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Posted: May 17, 2012 10:56 p.m.

Tech trends: battery life and phones

I've mentioned in my earlier columns about cool apps and helpful tips for your smartphones, but that's all well and good so long as your phone powers on. With a dead battery, your iPhone just became a $200 paperweight.

Turn off extra services
Some of the most prominent tips I read about are those that advise you to disable or turn off some of the more fancy features on your smartphone. This can be nice at times, but I wouldn't recommend it for day-to-day use. Having all these cool features and services are what make a smartphone "smart." If you turn these features off, you might as well not have a smartphone. Nevertheless, I've been known to use some of the following tips from time to time when the need arises.

As you know, a smartphone like an iPhone cannot only make phone calls, but can browse the web, check email and do a whole host of things based around connecting to the Internet. The two ways that smartphones do this by Wi-Fi, such as the wireless network in your house or a coffee shop, and through cellular data networks like 3G and 4G networks on AT&T and Verizon.

Having these services enabled on the phone, even if you're not using them, can help drain your battery. For example, if you know you're not going to be around a Wi-Fi network to use, then disabling Wi-Fi can help extend the battery life. Disabling cellular data can extend it even more, but then your smartphone is really limited in its functionality if it can't connect to the Internet at all.

Overall, the only time I personally will turn off Wi-Fi or cellular data services is when I'm traveling. In those situations, I use a feature known as "Airplane Mode," which powers off all the communication devices inside the phone. Not only is Wi-Fi and cellular data disabled, so is Bluetooth and the GPS. You can really extend the battery life of your smartphone while in Airplane Mode simply because the devices doesn't have to power up all these extra devices inside the phone.

The downside to Airplane Mode? Your iPhone, for instance, is now essentially an iPod. You can still listen to music, watch videos or play games, but you can't use it for communication whatsoever.

Dim your screen
One of the more power-hungry components to smartphone is the screen. I mean, look at it, these screens are huge, and it takes some oomph to power all those pixels. Leaving your phone's screen at the maximum brightness level is a sure-fire way to drain your battery quickly, especially if the screen stays on for a long time when watching videos or playing games.

There's a nice feature on many smartphones out there called auto-brightness. It uses a hidden sensor on the front of the phone to detect how bright your surroundings are and adjusts your screen's brightness accordingly. This can help save battery life without you actually having to do anything.

Pay for apps
OK, we've all done it, but stop downloading all those ad-supported free or "lite" versions of apps. Personally, I find the ad-supported apps to look terrible, and now there is data that displaying all the ads can significantly effect your smartphone's battery life.

In a Purdue University study, researchers found that 65-75 percent of the energy used by free apps is set aside for user tracking, downloading ads and uploading user information for advertising purposes.

For example, the popular game Angry Birds has both a paid, ad-free version and a free, ad-suppported version. Researchers found that in the free, ad-supported Android version of the game only 18 percent of the energy used was for running the game. The rest was spent on downloading and displaying advertisements.

Lesson here: when given the choice between the free version or the $0.99 version of an app, just buy the one without ads.

Best battery tip for the day-to-day scenario?
Overall, these tips are nice in a pinch to help squeeze some extra life out of that battery. However, on a day-to-day basis, going to the extreme by disabling this feature and that feature or turning the screen brightness down to "barely-readable" is not really necessary. Not only do I find it to be a hassle to keep opening the settings and changing things all day long, but you also end up not being able to enjoy all those nice, fancy smartphone amenities.

Here's what I do: keep your battery charger next to your bed. Plug in the phone at the end of day and charge it overnight. Most likely your smartphone will have enough juice to get you through the day.

Don't have a smartphone and hate charging batteries?
You're in luck. If you're like my father, who doesn't have a smartphone and generally finds a cellphone more of an annoyance that anything else yet still carries one around, I may have discovered an awesome little phone for you.

It's called the SpareOne. It's an extremely simple cellphone that basically just makes phone calls.

The phone runs on a single AA battery and lasts 15 years!

It's mainly designed to be used as an emergency cellphone that can sit idle on the shelf, in the glove box or in an emergency kit.

It's also cheap. There's no contract, and it's just $70 for the phone. Then, buy a prepaid SIM card from the provider of your choice.

William Brawley is the Electronic Media Producer for The Covington News. He is an Apple fanatic and camera geek. If you have any tech issues or other questions email him at wbrawley@covnews.com.

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