Considering that our reliance on technology is even greater during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s no surprise that the batteries on our laptops, smartphones and tablets might conk out before we do.
But here’s how to squeeze more life from your battery and enjoy more time with your tech. These tips also can help put off the time when your battery stops holding any charge at all.
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1. Dim the screen
Turn down the brightness of any screen you’re on to at least half to help preserve battery life. This can usually be found in the Options or Settings area.
On an Android device, swipe down twice from the top of your screen. You’ll see a sun icon at the bottom, likely to the left of a thin bar. Manually lower the brightness of your phone or tablet by dragging the dot on the bar with your finger.
On an iPhone or iPad, swipe down from the top right corner of your display — or on iPhone 8 or earlier, swipe up from the bottom edge of your display — to access the Control Center, which has a thick brightness bar identified with a sun icon. To lower the brightness, use your finger to drag the line between light and dark down or to the left, depending on your phone’s orientation.
Alternatively, many devices have a sensor that can detect ambient light around you and adjust the screen accordingly, such as by brightening the display in a dark room.
Android phones already have adaptive brightness enabled and are supposed to learn your preferences as you use your phone. If you’ve been frustrated with changes in brightness that you didn’t expect, you can clear those preferences and make the phone learn all over again. To clear the preferences, tap or search for your Settings | Apps | Device Health Services | Storage | Clear cache. Then adjust the brightness manually. If your lighting changes and the screen is not what you want, change it again. The phone needs about a week to relearn your lighting preferences.
For an iPhone, enable it by going to Settings | Accessibility | Display & Text Size | Auto-Brightness. If the toggle switch is green, it’s already on.
2. Shorten the timeout feature
Laptops, phones and tablets turn off their screen after detecting inactivity. That way, they’re not using power to illuminate their display when you’re not looking at it.
But here’s how to change the default to turn off even faster.
• With an Android phone, find your options at Settings | Display | Screen timeout.
• On an iPhone, choose your favorite time in Settings | Display & Brightness | Auto-Lock.
• On a Mac, click the Apple logo | System Preferences | Energy Saver.
• On a Windows PC, type sleep in the search bar at the bottom of the screen to find several options for Power & sleep settings.
3. Use power-saver mode
While you might not want low-power mode on all the time, many new computers, smartphones and tablets offer it in some form, enabled in Settings, that often turns the screen to black and white, darkens the display, and turns off nonessential wireless features.
Devices running low on battery power will sometimes switch to a power-saving mode automatically. To instead handle it manually on your phone:
• On an Android phone, go to Settings | Device care | Battery | Power mode. You’ll notice the phone will project how much time you have left on your present charge in Battery and gives you the option to choose Adaptive power saving, based on your usage patterns, and Maximum Power Saving.
• On an iPhone, find the toggle switch under Settings | Battery | Low Power Mode.
4. Watch out for power-hungry apps
No matter what your device, its battery will drain faster if you’re using it for tasks that demand more of the system’s resources, such as watching video or playing multiplayer games. Less taxing tasks include typing notes or browsing the web.
Multitasking, such as listening to music while reading an ebook, also can contribute to faster battery drain. So close an app if you’ve finished using it.
5. Lock your phone
Always lock your smartphone when you aren’t using it. Many have a button on the right side. You’ll still be able to receive calls and texts, but you won’t accidentally turn on the phone when it’s in your pocket or purse because you hit a button or the screen. This also prevents those embarrassing pocket dials.
6. Update your operating system
On all your devices, remember to download and install all updates to the operating system whenever they are available. Manufacturers are always trying out new ways to improve power management and fix software bugs that could affect battery performance, too.
Check to see if your device is set to do this automatically. That’s best.
• On an Android phone, go to Settings | System updates | Download and install. By placing your finger on Download and install, your phone will check for any updates. The option of Last update on the same screen as Download and install tells you not only when your most recent update was installed but also what’s new. Most system updates and security upgrades already happen automatically.
• On an iPhone, go to Settings | General | Software Update | Automatic Updates to make sure that the toggles for Download iOS Updates and Install iOS Updates are turned on and green.
• On a Mac, click the Apple logo | System Preferences | Software Update and select Automatically keep my Mac up to date. Be aware that your Mac will check for updates to its system only when it’s plugged in.
• On a Windows PC, type updates in the search bar at the bottom of the screen and click on Check for updates. Most automatically update but allow you in Advanced options to pause updates until a date you choose if needed.
7. Reduce push notifications
If you can, turn off push services or reduce the frequency with which your smartphone notifies you of new information, such as incoming email, game updates, real-time sports scores or stock quotes. The updates require your phone to check automatically with a company’s computers over the internet. This could eat up battery life.
Instead, choose to pull down messages only when you need to. If you still want push mail, then at least disable push notifications individually for little-used apps in your smartphone’s Settings section:
• On Android phones: Settings | App notifications
• On iPhones: Settings | Notifications
Also, phone manufacturers sometimes allow you to turn off wireless features you don’t need at the moment to save on battery use. That includes Bluetooth, GPS, near-field communication (NFC) and Wi-Fi. But learn which of your favorite apps use these features.
For instance, the coronavirus Exposure Notifications System on iPhones and Android phones uses Bluetooth to check your proximity to someone who might later test positive for COVID-19. Apple, Google and Samsung mobile payments use NFC technology. Google Maps uses GPS. And you may want your phone to use your Wi-Fi at home if your wireless plan limits data use.
8. Store at room temperature
Keep your tech cool and dry. Extreme heat, cold or dampness can prematurely drain your battery and affect its overall longevity.
Going to the pool or beach? Cover your phone or tablet so it’s not in direct sunlight.
A laptop also can run hot under the hood, and that heat needs a way to escape. Never block the air vents on the back or sides of your portable PC or Mac. Those vents are easily blocked if the laptop is kept on a soft surface, such as a bed, blanket, pillow or sofa.
Always use your laptop on a hard, flat surface. Blocking those vents could be a fire hazard, too.
With tower-based desktop computers that may have their “brains” on the floor under your desk, keep the vents clear from dust and pet hair for the same reasons.
9. Carry a power bank
A backup battery pack, also called a power bank, is a great way to juice up a smartphone or tablet while on the go. That way, you won’t need to find an electric outlet to plug in a device in danger of shutting down.
Many of today’s laptops with USB-C ports also can charge up via one of these small battery bricks.
Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for more than 25 years. His podcast, Tech It Out, aims to break down geek speak into street speak.
How to get a quick charge and keep it
A few other considerations for getting the most out of your built-in batteries:
• You can reach 100 percent on your phone’s battery faster by setting its toggle switch to Airplane mode, which it turns off most wireless features. On an Android, it’s Settings | Connections | Airplane mode; on an iPhone, it’s Settings | Airplane Mode.
• Don’t charge your device while it’s still in its case. That may generate excess heat. If your phone feels warm to the touch when it’s plugged into a wall, remove the case first before charging.
• Use your original cellphone cable and power cube, which plugs into the wall, for optimum performance. Even if another plug fits, it might not be the best solution for that exact device.
• Take advantage of wireless charging if your smartphone supports it. That’s where you lay the phone on a flat disc or pad to power up. But keep in mind it will take longer to charge this way than by plugging it in — though Apple’s new magnetic MagSafe chargers are quite fast.
• If you’re going to power down a device for a long while, do it when the battery is about 50 percent charged. This could be when you go on an extended international trip or if you’re a snowbird who leaves a phone behind for several months. If a battery’s remaining percentage is near zero, Apple says it could fall into a deep discharge state, which renders it incapable of holding a charge once you reboot it. If it’s stored at 100 percent for an extended time, the battery may lose its ability to recharge to 100 percent, leading to shorter battery life. And remember: Keep the phone in a dry, cool environment.