. You can now do almost everything on a smartphone that you can do on a MacBook Pro. There are limitations, of course, but the fact is you can get serious work done on a phone these days.

The sooner we start thinking of the current crop of smartphones as pocket computers (we used to have a phrase for them, personal digital assistants or PDAs) the sooner we’ll wise up to battery life reality. There isn’t an easy answer until someone comes up with the sort of battery technology that we ought to be enjoying.

In the meantime, an external battery serves the purpose just as well as a replaceable battery. There are loads available these days and even your local Apple Store is stacked out with them. If I had to choose, I’d go for the Mophie range because these batteries are well designed, attractive and work well.

The one that springs to mind is the Mophie Juice Pack Air which slides on to the back of the phone and acts as a protective case while offering an extra 1500 mAh to keep your phone going for twice the time. It isn’t my favourite because it is always on the phone and turns a svelte 4 or 4S into a weighty monster. You can’t get away from it.

Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation

I’m a fan of external batteries that can be plugged in when needed.

A few weeks ago Ben Brooks tried the smallest Mophie, the Juice Pack Reserve with a 700 mAh capacity. This is approximately half the capacity of the iPhone’s in-built power (1420 mAh) so it is what it says, a reserve. It’s very small and fits easily into any pocket. I’ve had similar low-capacity externals from other manufacturers but I don’t really think they are the answer.

What is much better is Mophie’s Juice Pack Powerstation which is still small at 2.28 x 4.09 x 0.53in. It’s a bit thicker than an iPhone 4S, the same width but slightly shorter. It has a substantial 4000 mAh capacity which is enough to charge an iPhone twice but not quite enough to fully charge an iPad (although it remains an excellent emergency power source for the tablet). There is just one control, a side button to activate the connection to a device. Pressing the button also reveals the level of charge with four green lights showing for a full load. The fewer the lights, the nearer you need to get to a power socket.

The design is attractive, with matt plastic front and back (which scuffs easily) and what appears to be an aluminium frame. There are two connectors: a micro USB socket serves for charging (from an iPhone power unit or the USB port of a computer) while a standard USB provides is the output to your iPhone or iPad. I tend to use a standard iPhone sync cable and keep the battery inside my Tom Bihn Ristretto messenger bag with the 30-pin connector peeping out. It becomes second nature to plug the phone in during a coffee break and that way you will ensure you can last up to two days without finding a power point.

I’ve been using the Powerstation for over a month and so far it has lived up to the hype and has been a lifesaver on several occasions.

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