Why Smartphone Batteries Still Suck

Does anyone have a charger I can borrow?

Key Takeaways

  • While smartphones have come far in the past 13 years, most still only offer a day of battery life without extensive use.
  • Experts say batteries bigger than the current average could lead to thicker phones and cuts into other places on the device.
  • Experts say better software efficiency could be key to making batteries better in the future.
Close up of hands using smartphone with low charged battery screen

juststock / Getty Images

Despite the technological advancements made over the past several years, most smartphone batteries still barely last a day, something experts say isn’t likely to get better anytime soon.

The battery is an important part of your smartphone, and while many devices boast higher power capacities—like the new Moto G20 and its 5,000mAh battery—it can often be a struggle to make your phone’s battery last an entire day without charging it. While smartphones have become more efficient in recent years, the technology used to create batteries hasn’t evolved as much, making it more difficult for users to get longer battery life.

"Battery technology really hasn't kept up with smartphones," Rex Freiberger, a smart device expert and CEO of Gadget Review, told Lifewire in an email. "While our smartphones are getting smaller and smaller because of the chips required to supply them with processing power, smaller batteries just don't have the juice to keep up."

By Design

Improving the power a smartphone uses is a balancing act of making the phone’s software more efficient, while also offering a battery with a large-enough capacity to keep the device running for longer periods. While it would be easy to simply throw a 5,000mAh battery in every new smartphone, a lot of users probably wouldn’t like the design changes it could bring.

"The size of the battery in a smartphone depends almost entirely on the smartphone design," Radu Vrabie, founder of Powerbank Expert, told Lifewire in an email. "Smartphone designers have to contend with the user preferences. As it stands, people want slim, pocket-fitting smartphones. A big battery would push the phone's thickness to new areas."

Disassembled mobile phone. Internal organization. Close-up, top view.

Andrei Berezovskii / Getty Images

According to Vrabie, most modern smartphone designs should offer enough room inside for a 4,000mAh battery. That might sound fairly large, but when you break down how the battery is used, that particular size tends to only provide a day or less of charge before you need to plug it in.

Because many users want a thinner phone that fits well in their pockets, manufacturers have to work to fit in a capable battery, while also leaving enough room for the other internal electronics. It’s a precarious balance, Freiberger says, and one that hasn’t quite been mastered just yet.

Prolonging the Charge

While higher battery capacities would be great, the overall capacity isn’t the only thing that determines how long your battery lasts. How you use your phone does, too.

Battery capacity is measured based on the milliampere-hour, which is essentially how much power it can supply within an hour. So, a phone with a rating of 3,000mAh could supply up to 3,000 milli-Amps for one hour. Obviously, your phone isn’t using that much power in a single hour, so that capacity lasts much longer. The actual amount of charge your phone needs each hour is based on what you do on it.

"There are a lot of things acting against phone batteries," Freiberger explained. "Aside from the fact that most just aren't that powerful, the majority of smartphones run background apps and processes throughout the day. Notifications that turn your screen on sap a substantial amount of power from your battery to do so, as well. And that's not even counting apps that need to update constantly."

If you’re really looking to get more out of your battery, you could try closing applications when you’re done using them. You also could disable features like location, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth when they aren’t in use. This will effectively lower the amount of power your phone needs, allowing you to eek out more from each charge.

While bigger batteries sound like a good solution to the current power issues facing smartphone users, the design changes needed to accommodate them are unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Good thing we’re used to charging our phones every night.

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