Low Battery Generation: A Momentary Fall, or a Downward Trend?

Low Battery Generation: A Momentary Fall, or a Downward Trend?

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The battery life of our devices is a top concern for us these days. While better SOCs are released with more efficient processes, and software optimizations help with battery life, a lot of us are still worried if our smartphone or tablet will get us through the day.

We root and install apps like Greenify, tweak our devices with custom kernels and software in order to build the most efficient device, squeezing out every last drop of power in a bid to keep things chugging till we can find ourselves at peace with the wall outlet.

Snapdragon 820 Efficiency

Hardware (SOCs built to be smaller, more efficient in general) and software (Doze, Power Saver mode, etc) seem to be following the evolutionary trend where they are focusing on efficiency, as they should. On the other hand, batteries seem to be at a standstill—instead of an evolution, we’re getting devices that charge faster (usually with an included quick charger) or just make it a bit more convenient to charge (wireless charging) but batteries themselves haven’t really kept up with the evolution of smartphones in terms of capacity and efficiency.Enthusiasts sometimes wonder why OEMs focus on making their devices thinner, which may compromise the size —and therefore volume— of the battery. Aesthetics is an important factor of purchase in the smartphone world.

While enthusiasts would generally be willing to give up at least some aesthetic appeal in order to have a device that is near perfect in every other aspect, the reality is that, like with most things, being pretty sells. Smartphones have arguably evolved to become an essential accessory — like a wallet or a handbag — and these things are already chosen for the statements they make about you.

Several years ago, the smaller the phone was, the better, because it showed that we had the technology to make things small and compact. If you owned a device that was small and thin, you could say that it showed something about yourself — that you’re techy, cutting-edge, have money, etc. Today, devices have large, high pixel-density screens that are meant for media consumption, and premium designs with carefully crafted backs to show off.

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The G2 surprised us with a battery life few expected from its form factor.

In 2013, we saw devices such as the LG G2 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, two arguably excellent powerhouses in performance and battery life (even though the Note 3 has a large, pixel-dense display at 5.7”). Aesthetics and design were still important selling points of these devices; the Note 3 has a soft-touch “faux-leather” back, and the LG G2 has a 5.2” screen that takes up most of the phone front’s real estate, leaving small bezels and the appearance of a larger screen.

The power and volume buttons on the G2 were also moved to the back, giving LG the opportunity to make the phone thinner. These devices seemed to spark interest partly because of the difference in battery life compared to their competitors, so people expected this trend to continue upwards with future devices in the same product lines.

Unfortunately, Samsung’s Note 4 didn’t see any significant improvement on battery life, and the LG G3’s inefficient screen resulted in users reporting the same (or worse) battery life that its predecessor. Similar occurrences can be said for HTC’s M8 and M9, Sony’s Z3 and Z4, and so on. 

We’ve been hearing about new battery technologies for years without much fruition

The Oneplus 2, despite it having 200 mAh capacity more than the Oneplus One (as well as supposedly improved software, coupled with a supposedly improved processor) had results that disappointed us, as the Snapdragon 810 proved to be dramatically less efficient than expected and the resulting battery life was less than expected.

While it’s clear there are efficiency improvements in other areas of smartphone technology (such as the Note 5’s screen efficiency compared to the Note 4), despite OEMs efforts to make everything as efficient (within cost-effective reason) as they can, we’re still carrying chargers, portable powerbanks, or even extra batteries (if your device has a removable battery) to get us through the day. Even Xiaomi recently released a gigantic 20,000mAh powerbank to help keep devices charged.

Technology in progress

Recently, whispers about a new lithium-oxygen battery have surfaced online.  To summarize, the technology would allow the battery to have ten times the energy density of a standard lithium-ion battery, which is said to provide an energy density comparable to gasoline. Some other points to note is that the battery would be more efficient, and reports state it is able to be recharged over 2000 times. We’ve been hearing about new battery technologies for years without much fruition, so it’s difficult to say how long it will be before lithium-oxygen batteries are a viable option for mass-produced consumer grade products, if at all. Another technology that has been sparking interest since last year is a graphene-based battery from Samsung.

This technology also focuses on increasing the capacity of the battery by adding a graphene anode to the current lithium-ion technology, which would effectively double the battery life of a standard lithium-ion battery. In addition, graphene would allow for more charges, as well as better longevity. Probably the most promising new battery technology for this year though is coming from Huawei, who very recently made a press-release from their technology development center in Zhangzhou province. The new 3000MaH battery can charge to 48%  in only 5 minutes. While not necessarily a longer-lasting battery like the graphene solutions possibly coming from Samsung, only 5 minutes to charge to almost half is quite an excellent feat.  It is nice to see that companies are making real progress after years of hearing about new battery technology and then not seeing anything new.

What we have to work with for now is a handful of tools, from software optimizations, hardware, and the appropriately sized battery to handle the job. These things are constantly being improved on as well. The onus falls on OEMs to figure out the best combination of style, software, and hardware to make their phones attractive — in both looks and usability. The real question, though, is,

Will we get the battery life we’ve been waiting for all this time?