How I added four hours of battery life to my smartphone every day for free

Columnist Jennifer Jolly describes how to check if emails and apps are draining your smartphone way too fast and what measures won't help.

USA TODAY - I’ve had big-time battery drain issues on my last three iPhones. I just figured it was my fault — maybe I’m too addicted to apps, take too many photos, or just use my phone too much?

It’s an issue I’ve gone to Apple for help with many times. But the Genius’s — Apple's retail support — were flummoxed, too. After the typical troubleshooting: Update iOS? Check. Adjust screen brightness? Check. Use Wi-Fi when possible, turn off location services, and tone down notifications? Check, check, and check again. Nothing seems to solve the issues. Maybe I got the phone wet?

It was time to kick things up to the next level. I enlisted experts like Scotty Loveless, a former Apple Genius and iOS tech who told me this would not be another, “turn off every useful feature of iOS posts…” because those “really grind my gears.” Finally, someone speaking my language!

With that said, here’s how I finally beat the worst of my battery battles — and now you can, too.

#1 Start with your own battery test

Your battery should only be doing its heavy lifting when you’re actually using your iPhone, and the rest of the time it should be relaxing in standby mode. Sometimes an app prevents your phone from going into standby and wreaks havoc on your battery life.

Here’s how to test it:

Go into Settings > Battery. Scroll all the way down to the bottom and you’ll find two numbers, one for Standby and one for Usage. Your Usage number should be way, way lower than your Standby number. If it’s not, you might have a problem, and you can confirm it by jotting down your Standby and Usage times and then clicking the lock button on your phone. Let it sit for about five minutes and then check the numbers again. If your Standby time is five minutes higher, you’re in good shape, but if your Usage time has bumped up by a more than a minute it’s a sign that your phone isn’t resting like it should.

On Android, you can get the same information under Settings > Device > Battery (or Settings > Battery if you have a newer version of Android). The information on this menu is essentially the same as it is on an iPhone, and lists “Device Idle” which is the same as standby mode.

If you find that your phone isn’t “resting” when you’re not using it, there’s likely a very clear reason, which brings us to #2.

#2 Don’t push me

When an app is doing things even when you’re not using it, it could be malfunctioning, and stuck in an endless loop that’s draining all your power. That’s what happened to me, with, of all things, one of the email accounts I had connected to my phone. Loveless picked up on this right away. “This happens unbelievably often, especially with Exchange push email,” he said. “I knew when you told me your phone typically dies within six hours of being off the charger, and the Standby and Usage are the same. Sometimes, these times are not the same because the ‘firmware is bad or corrupted,’ but this time it’s because push email is keeping the phone from sleeping properly.”

The fix was simple.

Go into Settings > Mail > Accounts> Fetch New Data. Mine was automatically set to Push. Loveless recommended that I set it turn that off temporarily and set it to Fetch every 15 to 30 minutes instead. You can also use the Manual mode, which only scans for new messages when you actually open the email app.

You can also tweak the push settings to fetch new emails only every hour or so, which is also a big help. You don’t sacrifice timely email updates either, though you’ll still save the most power by disabling push emails altogether.

On an Android phone, you can manage the push notification settings for any apps that use it by heading into Settings > Apps and then picking an app and tweaking its individual settings.

#3 When background apps are the killer

There are other times too when an app is running when you’re not using it and that’s called “Background App Refresh.” There are lots of reasons apps update in the background, like the Music app fetching new playlists, Facebook updating your social feeds, and even Pokemon Go keeping an eye on your steps so you can hatch eggs. It’s all in the name of convenience, but it might also be leaving you with a dead battery halfway through the afternoon.

To check out which apps are eating up valuable power in the background go to Settings > Battery and you’ll see a list of the apps taking up your battery life, with the topmost app being the biggest power hog. If you see an app listed with “Background Activity” below it, that’s when you know it’s using power even when you’re not using it. Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and streaming apps like Apple Music can be real demons in this department, so head to your Settings > General > Background App Refresh page and toggle off any apps you don’t want working overtime to save some serious juice.

#4 Multitasking is OK

Do you ever double-tap your home button and see all the apps your iPhone has suspended, waiting for you to go back to them? Whenever I do, I always close them out of instinct, thinking that they must be eating up battery life, right? Nope! In fact, Loveless says that closing apps from the multitasking menu can actually hurt the iPhone’s overall battery life, and for a totally logical reason.

Just because you see an app sitting in the multitasking menu doesn’t mean it's actually using your battery life at all — it's just paused, sitting in the phone’s memory and not doing much of anything. When you close it, the phone shuts it down, but when you inevitably open the app back up, it forces your phone to load all that data back up again, and that means it’s using valuable power and ticking down your reserves. Just leave the apps alone and you’ll be doing yourself and your battery a favor.

On Android, finding the apps that are running is as easy as pulling the top menu bar down, which brings up a list of the apps either running or paused. You can choose to close them, but again, the idea is that by leaving them on you’re actually saving more power, so just leave them be.

#5 Low-power mode can add hours to your battery life

Android and iOS both come with low-power features that let you turn off almost all of your phone’s extra features anytime and save tons of energy throughout the day. You can turn it on when the battery drops to 20% or much earlier — by going to Settings > Battery > Low Power Mode and switching it on.

On Android, the battery saving feature kicks in automatically if you leave your settings as-is, but you can also manually turn it on by going to Settings > Battery then tap the menu icon and select “Battery Saver.”

It can be a real life saver, and it has the bonus benefit of preventing even more battery stress by depleting a dying battery even further than it already is.

There are other little things you can do, too, which many other writers have mentioned. But fixing the email and background activity issues on my own phone has already added more than FOUR HOURS of battery life back into my day. That’s nothing short of a miracle in my book.

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY's digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at jj@techish.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.

 

Copyright 2017 USA TODAY


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