Cell battery drained? How I fixed my phone battery problems.

by Thom Hiatt

#batterylife on #android #galaxys2 #sprint with #ICS

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twinbees-printing-858-877-3733I’d like to personally thank the Android team at Google, the good folks at Samsung, and the programmers at Sprint for allowing me the opportunity to download and install the latest Android operating system available for my phone (Ice Cream Sandwich) which was skinned by Samsung and then bloated by Sprint… It was ready for installation on my Galaxy S2, which has been a poster child for top-of-the-line phones until very recently (Galaxy SIII / iPhone5).

Almost immediately after installing ICS, the phone’s battery life has been dismal, horrible, and terrible, all at the same time.

But it’s my fault. I should have known better. I should have read all of the blogs, articles, and reviews, long before allowing the installation. It’s my fault for not being an informed consumer, and for dangerously assuming that my top-of-the-line phone with the latest / greatest OS would be an improvement in performance and efficiency from the previous software.

Thankfully, I’ve turned the corner today, after a particularly time-consuming experience… and I think I have solved the problem; a problem that the blogs and forums have discussed as early as March of this year, and a problem that Sprint retail store reps say “is in the process of being fixed.” Wwhhaatteevveerr.

Thom, did you try turning off Wi-Fi, 4G, Bluetooth, and GPS?

Yes, I did.

So how did you fix your cell phone battery life problem?

I started by uninstalling nearly every app that wasn’t absolutely necessary: iHeartRadio, Spotify, Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, NoteEverything, and so many more. I cleaned house. I threw out everything but my wife and kids. (Unfortunately my battery died and the phone shut off after uninstalling the first four apps. I so I had to plug in to continue the demolition.) When the dust settled, I was left with only my bank account app, Starbucks, and Google Play Music. Yes, I feel a little naked. But sometimes a fig leaf is all you really need.

Home > Menu > Settings > Applications > Downloaded. Select and app and then click “Uninstall.” Repeat.

After the low-hanging fruit was gone, I got geeky… digging into the buried apps, games, adware, and bloatware that Samsung and Sprint (like so many other manufacturers and carriers) shove into the phone before shipping to retail. LUCKILY the new OS actually allows removal of many bloatware items. Previous systems didn’t let me touch them. WARNING: Don’t uninstall something that you truly don’t know what the heck it is.

Home > Menu > Settings > Applications > All. Select and app and then click “Uninstall.” If they didn’t let me Uninstall, I selected Disable and or Force Stop. Repeat.

Next, app by app, setting by setting, I looked for every single little possible opportunity for a program (or the phone) to communicate with the mothership. There’s too much detail to go into here — for each app — but here are the basics:

Home > Open an App > Menu > Settings > then start looking at each and every line item to make an educated guess as to what it might be doing and if you might REALLY need that setting to do the thingamajig. In doubt? Don’t know what it does? Stand tall and say no… turn it off / un-check / whatever.

Dumping apps and digging through settings, I felt like a kitchen remodeler… ripping out old appliances, tile, drywall, filth, grime, etc. I knew something better must be around the corner. And if not, I could always reverse the settings and re-install my favorite apps. And regardless, it was a learning experience.

The bottom line is that apps are programs. And like any computer, the programs take up space and perform hidden functions while you are trying to get your work done. Even worse, they are each trying to be overly helpful to you, and each is competing to be “the most awesome app ever.” Your home computer has the same problems, but it’s plugged into the wall and you don’t notice the power issues. However, your cell has a battery with limited time.

During my dig, I found a helpful screen I’d like to share: Battery Status.

Home > Menu > Settings > Battery

This is a police lineup if you’ve every seen one. Every thief and bandit in the neighborhood is staring right at you, and they’re in order from Worst Willy to just plain Bad Bill: Screen, Android OS, Google+, Gmail, Cell Standby, etc. The list shows exactly which teenager in the house is eating all of your food! And it’s time to confront each and every one of them. I was particularly surprised to see Google+ ranked so high on my original list. G+ had default settings that were really eating away at my battery.

  • Screen — The giant screens on giant phones need a lot of power to look so good. But it might be time to pull back the reigns. Go to Home > Menu > Settings > Display > Brightness. Then check-mark Automatic. If you’re really feeling gutsy, uncheck Automatic and keep it super low. However, you might find the screen hard to see in brighter environments.
  • Android OS and System — Not much you can do here, folks, just move on.
  • Google+ — REALLY? My friend and arch rival to Facebook? Seriously it’s been you doing this to me? So I opened the G+ app > Settings > and un-checked all the auto-updates for Notifications, Messages, Hangouts, as well as the automatic photo syncing, etc.
  • Gmail — You really need to keep your sync on, but maybe you don’t need your pants to vibrate with each new message… and maybe you don’t need to sync the last three years of messages. Go to Gmail > Settings > click your email account > and be sure to turn off Vibrate, and only sync for a day or two.
  • Again, no time to go into all the detail, but you get the point. It’s probably true that 20% of your apps and settings are sucking up 80% of the power. Maybe it’s worse… like 10/90. Either way, time to fix the problem.

What’s the result?

I am happy to report that after going through all of this nonsense (yet somewhat educational and fun) I have much better battery performance, and a lot of extra time that’s not being wasted on apps. Sure, over time I will fondly miss an app or two. And if I just can’t take the separation and feelings of loss and abandonment, I will re-install the app… but not without triple checking the default settings to prevent overly-anxious updates, unnecessary vibration, whiz-bangs, etc.

Now, back to Google Android, Samsung and Sprint… (you know, a good article always refers back to the beginning to come full-circle)… I think you guys do a generally great job and have every customer’s best interest at heart. Truly I believe that, mostly.

I know I know — Google, you got so excited about releasing ICS. In fact, we pressure you for it! And Samsung you just had to change it up a bit to make it look all your own and install what you thought must be the perfect default settings for “performance.” And Sprint, well, you just felt like the ignored third wheel and had to get some sloppy leftover attention, so you felt it necessary to put your brandy-pants lame-ware on it. And as a result, we’re swimming upstream with no power while the three of you point fingers and spend six months “fixing it” even though, eventually, you just give up and convince us to buy a the latest new phone that has the most recent OS.

UPDATE: 9/4/2012 — Back to the drawing board! Today after a 100% charge, zero use, no screen time, no wi-fi, plus a 3 hour wait, the battery sits at 50%. Ugh. Really? And clearly, the OS is very busy at work having caused 77% of all battery drain.

UPDATE: 9/5/2012 — So… on occasion the phone has been shutting itself off without warning. The last time was in the middle of some simple news browsing on the web. So I decided to reset the phone to factory default. This is something we should all do once or twice a year (just to start fresh). My last reset was six months ago. Keep in mind that before you reset your phone, you should back up your:

  • Photos & Videos (Find the files in your Files app, select folders to move, then Menu > Move > select External SD)
  • Sound Recordings (Find the files in your Files app, select folders to move, then Menu > Move > select External SD
  • Text Messages (Use a free app called SMS Backup & Restore)

Then remove any external SD cards. Take note of how you like to arrange your apps on the home screens. Then reset.

We’ll see what happens, and I will keep you posted.

FEEDBACK: One of our readers, Jerry, sent in a photo of his battery usage. It’s from an older Motorola running 2.X. After an hour of battery use, he has nearly a full charge, and the Android System accounts for only 26% of energy burn, vs. 77% on my Samsung Galaxy S2 running ICS. Sure, it looks like his Cell Standby, Bluetooth and Phone Idle are higher than the GS2, but realize that his total energy burn is almost nothing. So a higher percentage of nearly nothing equals nearly nothing. Make sense? UPDATE: He called to rub in the fact that at 2:30 p.m. he’s still cruising around town with plenty of juice!

UPDATE: 9/5 — The Samsung website shows a D710FH13 software “fix” release that went out on 8/23, and I’ve confirmed that I have already received this update. In fact, it seems perhaps that this is what caused the problems in the first place. After two weeks since the release, I can only hope Samsung is looking at further improvements.

UPDATE: 9/6 — Last night I charged to 100%, then shut off wi-fi and sync. (Sync is the gmail / calendar / contacts system frequently checking for updates.) I set it down and left it alone all night, off the charger. This morning after 7.5 hours I had 89% battery remaining. I checked email real quick and then set it back down. 90 minutes later it was 87%. The sad truth is that in order to get this “good” battery life, the smart phone is not so smart anymore. I may as well buy a Jitterbug.

FEEDBACK: Jerry is rubbing it in again. His phone has been off the charger for over a day now, and even endured a full day’s worth of calls. The battery looks like it’s ready to finish off the week and maybe take on part of the weekend!

BIG UPDATE: 9/6 — Out of frustration for having what I equate to a Jitterbug phone, I called the executive offices (Angela) who sent me to Top Level Tech Support (Victoria) who sent me to a retail store. The store’s associate (Rochella) and repair tech (Ben) found my battery to be damaged (slightly bulging out) and they replaced it for free (under warranty). Ben noted that the ICS 4.0.4 original update was actually causing a “short” in the battery, and that is what has been causing problems for so many consumers. He said the FH13 emergency update was supposed to fix the battery problem. And maybe it did. Unfortunately, I think my phone’s battery was damaged by the first update, and before the FH13 update could have fixed any problems.

Long story short, if you have the Sprint Galaxy S2 Epic Touch 4G and you are having battery problems, remove the battery and look to see if it’s slightly rounded on the side. That’s overheating damage, caused by things like a short in the system. Take it the store and get your battery checked. It’s worth noting that the Sprint staff members from Angela > Victoria > Rochella > Ben were all very pleasant to work with, and they’re part of why the company has such high Customer Service ratings.

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