iPhone battery woes; smartphone battery apps; retire a smartphone

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. Are recent reports of iPhone battery problems serious or much ado about nothing?

A. The truth lies somewhere in between. When it comes to the battery strength, your smartphone “lies” to you all the time. At first glance the battery-level icon seems to work like a gas tank.

The first gallon of gas in the tank is as powerful as the last. The dashboard gauge shows a good estimate of how much gas remains. This simple metaphor works reasonably well when the battery is young.

But as a lithium-ion battery ages, the little white lies told by the battery icon become Pinocchio-sized tall tales. For complex reasons, batteries are nothing like fuel tanks. Batteries behave more like animals. They need sleep to recharge, extreme temperatures sap their energy, and sometimes they bite you unexpectedly. As they age, several factors weigh on a battery’s ability to make it through the day.

No simple gauge can communicate all that in a glance. So phones use different methods to make a guess as to how much power remains. The older the phone, the less accurate the guess. These “lies” are not evil-minded, they are the natural result of battery chemistry. Given the number of factors involved, the whole approach works reasonably well. Right up until it breaks down.

Recently the iPhone battery has been the center of attention in news headlines. Most of the stories I have read miss the point.

Here are the facts you need to know: as any phone ages, its performance slowly declines. This decline is noticeable in some cases, but not always. In my experience phones have a solid two- to three-year life span before there is a noticeable performance degradation. My family has two iPhones that have been in daily use for over four years and the batteries still work fine.

Apple has announced they will release an update that provides a clearer picture of the battery’s overall health. They have also begun to discount battery replacement fees on some models. Once the update is available, you should be able to make an informed choice if a replacement is right for you.

If your phone is frustratingly slow, seek help to fix it. There are many reasons why phones slow down, and most have remedies. They do not have to be a daily source of frustration.

Q. Are there any apps that provide more info about my smartphone battery?

A. Measuring battery health is a complex and imperfect science. A good site to explain some of the nuances you will need to know is Battery University. I have added the link in the Wander the Web section below.

A search on any app store will reveal countless battery apps, but it’s hard to tell which ones provide the info you need. The best apps keep watch over a number of charge cycles and aggregate the data. Here are two excellent choices:

On Android, look for an app called AccuBattery, at accubatteryapp.com.

On iOS, the best option is a Macintosh app called Coconut Battery. The app tests iOS devices and Mac laptop batteries. To test a phone, run the app while the phone is plugged in to your computer. More info can be found for it at coconut-flavour.com.

Both of these apps are helpful, but I expect given recent criticism manufacturers will be beefing up built-in battery health reports very soon.

Q. How should I prepare my smartphone before I give it away to someone else?

A. The most important step applies every day, not just days when you plan to give your phone away. Back everything up. With the current state of cloud services, backup has never been easier. Learn how it works on your specific device, and turn it on. Then before you give the phone away, double check to make sure it has backed up all your pictures and favorite apps and so on.

Step two is to erase your personal data. Again the specifics depend on the device, but the most basic way to accomplish this is to perform a so-called “factory reset.”

On most Android phones, go to Settings and choose Personal -> Backup and Reset. From here you can backup, reset, and erase everything.

On iPhones, go to Settings and tap on your name, then choose iCloud -> iCloud Backup -> Back Up Now. Once finished return to the Settings app, choose General -> Reset -> Erase All Content and Settings.

The final step is to remove the SIM card, if it is removable.

Wander the Web

Battery University This site will teach you everything you ever needed to know about how to get the most from rechargeable batteries, and when to replace them. Although any accurate discussion of batteries quickly fills up with technical jargon, Battery University does a great job of making the topic accessible. http://www.batteryuniversity.com

How Electricity Works The fact we depend on electricity everywhere in our daily lives is obvious. Far less obvious is how this invisible stuff performs its magic. This link points to an explanation that reveals the science behind the magic. http://www.howstuffworks.com/electricity.htm

iPhone Battery and Performance The latest technical details from Apple on their phone batteries. It explains how performance degrades as batteries age over time, and specifically which functions are affected. http://www.support.apple.com/en-us/HT208387

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at techtalk@bobdel.com.

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A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at techtalk@bobdel.com