We all use our phones differently. And while the batteries inside them should be plenty big enough to last all day without worry, that’s not always the case. With bigger screens, more powerful apps, and streaming everything, it’s rare when we make it from morning till night without a quick charge along the way. Let alone actually last as long as the spec sheets claim.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are quite a few ways your phone’s battery can adapt to your particular routine, and with a few tweaks and toggles, you’ll can gain precious minutes and even hours on a charge. No matter how big your battery is, you can squeeze a little more juice out of it just by making a few changes, some of which you won’t even notice.
But which battery-saving techniques work best? Over a couple weeks of tests I found that while none of the methods I tried had a negative impact on my battery life, they didn’t all deliver the kind of results that will save you from carrying around a battery pack. That being said, I was ultimately able to add several hours to most days simply by implementing a combination of tips and tricks—most of which were as simple as flicking a single switch in Settings.
Taking an inventory
Over the past couple weeks I’ve learned a lot about my Pixel’s battery. Or rather, I’ve learned a lot about how much I use it. Truth be told, I never paid too much attention to just how much I use my phone, and I have to admit, it’s a lot.
I don’t use a ton of different apps on a normal day. For the most part, in approximate order of usage: Sirius XM for my daily Howard Stern fix; Waze for navigating traffic on my commute; Newton for managing my three email accounts; IA Writer for, well, writing; Chrome; ESPN; the occasional time-killing jaunt with Slotomania (don’t judge); Apple Music (I said don’t judge); Accuweather; Slack; Messenger; Calendar; StockTwits; Play Store; Mint; a peek at upcoming shoe releases in SNKRS and Nike+; Bloomz for announcements from my son’s school; and a few phone calls.
Of course, there are others that pop up here and there, but these are the ones that are most likely to be near the front of my app switcher at any given moment. And the most likely to drain my battery. While I didn’t stop using any of them, by learning which ones were draining my battery the most, I was able to adjust accordingly.
Like all of you, I’ve always utilized rudimentary battery-saving techniques, but mostly I just plugged in when I could: in the car or at my desk, whether I needed the extra juice or not. It’s something we all do, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but the constant powering-up tends to lead to some bad habits. In my case, I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten.
Take Waze for instance. I pretty much use it whenever I need to drive more than a few miles, and I’ve taken to leaving the screen on like so I could follow along like I would on a built-in navigation system. But I always have my phone plugged in, so I never really considered how much the way I used my phone was draining my battery.
So, the first day I started this project, I stopped charging until my phone absolutely needed it. And I quickly learned that I was doing it all wrong. My first day I barely got through 8 hours before I was in single digits. At the time I didn’t think that was so terrible—especially since I hadn’t actually been trying to conserve battery life—but as I dug into the various settings, I realized that conserving battery isn’t just about turning things off and on. It’s also about being aware of how I—and my apps—were using my phone.
Dimming the display
That being said, there’s one switch that has an enormous effect on battery life, even if you change nothing else. It’s inside the Display settings and it’s called Adaptive brightness. It’s on by default on just about every smartphone you buy, and if you haven’t already, go and turn it off right now.
What it does is “optimize” the brightness of your screen depending on the light in the room you’re in, so if you’re using it in bed it will automatically dim and if you’re outside on a sunny day it will blast you with brightness so you can see what you’re doing. This can often lead to your display being brighter than it really needs to be, which is a big drain on your battery.
So turn it off. I promise you won’t miss it. I consistently gained 2 or more hours of battery life when it was off, more if you factor in that it also showed me that I didn’t need to keep my screen nearly as bright as adaptive brightness was making it. So after you flip the toggle, spend some time adjusting the slider until you find a comfortable level. Today’s phone screens can get insanely bright—as you can see if you leave adaptive brightness on—but for most situations, you’ll be able to read your screen perfectly fine with a low brightness setting.
The key point is this: Lowering your display brightness even a little can have a big impact on battery life, and depending on your environment, Adaptive Brightness can work against that. Try turning it off and find a low-but-comfortable brightness setting.
Turning on battery saver
With a feature called Battery Saver, you’re all but guaranteed to gain a battery boost. If you’ve never used it (or only ever turned it on when prompted), you can find it in the Battery settings. You can set it to turn on when your battery reaches 15 percent or 5 percent; it effectively shuts down all extraneous activities, including background syncing, vibrations, animations, and location services. Different brands of Android phone often call this something else and have slightly different settings, but nearly every phone has something similar.
But Battery Saver’s fortitude had as much to do with my mindset as Android’s system wizardry. While there’s a noticeable difference with how long my phone lasted during those final ticks—even turning it on with 5 percent remaining, I was often able to squeeze out an extra 45 minutes or so before my Pixel shut down—it’s not the kind of thing you’re going to want to use all day. However, you don’t have to wait until your battery reaches a critical level. If you can stand the orange bars that appear, you can flip the switch in your Battery settings whenever you’re approaching a long stretch without an outlet, and you’ll likely be able to power your way through it.
Even if you just stick to the pre-set automatic Battery Saver schedule, it’ll make a big difference. As well as the extra juice it squeezes out, it’s also a more effective mental trigger than the tiny battery icon in the status bar, and I found myself instinctively limiting the number of times I turned to my phone once Battery Saver kicked in. Even when I did, Battery Saver made a major difference, so it’s something you want to use.
Turning off animations and haptics
Since you probably don’t want to be staring at garish orange bars all day, you can replicate some of the changes Battery Saver implements on your own. It can be a pain, and your milage may vary, but things like vibrations and animations do suck small amounts of battery life, and over the course of a day they can add up.
However, the trade-off might not be worth it in some circumstances, so you’ll want to do a little experimenting. For instance, I barely saw any change when silencing vibrations (which can be found in the Sound settings and the individual keyboard settings). And perhaps more importantly, typing and navigation wasn’t nearly as pleasurable as with it turned on.
I had much more success with limiting animations (a series of buttons that can be found by enabling Developer options in Settings), adding 1-2 hours to my battery. However, the stop-motion jerkiness of the interface made for an awkward experience, so it’s not something you want to deploy every day. Think of it as sort of a nuclear option. When you absolutely need your phone to last and won’t be able to plug in for till the end of the day, shut off Window animation scale, Transition animation scale, and Animator duration scale under Drawing in Develop options. What you’ll lose in charm you’ll gain in battery life.
Tweaking notifications and updates
They get a bad rap, but turning off notifications might not actually be a good way to preserve battery. Today’s OLED screens optimize lock-screen alerts to push as few pixels as possible, so unless an app is sending an obscene amount while you’re using your phone, you probably won’t save too much juice. I’m not one to load up too many notifications on my screen, but switching off the ones I did get didn’t do all that much.
One area where you might find battery savings, however, is Play Store updates. There’s a toggle in the app’s settings to allow auto-updating of apps over cellular or Wi-Fi, but the savings isn’t just about data. If you have a lot of apps on your phone, there could be dozens of updates in a day, and while auto updating isn’t necessarily a huge battery drainer, turning it off might save you some precious percentage points. For example, after updating 27 apps over Wi-Fi I saw my battery percentage drop from 84 percent to 78 percent, a not-insignificant decline. So unless there’s a specific app you specifically need, there’s no reason why you can’t wait till you’re plugged in to update.
The Battery tab in Settings will shows you more than just how much juice you have remaining. The first thing to do is check to see if any apps need to be optimized. Tap on the menu in the top-right corner and select Battery optimization. A “Not Optimized” app is one that the Android operating system will allow to run in the background on its own schedule, instead of putting it into a deep sleep mode with network updates and such pooled together into sporadic updates with other apps. It’s like saying “this app shouldn’t be put into Doze mode, it needs full attention whenever it wants.”
Apps like Android Wear and certain background services would need this, but take a look if there are any apps Not Optimized that really don’t need to be doing anything when you’re phone is just sleeping on the desk.
You can also use your battery settings to keep tabs on any apps that may be draining your battery, whether or not you’re using them. As you might have heard, the biggest background battery offenders are social media apps. By constantly monitoring for changes and syncing to stay up to date, apps such as Facebook and Twitter are most likely to be the biggest battery-draining culprits. With Facebook, there isn’t much you can do other than delete the app and use the Facebook website to keep track of your news feed. I’m not much of a Facebook user but I did have the app installed on my phone—and it comes pre-installed on a great many devices. After deleting it, the battery gain was nominal, but others have reported that it can be a major drag, so it’s something you might want to keep an eye on.
For Twitter and mail accounts, you can use the Accounts tab in Settings to limit background actions, which will also have a positive effect on battery life, but probably not a major one. Disabling syncing for Twitter didn’t seem to really add much more than a few minutes to a charge, but it didn’t impact my timeline too much either (merely requiring a refresh pull when opening it), so it won’t hurt to keep it turned off. Mail, on the other hand, is much more reliant on background activities for pushing new messages, so any hit to the battery is likely one you’ll be willing to live with.
It’s not just social media apps that are quietly using your battery, though. Fitness apps often keep running to monitor your steps and elevation, so take a look at how much your favorites might be using.GPS apps like Waze obviously use a ton of battery while they’re running, but you take some measures to cut down on the severity. For one, learn to trust the voice prompts. I was using it in my car like a navigation system with the screen on for the whole trip, but I quickly learned that the app will use far less power when the screen is off. Also, it’s not a bad idea to press the in-app power button when you reach your destination. In my experience, Waze stayed active long after it stopped providing audible directions, and putting it to sleep helped ensure that it wasn’t impacting my battery between trips.
Downloading a battery saving app
Finally, there are several popular apps in the Play Store that claim to help you regain long lost battery life. However, most of them offer the greatest benefits only to rooted phones, since you have admin privileges that the normal version of Android doesn’t allow, but some of them will still work with your unadulterated phone.
But don’t expect wonders. Greenify is one of the top-rated battery apps in the Play Store and plays nicely with both rooted and unrooted phones, but there aren’t huge benefits to be had. Greenify works by “hibernating” apps that are active in the background, but without rooting privileges there’s only so much it can do. It’s most useful for letting you know exactly which apps are running in the background, but as far as any real savings from hibernating, there wasn’t much to be had.
In my case, there was only one that could be put to sleep, the MyHyundai app I use to remotely start my Veloster. If there was any effect on my battery life, I couldn’t tell, and as far as I know the app doesn’t do much in the background anyway. You can also manually set apps to hibernate, but again, the effect on my battery life was imperceptible. There’s nothing wrong with running Greenify, and you may have more luck with hibernating apps, but I didn’t see a difference on my phone.
No quick fix
As long as we’re going to be walking around with tiny computers in our pockets, battery life is going to be a constant concern. But with so many phones running so many different versions of Android, there’s no single solution that’s going to magically add hours of life to every battery. (Although lowering display brightness will likely have some impact no matter what you’re using.)
However, if you feel like you’re not getting all that you could out of phone’s battery, try some of these methods. No matter how new or expensive your phone is, you can always get better battery life out of it. As I’ve explained, I was getting around 8 hours when I started testing for this article and now I routinely get at least 11 without changing too much of my routine. And on my best day I got nearly 15 hours.
But if you’re still frustrated with your battery life, you could always use the tried-and-true method for getting all-day battery life: Buy a portable battery pack.