We have all been there. You’re out and about and all of the sudden you notice your phone’s battery is showing signs of imminent demise. It can be inconvenient and frustrating. Not only that, but it gets worse over time: as your phone ages from month-to-month, it will gradually lose its original capacity to hold a full charge. Luckily, there’s an explanation. And a word of advice for maintaining that capacity—or at least slowing its decline down a bit.
But first, why are we still dealing with the issue of battery life? Every other aspect of phone technology seems to have improved improved leaps and bounds in recent years. So what’s up with their power source? Well, the truth is phone batteries are, in fact, more capacious and efficient than ever. However, thanks to all that new processing power and those battery-hungry apps, phone batteries also have more duties to do than ever before, and in more compact sizes than ever. The result is that there has been little net improvement in how long cellphones last during regular use, despite improving their overall performance in absolute terms.
One of the more widespread misconceptions about smartphone batteries is that they still function like the nickel-based batteries of old. You probably remember the “rules” if you’re over 25: make sure your battery is 100% dead before charging and try to charge up to 100% without interruption. The problem was that nickel batteries had capacity “memories,” so charging them up when they had some juice left would, over time, begin to decrease the overall capacity by roughly the amount that was left when charging. And the advice still spreads today.
The thing is, modern smartphones universally made the switch to lithium ion batteries some time ago. And, somewhat ironically, the “rules” for these new batteries are just the opposite of those for the nickel-based ones! You should ideally never let them go below 15% capacity. This is why when your phone goes below a certain threshold the battery symbol begins to flash and show red. It’s not just a warning to you, it’s a prompt from the engineers to plug it in and help conserve its full capacity potential.
The reality is, all lithium ion batteries will drop in capacity with every single charge/discharge cycle. It’s generally estimated that your average phone battery will get somewhere between 250-500 charge cycles before its capacity goes from slow and uniform degradation, to sharp and dramatic loss of capacity. But, as we’ve learned, keeping them above the “low battery” threshold will certainly help to extend that full-capacity for as long as possible. So bring your chargers with you and be merry.