You know that feeling when you’re worried your phone battery won’t last until you can plug it in? It’s so common there’s a name for it: Range anxiety. Even though phone batteries have improved, they may not keep up with the demands from using the camera, flashlights, GPS and more. What to do? Here’s the latest advice about battery life and charging solutions from mobile expert Jack Cutts, Senior Director, Business Intelligence and Research at the Consumer Technology Association.
1. Just turn off the screen
Whether you want to make your battery last longer or charge more quickly, one step is simple: “Leave the screen off, because that’s the largest demand on power,” says Cutts. Resist the urge to check your phone or see how much it’s charged. Lighting up the screen is a big drain. Don’t keep the screen on as you try to turn off apps or completely shut down your phone. “Modern operating systems do a great job managing which apps are open, so they’re efficient with energy,” Cutts says. Unless your battery is about to die and you can do without your phone, turning it off won’t save enough juice to be worthwhile. For apps, the main exception is navigation programs, because they can use a lot of power. Turning off WiFi and Bluetooth, if you can do without them for a while, will let you charge slightly faster.
2. Use the right charger
Your best bet is to use the charger that came with your phone or one from the same brand, says Cutts. If you have another charger or need to borrow one, that’s fine when you’re not in a rush. But when you want to charge quickly, there can be a benefit to using the one that was made to work with your phone’s electronics, Cutts advises. Consider marking both your phone’s charging wire and the plug with colored tape or some other identifier so it’s easy to find the right one.
You’re in real luck if your phone can use a fast charger like a USB-C or lightning cable. “Fast chargers are probably one of the most underappreciated advancements in smartphones in the last few years,” says Cutts. “It’s easily achievable to get a 10% charge in as little as 10 minutes, and it may be even faster,” he says. You’ll know it’s a fast charger if it fits with either side up. Regular chargers only fit one way. If you need to buy a fast charger, don’t just trust that it says it’s fast. Look for one that’s 5 watts or more, and read the customer reviews.
3. Plug into an outlet
For the quickest energy boost, plug your phone into an outlet in the wall or a power strip. If you’re in a hotel with an outlet in the lamp, that’s fine too. The second fastest option is to charge it in your car with a fast charger (one that uses a USB-C or lightning cable). Using a regular car charger, your computer USB or wireless charger are much slower, says Cutts. Of course, if you’re on the go at the office and typically don’t plug in, wireless charging may be better than not charging if you’re going to run out of juice.
4. Keep it cool
Charging creates heat. Since too much heat can damage your phone, your phone’s microprocessor is smart enough to know that it will keep cooler if it slows down charging or stops it. That may be the problem when you’re navigating using GPS with your phone in the sun on your dashboard and your phone stops charging. It may just shut down altogether if it gets hot enough. Temperature extremes can reduce your battery life, too. Avoid leaving your phone in your sweltering or freezing car whenever possible.
5. Carry a spare
When you’re on the go, there’s one sure way to avoid range anxiety: Pack a portable charger, which is also called a battery bank or external battery. Starting at about $20, there are a wide variety of options with different charging capacities and features like a flashlight. Pick one that is light enough to carry around all day, like the ones that are the size of a lipstick and weigh less than 3 ounces. You can even get a battery bank with fast charging technology. Just make sure you have a cable, since not all battery banks come with one.
6. Use airplane mode on airplanes
Smart as it is, even your smartphone doesn’t know you’re at 30,000 feet or over the ocean. “Your phone will continue to seek a connection to a tower, and that can severely drain the battery life. You could lose 50% of your battery in 3 hours,” says Cutts. If you’re using the plane’s WiFi system and it stays connected, that’s fine. Otherwise, turn off your cellular data and WiFi to give your phone a break from its search for a connection. You can turn them off in “settings” or just use airplane mode.
7. Spring for a new phone
If you’re doing everything right and your phone isn’t holding a charge, it may be time to upgrade. “Your phone has a finite number of charge cycles, usually around 300 to 500, although some may do more,” explains Cutts. “After that, if your battery is no longer operating properly, you should get a new battery or replace the device.”
If your phone is old, just upgrading the device will be a bonus. “Batteries are so much better than they used to be,” says Cutts. “And the software and power management have come so far that they’ve done as much to improve battery life as improvements to the batteries themselves.” You may be in for much less range anxiety with a new phone.
Myth busters: It’s fine to charge overnight – and you don’t need to drain the battery
The lithium ion batteries in modern phones actually have a “magic window” when your battery is between 40% and 80% and it will charge the fastest, says Cutts. “Modern phones have some internal smarts in the form of microprocessors that determine the rate at which the battery can safely charge,” he explains. “The closer you get to 100%, the more the phone heats up and the charging slows down, but it still uses as much electricity, so it’s not ideal.” The most efficient approach is to let your battery drop down to 40% and then charge back up to 80%, if you can fit that into your schedule.
Also, you can forget the old advice to let your phone battery discharge at least once a month. Older batteries had what was called the “memory effect.” That made it best to occasionally use the full range of battery, from 0% to 100%. But modern batteries don’t need that. You can keep it charged with no problems. And it’s fine to keep your phone plugged in overnight. “Phones and chargers have gotten smart enough that when the phone reaches 100%, it stops charging, but when it gets lower, it starts again,” explains Cutts. It uses more energy to top up the battery, but it isn’t bad for the phone.
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