Smartphones

Android device power management sucks

Donovan Colbert believes that the ability to kill apps which prevent devices from going into deep sleep needs to be an official part of the Google Android build.

In a recent blog post about the (over)price of smartphones, Larry Dignan said, "I'm not going to spend $249 or more for a phone that has an operating system that will continue to run apps in the background no matter what (Android)...."

This is one of the dirtiest secrets that Android advocates, myself included, don't want to admit. We all know that the freedom of Android development is a big potential liability, making it more prone to malware and other malicious software. Android reviews also suggest that devices seems to struggle with lagging, that they aren't as "smooth" as iOS. And while most Android pundits are willing to admit these faults, they generally don't think they're that big of an issue, especially considering the benefits and liberties you gain from choosing Android OS over the competition.

I've even been a staunch defender of Honeycomb. I'm pretty fond of it. I think it's robust, rich, and far more powerful and flexible than iOS -- but it got a bad rap early on because of the half-baked release of the Motorola Xoom. For whatever reason, the public is very unforgiving.

I'm writing this post on my ASUS Transformer (TF101) in bed, which is something I couldn't imagine attempting on my iPad or Lenovo S10 netbook. The iPad isn't good for this type of content creation, and the spinning fan dissipating the heat of my down comforter on the S10 Atom processor would be impractical. I'd need to have the device propped on something smooth, like a tray, and well ventilated. A Honeycomb tablet bridges the gap between the content creating capabilities of a netbook and a lightweight, power-sipping, and low heat-generating device.

But I've just spent an entire paragraph talking about what is right with Android devices, while still avoiding confronting the truth about the thing that's most persistently wrong. The problem has always been, and remains, that Android device power management sucks. There's really no other way to describe it.

In a world defined by how the iPad handles power management, Android devices have failed to provide meaningful power management for multiple generations of the Android OS. It seems like the manufacturers and Google are both to blame for this. ASUS has a well-documented hardware problem with excessive battery drain. I had to send my TF101 keyboard dock back to ASUS for repair for this issue. Once repaired, the battery life (on standby) was instantly much better -- at least, temporarily. Every once in a while,  my TF101 will still start sucking through the battery life on my tablet like Lindsey Lohan celebrating release from rehab.

I'm pretty sure I know what the problem is. I've seen the same thing with my Droid 1 and 2. Some app is busy in the background and just refuses to go to sleep or to allow the machine to sleep. Generally speaking, Android users know the drill to address this issue. You start by disabling everything when you put your device to sleep. You manually shut down all radios, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. Then you start looking at task-killers and forcing apps that seem too active to close.

Frequently, Android users go on a hunt through the Android Market, installing things like App Killers/Task Killers, battery widgets, "CPU Spy" and "Where's My Droid Power" to try and narrow down the list of culprits. These apps generally indicate one thing  -- something is consuming battery life far too quickly -- but they also generally fail to pinpoint with any certainty what process, task, or app is the guilty party.

So, the next thing the Android user often does is start uninstalling apps that might be the culprit, starting with the apps that often need to be killed with a task manager so that the device will go to sleep when put into standby mode. It's also true that side-loaded apps can cause problems, because they're not "market available" for one reason or another.

Ultimately, it seems like the only people who don't run into problems with Android battery drain are almost invariably those who don't really load apps onto their devices. If you frequently experiment with new apps, you'll eventually stumble across one that simply doesn't play well. I'm not sure why it's such an unspoken secret, but it's something that Google must address.

iOS doesn't have this problem, because iOS is in charge, and Apple makes sure that apps behave before they go to market. We will never have that seamless of an experience with Android without giving up many of the freedoms that we so dearly love and that made us chose it over iOS in the first place. But we can certainly have an easily accessible mode that says, "Really - put this device to SLEEP and ignore any other app that tries to wake it." I suppose an exception can be made for calls and other push or pull notifications.

Admittedly, certain kinds of push or pull notification roles in iOS are notorious for depleting battery life and are frequently disabled as well. It just seems to me that you should be able to tell Android, at the OS level, to ignore any other activity -- short of an incoming call -- and have the device really do just that. Stop, freeze or pause all background tasks, and force the device into DEEP sleep with a single, one-button widget.

What Android needs is a gatekeeper that has carte blanche to break the ability of every third-party app to keep the device out of deep sleep, and it should be an official part of the Google Android build -- otherwise, it won't be able to truly compete with Apple's amazing standby times with iOS. This is a significant part of what currently dampens enthusiasm for Android devices. I think it's definitely one of the things consumers are subconsciously aware of that make them draw a distinction between the "polished" environment of iOS devices and the "unfinished" environment of Android.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

12 comments
dcolbert
dcolbert

I've seen several tweets, and see several responses above that indicate that not every Android user agrees with my assessment of Android Battery Consumption. What are YOUR experiences with your Android device?

omesie
omesie

I think what Google need to do is set up a centre (similar to Windows hardware quality drivers) so that they can mark all apps that pass the test as safe. Then maybe have a Green star next to it in the marketplace to say it has been Google tested. That way, it doesn't limit the applications that are in the market but it also gives users a better idea of what is safe to use and what to use at their own risk. Developers can then submit their apps to be google approved. Yes, it means a bit more work (and maybe a new department) at Google but it'd be worth it in the end.

kumaran.pec
kumaran.pec

I have a Nexus S and I love it so far. I would only expect the experience to be better on a Tablet. I would not be complaining about poor battery life of my Laptop on Microsoft. This would be for the very reason that my Laptop is from a different vendor. While the same OS is running with a better battery life on my Friend's other vendor machine. There is also the other factor which is the application developer(s)/owner(s). They should put more perspective in getting their application to go to sleep when there is no need for it to run. For ex, I have an application which needs internet connectivity to function completely. The application developer should implement the functionality for the application to go to sleep/kill itself when there is no internet connectivity. At least that is my thought. I am making use of a Task Killer App and a Power Widget. The task killer automatically stops idle applications on the background. I am really not bothered at this stage to look into how it is doing that thing. The Power Widget makes it very easy to enable/disable any antenna without struggling to go into the settings to do the same. The Users should take some responsibility in managing the devices. I totally accept that Android needs improvement to be more user friendly and to do certain things in a better way. But this is the case of every other OS. I personally believe that Android is in a pretty good state now and the experience will only get better.

LedLincoln
LedLincoln

Huh. My Droid X battery lasts two days; one if I'm traveling. No app killing; I just let it do its thing.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I started by using the built in task killer that comes with Android 2.3.4 but I got a copy of Android Assistant after reading a bit about it. I can report with certainty that it shows a different list of processes than the built in task killer. After you go through and kill all of the extra apps in the built in task killer you can bring up the Android assistant and see that there are more still running. It can see 3 different types of processes: Apps, widgets and system proc. I was surprised to find that some 3rd party apps have a module that is registered as a "system processes" and continues to run in the background after the main app is killed. If you use the android assistant to kill all of the extra stuff you will certainly get back to the stock system state even if you collect a bunch of power using apps like me and Donovan do.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

This is okay with me but I must admit that the effort I put in to my device is more than most would care to. It would be nice if things took care of themselves more and hopefully this will get better with time. Currently I am surprised by the great level of detail I can get about my device (Android ver 2.3.4). Start with the stock battery management tool: Menu > Settings > Battery & data manager > Battery usage This tells you exactly what apps are using a measureable ammount of power. Currently mine reads: Phone idle: 42% Display:39% Cell standby: 9% So it looks like most of the drain is from the fact that it is a phone. I imagine you would get better standby on a tablet. The only time I have noticed my battery draining too quickly is when I am surfing the web and downloading. This is the nature of the device. I have many friends who are iPhone users and they have the same problem. Just yesterday I was looking at a webpage on my friends iPhone and I handed it back to him saying "Low battery warning" and he replied "Dude, it's an iPhone". He says that he is constantly charging it multiple times a day.

gtatransam
gtatransam

Spoken like a true apple zombie. I have a Xoom and the batteries last for days at a time or 10 hours of constant usage. I put in on the charger last night, first time in more than 60 hours.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I imagine eventually some one is going to step up to this task - if not Google, then Amazon seems like a strong candidate to differentiate based on oversight of the apps in their marketplace. Of course, the way Amazon is running their market, only vetted apps are going to make the cut - and honestly, having a fractured market isn't ideal on a platform that is already fractured as it is.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Have you paid any attention to battery management? Have you modified your behaviors or the phone settings to maximize battery life? Do you use it very frequently - and for what? Heavy app use, or just a phone? Lots of apps installed? The reason I went with my Droid 2 was because two other employees got the Droid X and were having HORRIBLE battery life - at release. Now, there may have been OTA updates since then that have improved this - but it doesn't mesh with my experience with Droid X user opinion.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Yeah. I don't trust it. Mine currently says: Screen 31%, Tablet Idle 30% Wifi 21%, Android OS 13% and TechRepublic 6%. Wheres My Droid Power states launcher at 4.68% as the top consumer, System UI second at 1.43%. There is no parity between the two. No agreement or baseline where I can relate the results reported by one to the results reported by the other - and to me, that is part of the problem. Tools that are difficult to understand and and extract data from aren't much use. Also... Phone Idle versus Tablet Idle... in either case, just being a device, sitting there in standby, represents 30-40% of your battery consumption? After the fix from ASUS, my ASUS can go a couple of days without a charge - but I'm limping to a charger by the end of the second day. My iPad... 4 or 5 days, maybe more - and at 20%, I knew I still had a LONG battery life ahead of me. At 20% on an Android device, if I'm going to be really using the device, it is inevitably going to die on me, it seems. I've heard that Push Notifications will drain an iPhone like nobody's business - but from what I've seen the iOS users around me don't have to deal with the hassles and constant micro-managing that Android users do in order to get reasonable run-time.

jarzola
jarzola

I don't put my iPad on a charger for 4 to 5 days. I use my tablet for 5 days straight and I plug it in at the end of the week when it is at about 10% of battery. And with the amazing stand by mode from iPad I feel confident that on Monday morning I will still have 8% of battery left. Android simply can't compete. And I am an advocate of the android I really wish that issue can be fixed because I really like the freedome of the Android. Until it is fixed I will not purchase another Android device.

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