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I just want my phone to be smart, please

We Android users would usually pride ourselves with the customizability of our devices. But with tweaks and tricks that we often need to do in order to extend battery life, does it have to mean giving up on a lot of smart features, too?

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Android is a platform that thrives on customizability. Compared with iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and other operating systems, users and developers have a wider range of options when it comes to interface and user experience. With rooting, custom ROMs and tweak engines like the Xposed Framework, the potential for customizations has become even bigger. While this would oftentimes require some knowledge of the inner workings of Android, some tweaks would be accessible even to novices.

But more than aesthetics, tweaking and optimizing for better battery life is perhaps one of the biggest concerns among Android users. The platform is notoriously power-hungry, especially with hardware specs far outpacing battery technology. And so in my case, I have attempted to squeeze out the most juice out of my battery with tweaks. There are usual suspects: Greenify plus experimental Xposed modules, totally freezing unwanted apps, and even cutting off wake-up paths for some Greenified apps. Sometimes,¬†I would even cherry-pick which apps and services actually get to run in the background, especially those that take a lot of unnecessary background activity. Don’t want an app to run ever? Freeze it — Titanium Backup is your friend.

Some features more accessible to most users would include turning off synchronization for certain, or all, accounts. Screen dimming and locking the network to 2G only would also be part of these optimization attempts. For folks whose smartphones use LED screens instead of LCD, use of dark themes or even predominantly black color schemes can also help reduce consumption. We can also turn off location services, and location-tracking and history for apps like Google Now. Some would even turn off data altogether.

But with all these tweaks, one might question whether we’re already dumbing down our phones. Google Now is among Android’s landmark features, for example — it’s something that gives Android users an edge over other platforms. Google Now is smart enough to give you updates and recommendations based on your current context (time, location, and content you search for or consume on your device or on your web browser).

Google Now is a battery hog, indeed. However, turning it off makes your smartphone less interesting. Even if we don’t single out Google Now, other features like location services, automatic photo backups and “OK Google” voice command features are also battery hogs that users often turn off to conserve battery. How big a tradeoff could this be?

Here’s my big gripe: I just want my smartphone to be smart. If I have to dumb it down just so I can extend the battery life, then it defeats the purpose of using a smartphone in the first place. I kind of miss the battery life of mobile phones in the old days, when you didn’t have to worry about running out of charge in the middle of your workday or commute, just because some rogue app is taking unnecessary wakelocks even though it’s essentially doing nothing. Smartphones are designed to be in sync with the rest of your digital life. But if it runs down your battery prematurely in the process, then you won’t be able to access information anyway.

How do you achieve a balance between extending your battery life and keeping your mobile device smart enough?

Image credit: Powerbygen

4 Comments

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  1. This is a great article. You hit the nail on the head with all the points you made. We really shouldn’t have to sacrifice functionality or constantly worry about which apps are running in the background just to get through a workday without the phone going dead!

  2. Great article! I agree with you on a lot of the fronts you brought up, however, I am not an Android user. I use iOS, yet share some of the same concerns, just on a different platform. Wish companies would understand. ūüôĀ

  3. Wow, what a well-written article! This may be the best article I’ve seen on Droid Guy yet. My wife and I were just talking about this problem recently, especially in light of the fact that we bought low-end smartphones (still a step up from our previous flip phones) a couple of years ago and you couldn’t get more than about four hours out of the batteries. We both wound up having to cut data off to conserve battery life and then we thought, “What’s the point of even having these phones? We can’t send anything to each other!” We wound up upgrading eventually, but we’re still not happy with the short battery lives that have become so notorious with smartphones.

  4. Not to start a “this phone is better than that phone” flame war, but I’ve gone 38 hours between charging on my moto x. I’m unrooted so everything is pretty much how it comes out the box. I do live in an area with good LTE coverage so I know that plays a part, but I do think there’s a lesson for all the manufacturers in it. They all need to spend more resources on optimizing their devices.

    The average consumer won’t take the time to root, load a custom ROM or framework. Instead, they just see an expensive “mobile” device that has to be tethered to a USB port or power outlet all day. With increased specs, lately, having such a small impact on the user experience, it’s just leaving people with a bad taste in their mouths.

    It’s something that seems so obvious to most of us, I can’t understand why we haven’t seen a shift from the manufacturers yet.

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