Government // Mobile & Wireless
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2/7/2012
12:58 PM
Chris Spera
Chris Spera
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Smartphone Owners Lament 4G Battery Woes

As we transition to 4G mobile, many people are having problems with battery life. Come see what TeamBYTE has to say about it all.

The TeamBYTE mail list has always been a great place to hash out technology trends and issues. BYTE has some of the best tech-savvy people anywhere. Our editorial director, Larry Seltzer, tossed a tech-grenade over the wall today to see if he could roust the minions on a post-Super-Bowl Monday. As usual, TeamBYTE did not disappoint.

Today's tech fodder: 4G-LTE battery life.

Larry saw this article on WSJ Online. Larry likens the battery life situation described in the article to "a dementor sucking your soul." Nice picture there, but he's pretty much dead on, in TeamBYTE's opinion. Read on for comments from the rest of us, including yours truly.

George Ou:
"Anandtech had a very good article about this a few months ago. No, it is not about pulling a weaker signal. It's about the fact that a separate baseband chip needs to be installed to support LTE. That requires extra space for the chip as well as additional battery capacity. Later this year we will start seeing integrated 4G/LTE baseband chips.

"If you have a micro-USB smartphone or device, [and are having battery life issues, consider] buying this mini-USB battery and then use this short mini-to-micro cable. [It's better to buy this battery-cable combination than a battery that plugs directly into the device] because [plugging a] micro-USB battery directly into your smartphone, [creates] a risk of bent pins if the two devices are twisted [while in a purse or gear bag].

"Also, I’m not sure why they discontinued this 7800 mAH battery. I did find this 5000 mAH battery for $22 that has a 1A and a 0.5A USB charging port which can be used for iPads.

Jerry Ryan:
"I have a Motorola Droid RAZR and have pretty decent battery life because I have pretty decent 4G signal. It does drink up the electrons when it's busy searching for [a 4G] network; and [I discovered] it's not much better when Wi-Fi is on and that signal is marginal."

Serdar Yegulalp:
"There's a reason I keep my phone set [on] 2G. My house seems to be in a 3G dead-zone; [and battery life] is the other reason.

Chris Spera:
"We went through this when 3G networks first came on line. I find it interesting that everyone is so surprised now that 4G networks are rolling out. 4G devices are having the same problem that 3G devices did back in the day. I have a feeling we are going to go through the same kind of thing with every new mobile broadband technology rollout.

"Users either aren't going to see the performance increases because the signal hasn't made it to where they are, or their batteries are going to be sucked dry because they are on a signal border. Users are going to have to do the same thing with 4G that we did with 3G, and the WSJ author touched on this a bit:

  • Turn off 4G (the new) and rely on 3G or EDGE (the old wireless technology).
  • Carry car chargers/AC adapters.
  • Get bigger batteries and put up with the bulk.
  • Rely on Wi-Fi where available.
  • Modify use habits.
"Again, until LTE becomes [as] prevalent [as 3G], users are going to continue to bump into this kind of situation. There's very little here that should be surprising anyone. People just need to remember that, and remember what they did to get through the lean 3G times."

Jacob Lopez:
"As a [person] who works from home, I agree with Serdar. My 2G connection works fine for calls. I am always on a Wi-Fi network, so 3G (and more so 4G) is unnecessary. Of course, my situation may not be like most."

Todd Ogasawara::
"That's interesting. I live in a small AT&T dead-zone. No voice or data from my couch, for example. However, if I walk 20 feet outside of my home, I can get 3G; but voice is still sketchy.

"I leave my iPhone 4 Wi-Fi & 3G radios on all the time during the day. And, yet, battery life is quite good. It does start dropping, however, if 3G signal is weak and no Wi-Fi is available. My HTC HD7 (Windows Phone 7.5) is on T-Mobile. I leave its radios on too. And, I add Bluetooth to its mix since it is my main voice phone. Its battery life is decent but not as good as the iPhone 4, despite a decent T-Mobile signal inside my home.

"I try to get people to dial my Google Voice number when they want to speak to me. That way I can answer any phone or PC that [I happen to be using.]"

Any way you slice it, the implementation of any new mobile broadband technology is going to present challenges. Although it might not be ideal, or represent what you're paying for, it might be a good idea to modify your use habits and device settings until service is available in your area.

TeamBYTE is currently considering two articles related to 4G-LTE battery life and issues.

  • A battery life study for 4G-LTE devices in the markets the Team lives and works in (New York, Chicago, San Francisco).
  • A roundup of external batteries that provide power to devices experiencing 4G-LTE based battery life issues.

What do you think? Do you have battery-saving tips you'd like to share with the BYTE community? Are there specific markets we should include in our battery tests? Are there specific batteries you'd like us to cover in the roundup? Why not join in the discussion below and let us know?

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