How to: Stop My Battery-Eating Android Device

Verizon recently released Android 4.3 for the Samsung Galaxy SIII. I upgraded Mrs. The Droid Lawyer’s Galaxy SIII and she hates it. In particular, Mrs. The Droid Lawyer’s finding that the SIII’s draining the battery like a crack whore — I really ought to get Mrs. The Droid Lawyer a new device.

We’ve all seen the “battery dead, connect your charger” warning, and depending on the situation you’re quickly pushed to a panic. If you’re like Mrs. The Droid Lawyer, then you’re frustrated by the fact that your device seems less and less capable of getting you through the day.

Of course, perception is probably much different than reality. That means the fact that your device “used to get you through the day” probably wasn’t true. For example, you probably plugged your device in more times than you realize. You were able to “juice” your device, even for a few minutes.

Also, your screen size has a significant effect on battery life. Bigger, more powerful screens naturally require more battery power.

You might also not realize that your device’s battery is actually much better than it appears. You can check your battery by going to Menu > Settings > Battery and viewing your on-board battery information.

Battery Drain
Click the images to see larger versions.

This picture shows that my device actually lasted 7.5 hours before needing a charge. The battery display shows your biggest battery hog, and also your time on battery. From here, you can simply click on the culprit and shut it down or uninstall the offending app. Problem solved.

Factors affecting your battery and how to fix them

Dim the screen

The biggest factor in your swift battery drain dilemma is the amount of time you use your device. I’ve noticed that sometime my own devices remain on a split second longer than I’d expect.

The first fix you need implement to improve battery life is to adjust your device’s display. Click Menu > Settings > Display.

Display Settings

Then adjust the sleep timeout.

Display Sleep

As the battery picture shows, my device’s screen accounted for 43% of my device’s battery drain.

You can also minimize your display drain by adjusting your device’s screen brightness.

Display Brightness

Most of the time I set my device to low or auto brightness. Your Android device will automatically adjust the display based on ambient lighting. Generally, I find there few times I need full brightness, and when I do, I can quickly slide the brightness level.

Kill the services

Outstanding services are the second leading cause of battery drain. These services include apps (which you should have shut down earlier), but also things like Bluetooth and WiFi.

When you leave an unused appliance plugged into an outlet it draws a small amount of energy. Services like Bluetooth and WiFi do the same thing for your Android device. “Empty” services are battery hogs that constantly search for connections. Catching a connection will help minimize battery drain. Turning off GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi when they’re not necessary will help conserve your battery.

I like using NFC or Tasker to control what services run in particular places. For instance, a NFC tag sits in my car that tells my phone to turn on GPS, turn off WiFi, and enable Bluetooth for the car stereo. I have similar trigger tags at work and home. Tasker is a little more complicated to set up but offers a more robust way to automate your Android device.

Battery backups

You need to remember that your device’s battery is likely less than 2500 mAh, which equates to about 6 hours of regular use. Needless to say, that’s not a lot of battery for these powerful mini computers. Further, a number of manufacturers are making fewer devices with removable batteries, and based on the “consumable” nature of smartphones, I predict that fewer phones will come with the option to remove the battery.

Some people will suggest that you carry an extra charging cord if you’re really worried about keeping your power going. I disagree. Unless you’re flying, having to find a charging outlet is what we did in 2012. Now, there are plenty of opportunities to charge your device while you’re on the go.

Obviously, if your phone has a removable battery, just buy an extra. If your device is “locked,” I’d recommend investing in a portable battery like this one from ChargeAll, Anker, or this behemoth from RAVPower. These devices will slip into your pocket or handbag for easy use.

Plug it in

There is a secret when we discuss how long a device will hold a charge. Here it is: the battery degrades slowly over time. After years of ownership your battery will slowly deplete. Today’s batteries can tolerate being plugged in for hours at a time. Android devices feature a “shut off charging” mechanism that runs when the battery reaches 100 percent capacity. Lithium Ion batteries don’t have “memories” that shorten battery life over time. Therefore, you shouldn’t feel afraid to leave your phone on the charger.

In fact, I regularly do this when I’m at the office or at home listening to Pandora or something similar. I’ll connect my phone to the charger and let the music play in the background.

“I went nuts installing and running battery killing apps”

Occasionally, you might find that your device is the victim of a “malicious” app attack. More particularly, some app’s using more than its fair share of system resources, thus translating into an excessive battery drain.

Checking your battery level should reveal the gremlin app, but sometimes you might need to take a more active approach. Finding the culprit is simple and doesn’t require any extra task manager apps.

First, verify that you’ve closed any unused apps sitting in your system RAM. To see what’s available click the multiple window button on the lower right.

Multiple Windows

Now you’ll see all of the open (and running) apps on your system. With a quick swipe left or right you can kill the app.

Next you’ll want to check the running apps in your system processes. This is similar to Task Manager in Windows, or Activity Monitor in OS X, so before you start messing around, you need to be aware that some (most) of these running apps are required for Android to operate.

Click Menu > Settings > Apps > RUNNING to find the background processes.

Running Apps

Tap on the resource-hogging app and click Stop to kill the background process.

Stop Running app

Most of these running apps have little to no effect on battery drain, so they’re worthless to kill. If you find one you don’t want, I suggest uninstalling the app rather than just killing it occasionally.

Perhaps your phone’s too old

There are many factors that affect how long your battery lasts. Perhaps the easiest solution sometimes is to swap out your device. Sometimes, these haphazard fixes are like placing the colloquial “band-aid on the severed limb,” you get some momentary relief, but haven’t really solved the problem.

Newer devices contain updates to hardware components that can significantly prolong battery life. Similarly, recent versions of Android contain software enhancements that require fewer system resources, thus translating into more battery time. If your device is more than 1 year old or running a version of Android lower than 4.2, consider upgrading your device.

Battery is a big deal

Nobody likes missing out on special photo opportunities because their device crashed, or rushing to find an outlet to eek more run time. By taking some simple but necessary steps, you can lengthen your device use time.

3 Responses to How to: Stop My Battery-Eating Android Device

  1. I’ve a nexus 5, and I’m setting brightness to its minimum and my screen consumes 30% of the battery, how can i fix this issue

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.