Bad battery life? Read this complete guide

Every year or so, a flurry of articles come out with data showing that bad battery life is the #1 concern for smartphone owners. Looking through Orchard’s customer support data, we’re not surprised— about 1/4 of the questions we get from prospective buyers mention battery life as a concern when buying a used iPhone. These worries haven’t gone unheard by phone manufacturers, who have long been investing in ways to increase battery capacity or make charging more effortless.

The big problem is that battery technology isn’t improving at the same rate as the rest of smartphone technology.

The ratio of energy stored to battery size is only improving about 10 per cent a year. Compared to all the other new battery-hungry features that roll out with each iPhone release, the latest battery improvements only go as far as to keep your battery life at the status quo.

Beware of Battery Mythologies

An iPhone can put the world at our fingertips, yet can also underperform in cold weather or shut down randomly when the battery indicator still shows 20% left. Like with most issues people don’t fully understand, a whole batch of folk remedies and solutions have popped up for bad battery life. A quick Google search will uncover millions of articles that claim to provide all the answers to fixing your battery woes for good.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever worked at Apple’s Genius Bar will tell you, a short battery life is one of the most difficult issues to solve. Definitely not something that an unpaid intern can fix with a 750 word blog post. And that’s where this guide comes in.

This is the definitive guide to your iPhone’s battery, including what affects it, what doesn’t, what can improve it, and what can make it worse.

Use it to calibrate your expectations for how your battery should actually perform over time and help you diagnose and solve any problems that might really be there. 

What we’ve written here is a result of hundreds of hours of research, in-house testing, and countless quality meetings. As I already mentioned, battery life is a huge concern for our customers, which makes it a huge concern for us. If you’re already at all familiar with Orchard’s service, you’ll know that each iPhone we sell has been subjected to a rigorous testing process that includes a range of checks for battery health. Rest assured, we’ve done our homework.

So, without further ado, here is Orchard’s guide to the Achilles heel of any smartphone: its battery.

Bad battery life? Start with the usual suspects

Before rushing to any conclusions about the state of your battery health, first consider whether you’re using any apps or features that are known to have a big impact on your battery. While this might seem obvious to some, a lot of people don’t consider themselves to be the type of “power users” that should expect shorter times between charges. The thing is— some of the most run of the mill activities can run a huge toll on your battery’s charge.

Streaming video

Streaming video is only a relaxing, passive activity for you; for your phone, it takes a huge amount of resources. For starters, your phone’s processor will need to decode and play the video and audio for whatever you’re watching. Plus, watching a video on your phone requires your screen to be on the entire time, which is a huge battery drain. On top of that, your phone needs to load the video using cellular data or over Wi-Fi. FYI, streaming video over Wi-Fi is a bit less taxing than using LTE or 3G data. You’ll notice a longer battery life with Wi-Fi over cellular data because you’re probably considerably closer to your Wi-Fi router than you are to your cellular tower. The longer the distance, the more your phone has to work to maintain a reliable connection.

Navigation

Similar to streaming video, using your phone for directions can eat up a lot of battery life because of the screen time required and the amount of data being carried over Wi-Fi or cellular connections. Navigation also includes the use of your phone’s GPS systems, which work by detecting the position and signals from a series of satellites. When you’re actively using your phone’s GPS, this system will be refreshing at a higher pace than normal.

Micromanaging your OS

We’ll get into this in a bit more detail below, but it’s worth putting here if only for emphasis. You know what is really hard on your battery life? You constantly adjusting screen brightness, checking your background app usage, force-closing apps, and otherwise checking how much your battery has drained in the past 30 minutes. Undoubtedly, you are making it worse. Some of these compulsive activities can be worse than others, but all of them involve turning your phone and screen on. In general, you probably want to avoid using your phone’s energy if you’re looking to conserve it.

Setting yourself up for success

Now that we’ve covered some of the basic ground rules for big things to avoid if you’re looking to make your battery last, let’s get into some settings you can use to avoid things unnecessarily running your battery down.

Auto-brightness is your friend, a super bright screen is not

It takes a lot of energy to power that beautiful LED display, even more so if your screen’s brightness is turned all the way up. According to the New York Times, an iPhone 6s with screen brightness at a minimum will use 54% less battery power than the same phone with the brightness at max.

But, unless you only use your phone in a dark room, it isn’t viable to only use a phone with the brightness turned all the way down. This is where auto-brightness comes in. Auto-brightness detects the amount of ambient light in your environment and will adjust your screen’s brightness accordingly. A Geekbench stress test showed that an iPhone 6s with auto-brightness will only use about 16 per cent of a full battery over an hour— a nice compromise.

Turn on auto-brightness to fix bad battery life

Reign in Facebook as much as possible

Facebook is notorious for gobbling up your iPhone’s battery, so first ask whether you need the Facebook app at all. Why not just log in to Facebook on your mobile browser? If that’s a compromise you’re willing to make, you can save up to 15% of your iPhone’s battery life, according to testing done by a journalist at the Guardian.

If you do want Facebook’s dedicated app on your phone, there are settings you can use to limit the damage it can do to your battery life. Start by disabling its access to location services and background app refresh. While other apps might make use of these two features, the Facebook app relies on them heavily so that even when you’re not using the app, it’s using up your battery.  Disabling location services and background app refresh is such a huge win for your battery life that it can actually make your battery percentage increase about 5% on the spot.

Configure your push notifications

A push notification is basically any message that pops up on your phone from an installed app. They aren’t the result of any action you’ve taken in the app; instead, push notifications are triggered by the app’s developers when they want to bring something to your attention. For example, a push notification can notify you about the latest sports scores or even a flash sale.

Depending on how many apps you’ve downloaded that actually send you these notifications, they can really do a number on your battery life. Your first step should be just disabling all push notifications for apps that drive you nuts. Unless you actually do something useful with all those notifications, all they do is wake up your phone from sleep and light up your screen for 5-10 seconds. Depending on how many of these notifications you get in a day, this can really add up.

For apps that you get some use out of their notifications, disabling Push notifications all together might not make sense for you. Instead, look at the specific notification settings for that app because there is usually a way for you to leave only important notifications intact. For example, if you’re involved in a Slack channel that sends a few dozen irrelevant notifications to your screen, you can disable push notifications for all messages that don’t directly reference your name or a specific keyword you set.

Lastly, you should look at the push email notifications on your phone. With Push Email enabled, you’ll get an instant notification when you get a new email. Unless you often get very important emails, it probably makes sense for you to not use these instant notifications for your email and instead ask your phone to check every once in a while using Fetch. Go into your Settings -> Mail, Contacts, and Calendars -> Fetch New Data and switch fetching to every hour, thirty minutes, or fifteen minutes depending on how much time you can spare between checks.

Use an ad blocker

Do you hate ads popping up all over the websites you browse on your phone? Great, your battery does too. Your phone has to load the ad image or video and then display them while running browser scripts. And this uses energy.

The Wirecutter ran a test where they ran an automated session on an iPhone 6s’ Safari browser, cycling through a list of websites for 2 hours over Wi-Fi. Without an ad blocker, the test used about 18% of the phone’s battery. With an ad blocker installed, the same test used only 9%.

Enable Low Power Mode

If you don’t have iOS 9, you should get it. And once you do, you should enable Low Power Mode. Once your phone hits 20% remaining battery, it will suggest you turn on Low Power Mode directly from a pop-up. This automatically turns down your screen brightness, optimizes device performance, minimizes screen animations, stops background content from being loaded, and turns off features like AirDrop, iCloud sync, and Continuity. Low Power Mode doesn’t affect any of the core features of your phone but it does help you get the most out of that last 20% of juice. Once your battery reaches an 80% charge, Low Power Mode will turn off automatically.

Battery Blasphemy: What Not to Do

Don’t turn off Wi-Fi or Cellular data unless your signal is bad

An iPhone will always opt to connect to the internet over Wi-Fi instead of using a cellular network. As long as you’re in range of a decent Wi-Fi signal, your battery will last longer connecting to the internet over Wi-Fi than using cellular data because of the distance issue we mentioned above. Even if your phone is having trouble maintaining a reliable Wi-Fi connection, you should still leave Wi-Fi on. Only turn on Airplane mode, which turns off both Wi-Fi and data, if you’re out in the woods without either signal.

That being said, If you spend a lot of time in places where your cellular data signal is weak, you should definitely be turning it off during those times. To check, go to Settings -> Battery and see the stats under “No Cell Coverage and Low Signal”. This shows you when your phone is in a low-signal area or you’ve used your device in low-signal conditions, which has affected your battery life.

Don’t force quit apps unless they’re frozen or crashing

Whoever tells you should force quit an app to save your battery life is either wrong or a liar. A customer actually received an email from senior Vice-President at Apple, Craig Federighi, responding to the question of force-quitting multitasking apps. He asked, “Do you quit your iOs multitasking apps frequently and is this necessary for battery life?” To which Federighi replied, “No and No. :-)”

We now know that this is making your battery life worse if you shut down your apps on a regular basis because when you open up that same app again, your iPhone has to load everything back into memory. When you’re driving, you just put your break on at a long light instead of turning your car off— restarting everything takes up a lot of energy. Same thing with your iPhone apps.

Don’t keep your iPhone too hot (or too cold)

Cold causes your battery to temporarily lose its charge capacity, but it’ll bounce back once it warms up. What you really want to be careful of is prolonged exposure to heat. Anything above
95° F (35° C) can permanently damage battery capacity, reducing how long it can run on a given charge. Because of this, Apple suggests that you remove cases during charging, as certain styles may generate excess heat.

Use it or lose it:

If you didn’t use any apps, take any photos, or basically do anything with your phone, your battery would last forever. Still, we firmly believe that you shouldn’t have to trade off battery life with actually using your phone like normal. That being said, your phone probably has a lot of features that you don’t even use but still could be affecting your battery life. Read through our checklist of features that you should disable to save your battery. If you don’t use them, lose them.

  • Spotlight Search: A Google search for the contents of your phone, Spotlight will drain your battery by constantly updating its index of your phone’s contents. Settings -> General -> Spotlight -> Turn off all
  • Fitness Tracking: Used by the Health app to track the motion of your movement. If you don’t use the Health app, go to Settings -> Privacy -> Motion and Fitness -> Fitness Tracking -> toggle off.
  • Parallax Backgrounds: This year’s winner of the The iPhone Feature You’ll Miss the Least Award. When you move your phone from side to side or swipe around your home screen, your background will shift slightly in response. The idea is to make iOS seem dynamic and “alive”. This extra layer of flare uses resources like processing power and battery, so if you can live without it, turn it off by going to Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Reduce Motion -> On. While you’re at it, turn off Wallpaper Dynamics by going to Settings -> Wallpaper -> Choose pic and Choose still.

Do you just have a bad battery?

Probably not. If you should walk away with anything from this post, it’s that the more you ask from your phone and the more bells and whistles you use, the shorter your battery life will be. But that’s normal. What is also normal is that your battery will slowly get older and lose a bit of that holding power that it had before. The more you charge and discharge your battery, the more it will degrade over time.

There are a lot of complicated things that go on with your battery life, but there are only a few things that point to an actual hardware problem with the battery itself. These are the truly weird things, like your battery charge getting stuck at a certain percentage or your battery expanding to the point where your screen starts to lift; more often than not, our battery problems have to do with how we use the software on our phones.

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4 comments

  • Hugo Montoya 27 October, 2016   Reply →

    Why after a couple of years batteries tend to drain much faster than usual?

    • Bianca Torchia 15 June, 2017   Reply →

      Hi Hugo! The short answer is: batteries don’t last forever. After time, they can hold less and less of a full charge. The amount of charge a battery can hold directly impacts how long you can go between charges and how quickly the battery drains overall. Hope this helps!

  • Ali 15 June, 2017   Reply →

    My iphone 5s battery drains even when not being used. Why is this?

    • Bianca Torchia 15 June, 2017   Reply →

      Hi Ali! That’s usually an issue with your apps working in the background. Even when you’re not using the phone, your apps could be up to all kinds of stuff that makes your battery drain. We recommend looking at your battery usage stats by going to Settings > Battery and looking at which apps are using the most power.

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