I went on a fact-seeking mission to uncover some of the most common myths and misconceptions about mobile device batteries. Weaving a tangled web through muddy waters and conflicting information, I found some insightful information on what each of us can do to increase battery life, efficiency and longevity. The focus of this article leans more towards smartphone, laptops and other non-removable battery.
Let’s strap in and clear the air about some of these commonly-held mobile battery myths.
Myth: Non-OEM Chargers Damage Batteries
Part of me is inclined to believe that this one might have been started – or at least perpetuated – by the phone manufacturers. While modern smartphones have razor-thin margins, the accessory market features markups in excess of 1,000 percent in some cases.
Pay no mind to those that warn you away from non-OEM solutions. What you should be avoiding, however, are knock-offs. These are the chargers that claim to be authentic – or non-branded generics – that sell for peanuts (sometimes one-fourth the price or lower) compared to the authentic version.
There’s a lot of fear-mongering that’s playing into this rumor as well. We’ve all heard the stories of the unfortunate soul who had a phone catch fire, or even explode after plugging it into an off-brand charger. I wish I could say this was a myth; but it’s not. Events like this happen due to cheap import chargers (off-branded or knockoffs) that might look like your OEM charger, but use materials that are of sub-standard quality and aren’t really all that worried about things like, how they work, how safe they are, or even if they’re using the same gauge of wiring.
In fact, knock-offs may even have completely different amperage or voltage ratings that aren’t necessarily in line with what’s recommended for your device. These variations lead to excess heat, fire, and yes… sometimes even explosions.
Now that I’ve thoroughly scared you, I want to reassure you that there are good options out there. Trusted brands like Belkin, or even Amazon’s own line of non-OEM chargers and accessories – AmazonBasics – are perfectly fine for the discerning consumer.
Myth: Avoid Using Your Device While It Charges
Plug it in. Turn it on. Fire it up. Your phone, that is.
Not only is using your smartphone or tablet while charging completely non-detrimental to your battery, bending over in all sorts of odd positions while trying to remain tethered to a 3-foot charger is also great exercise.
Kidding aside, there is no truth to the myth that you can’t use the device as it charges. The only detrimental thing I could find was more of a common sense realization: it’ll charge slower while you’re using it (here’s how to charge your phone faster). How slow depends on what you’re doing, but it’s rather obvious that using your device while you’re trying to recharge its battery sort of minimizes the effectiveness of the exercise. The reason for this is two-fold:
You’re using battery while you’re replenishing it.
Your phone throttles your effort to an extent to avoid overheating since the phone will get hotter while charging (according to an Apple representative I spoke to about another myth, below).
That said, even if you’re not using your device, chances are that it’s still actively using the battery for something. Whether that something is syncing to the cloud, downloading updates, or just running internal processes – unless the device is off, it’s using some battery.
Myth: Always Charge Batteries to Full Before Using Them (Don’t Charge Unless Your Battery Is Fully Depleted)
When phones, tablets, and other mobile devices were still using NiMH and NiCd batteries, you had to fully discharge from 100 to 0 percent in order for them to keep their capacity. This is known as the “memory” effect.
The idea of battery memory still persists and if I had to guess, it’s mostly confusion based on the recommendation of some manufacturers that you let your smartphone battery fully discharge periodically. This has little to do with your actual battery – or its non-existent memory – and more to do with how your device interprets battery usage. This reboot is strictly to recalibrate the battery usage “time gauge” to give more accurate readings as to how much battery life you have left while using your smartphone.
Modern batteries are Li-ion, which actually perform better when you don’t fully discharge them, although letting them deplete completely doesn’t have a dramatic effect on lifespan, and has no effect on capacity.
What most people don’t realize is, the actual threat to your battery is in the number of charge cycles. A charge cycle is the number of times your battery goes from dead – or nearly dead – to full. Each battery has a limited number of charge cycles before performance begins to degrade. Keeping the device in the 50 to 80-percent sweet spot is the key to avoiding a high number of charge cycles, and thus extending the life of your battery.
It should be said, however, that you could completely ignore this advice and your phone or tablet battery should still last several years. They’re smart, durable, and long-lasting even without any special care.
Myth: Don’t Charge Mobile Devices Overnight
There is a lot of conflicting information about this. During my research, I actually found more than a few well-respected tech blogs offer clashing opinions on whether or not it was acceptable to leave your device on the charge for 8 or 9 hours while you slept each night.
Rather than further muddying the waters, I decided to call upon some experts from both the iOS and Android camps. Since it’s not abundantly clear which side is correct, I phoned Apple’s tech support and then decided to double-check the information and be sure that it was the same for Android devices as well.
First, the Apple rep (James):
“…it’s absolutely fine to charge an iPhone, iPad or MacBook overnight. All Apple devices are designed to limit incoming power once they reach a full charge.”
So, Apple says it’s fine, but James did offer up another piece of information before I got off the phone.
“What I would worry about is allowing it to charge on your bed. If the phone gets covered with a pillow or blanket or something it could overheat because phones get slightly hotter when they charge. Most phones are in cases that don’t allow heat to dissipate properly once they begin to overheat and heat kills batteries.”
Simple enough. Charging your device overnight is fine, but don’t charge it in your bed or you risk additional heat and heat kills batteries. Check. Got it. Thanks, James.
I then called AT&T, one of the largest retailers of Android devices in the United States. Once I got connected with tech support, I asked the same question of “Dave.”
“Yes. Charge the phone at night and unplug it in the day. If you do not leave the device on the charger too long you will have no problems.”
There you have it. Two major device manufacturers. Two tech support guys. Two matching answers. It’s as good as we’re going to get.
Myth: Task Managers/Killers Extend Battery Life
Task managers aren’t just unnecessary, they’re often responsible for performance decreases that are worse than the RAM-hungry apps they’re designed to kill. You shouldn’t be using them at all, but if you do, it’s probably doing my harm than good.
Android and Apple both are both remarkably efficient in how they allocate resources to background apps. RAM is usually the culprit, and if you check usage statistics you might find that background processes are using up quite a bit of your system resources. The thing is, when the additional resources are needed for the app you’re using, the device will automatically re-allocate these resources from the apps you aren’t.
“Empty RAM is useless. Full RAM is RAM that is being put to good use for caching apps. If Android needs more memory, it will force-quit an app that you haven’t used in a while – this all happens automatically, without installing any task killers.”
Myth: It’s Not Necessary To Turn Off Your Mobile Device (Turning Off Your Device Can Damage the Battery)
Your device can be turned off any time you aren’t downloading or installing system updates. In fact, you should turn off your device from time to time in order to give it a break. In this rather humorous exchange from way back in 2011, David Carnoy (CNET) details his discussion with an Apple Genius (tech support crew) who likened an iPhone that is never turned off to a car that sits idling all the time, “it’s not doing much, but it’s still running.”
There aren’t any set-in-stone recommendations for this, but a commonly held belief is that you should turn your phone off at least occasionally, because internal components have finite lifespans.
The CNET discussion made light of the fact that most of us use $500+ dollar devices as alarm clocks rather than shutting the phone off and allowing it some downtime.
Myth: Turning off Wi-Fi/GPS/Bluetooth Saves Battery
GPS is a background service, which means it isn’t really doing much unless you’re actively using it. GPS is only in use when you’re looking for directions, adding location details to emails or social media posts, and running other process that actually use the GPS.
Wi-Fi actually uses less battery than maintaining a cellular data connection. According to Apple, you should leave your smartphone’s Wi-Fi enabled if you want to save battery. How’s that for debunking a myth?
Modern smartphones with Bluetooth 4.0 and its Low Energy protocol means that you can leave Bluetooth enabled and not worry about battery life at all.
Anything running on your phone, even background apps, tasks and processes use some battery. But none of the items that are commonly believed to cause severe battery drains (those mentioned above) are actually responsible for much more than a trickle of battery here and there. None of these on their own – or in combination – will drain your battery unless you’re currently using them.
The truth is, gaming and other graphics-intensive processes will drain your battery the fastest.
Streaming video or online (connected) games on your smartphone or tablet (or even your laptop) are responsible for the most dramatic battery drain on your device. Just about everything else pales in comparison. Facts aside, this is still one of the most persistent smartphone myths, and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
Which of these myths had you fallen victim to? Anything you’d like to add? Sound off in the comments below.