To Charge or Not to Charge: Avoid These Myths about Saving Battery Life

Improved mobile technology means that once-important tips are no longer relevant

To Charge or Not to Charge: Avoid These Myths about Saving Battery Life
Image: Pixabay
November 7, 2017

When you're trying to save the battery life of your mobile devices, do you close apps when you're not using them? Let the battery die before charging it again? Disable features like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and location services?

Bad news: you're probably using more of your own energy trying to save your battery life than the battery is actually using.

Though we all want to extend the battery life of our mobile devices as much as possible, there are several myths about battery charging and battery life that you should know.

  1. Myth: Close apps that you're not using.
  2. The theory behind this myth is that apps running in the background are using your device's energy, so you should quit them to stop the battery from being drained.

    This may be true for computers, but smartphones are designed differently. When you are not actively using an app, most or all of its processes freeze. Although it may still be loaded in the memory of the phone, it is likely not doing much in the background to use up the battery.

    In addition, there is a drawback to quitting apps. When you close them, all of their code can be purged from your phone's RAM. This means that the phone has to use up energy to reload all of that code the next time you open the app.

    The exception is the Background App Refresh feature now available on Apple devices. This feature determines how and when you use certain apps and refreshes them--downloads any available updates--right before it thinks you're about to open the app. Although it can be helpful for certain apps, it does drain the device's battery, so it's a good idea to disable the feature for apps you don't use regularly.

  3. Myth: Disable Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and location services.
  4. One common method often recommended for extending battery life is turning off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location services.

    While Wi-Fi and Bluetooth used to take a large toll on smartphone batteries, they draw very little power now.

    If you are in the range of a strong Wi-Fi signal, your phone will use less energy in connecting with the Internet through Wi-Fi than by using a cellular connection. Enabling Wi-Fi also helps the device figure out its location without having to rely on GPS features alone, which helps the battery last longer.

    The exception is when you're only on the edge of a Wi-Fi network, where your phone is having a hard time getting a good connection, and you have a good cellular connection.

    As for location services, many apps use your location only intermittently. Using them for short periods uses up only a tiny percentage of your battery's capacity, and having the screen on all the time is a big part of why navigation uses a lot of power. If the app need your location to provide navigation or another useful feature, let it see your location while the app is in use; if not, you can disable it.

  5. Myth: Avoid all third-party chargers.
  6. You have probably been warned to use only the charger that came with your phone rather than one manufactured by a third party; otherwise, you risk damaging your phone's battery.

    The reality is that all the circuitry responsible for charging the battery is inside the phone itself. All the charger does is to convert the AC current from an outlet into low-voltage, low-amperage DC current that it then provides through a USB port. This is how you can also charge your phone using a computer's USB port, a USB battery pack, or a charger in your car—the phone is designed to charge from many power sources that may produce a wide range of current.

    There is, however, some truth in the idea that cheap third-party chargers can damage phones. Many—such as budget chargers sold online or at a shopping mall kiosk—are poorly made or use low-quality components. These chargers can not only damage a phone, they can hurt you by exposing you to dangerous currents. Choose a reputable vendor for third-party chargers.

  7. Myth: Do not charge your battery overnight.
  8. In the past, phone batteries could be ruined by leaving them plugged in all the time. Older lithim-ion batteries could overheat—or, in rare instances, explode—which reduced the charge capacity as well as the long-term life of the battery.

    Although this can still happen if your phone case does not allow heat to dissipate, modern chargers and smartphones work differently. Popular Mechanicsexplains that "your gadgets, the batteries in them, and the chargers you attach them to are actually pretty smart about the way they do business. Trickle charge—what your battery gets when it's connected and full—is way less detrimental to the battery's health than a larger discharge [use of battery power] would be."

    Though keeping your devices plugged in all the time is not ideal, it does much less damage than most people think.