Software Development

Five battery tips for HTC ThunderBolt (and other Androids)

The HTC ThunderBolt may be breaking land speed records with its 4G LTE connection, but all that speed seriously drains the battery. Here are practical tips for squeezing out more battery life.

As I mentioned in my review of the HTC ThunderBolt, the ThunderBolt is a top-notch device that breaks through the speed barriers of the traditional smartphone. However, the ThunderBolt also has one big caveat: Battery life. This is a foible that many Android devices suffer from, particularly HTC devices. The HTC EVO and HTC Incredible are both excellent smartphones that struggle to get through an entire business day on a single charge.

For the ThunderBolt, the primary issue is when it's in 4G LTE mode. That's when it really screams -- in terms of speed -- but it's also when the battery can completely drain in as little as four hours with heavy use. In order to help ThunderBolt users get the most out of this otherwise useful device, I've put together some power tips for squeezing extra battery life out of the ThunderBolt. While these tips are aimed primarily at the ThunderBolt and reference HTC-specific widgets and settings, they can also be applied more generally to almost any Android device (and specifically other HTC devices), with just a few adjustments.

I should also note that when the ThunderBolt is not in 4G mode, its battery life is actually very respectable. Using the tips in this article, I was able to get through a full day of normal use with the HTC ThunderBolt on a combination of 3G and Wi-Fi and still had 70% of the battery left after 10 hours. On 4G, I was able to use these tips to stretch the ThunderBolt battery to almost eight hours.

1. Tweak the display

If you want to see what's draining most of your power, go to Home screen | Menu button | Settings | About phone | Battery | Battery use. You'll see a screen like the one below. In most cases (except for when you're on 4G), the display will be at the top of the list because the display is the primary power drain on nearly all smartphones.

There are several things you can do to reduce the display's hit on your battery. Go to Menu | Settings | Display and adjust the following settings:

  • Turn off auto-brightness: Uncheck the box for "Automatic brightness" and drop the slider down to about a third. The ThunderBolt screen is still bright and clear, even at this setting.
  • Decrease screen timeout: The default is 1 minute. Drop it down to 30 seconds.

2. Throttle sync settings

Once you get your display settings under control, another quick thing you can do that will immediately make a big impact on your battery life is to get your sync settings under control. When you install and use various apps and widgets, they often set themselves up to automatically sync without warning you or allowing you to set up the sync settings such as how often to update. As a result, most Android devices end up with a bunch of things running in the background updating themselves constantly, which drains battery life and quietly eats away at your mobile data allotment on 3G/4G.

To see which of your apps and widgets are doing stealth syncs in the background, go to Menu | Settings | Accounts & sync. I prefer to uncheck the "Auto-sync" box and simply disable background syncing altogether (especially when I'm trying to ring out every last drop of battery life). You can always compensate by using HTC's "Sync all" widget so that when you unlock your phone you can just tap the Sync all button and all of your data for all of your approved apps and widgets get synced (on 4G it will sync really fast anyway). If you want to take it a step further, in the Accounts & sync screen, uncheck the "Background data" box so that no apps are allowed to quietly transfer data in the background.

Alternatively, in the sync settings you can also grant just a few select apps the ability to sync and then set the frequency for syncing to a longer interval.

3. Manage your radios

Another way to have a quick impact on battery life is to shut down some of the radios. Nearly all modern smartphones are packed with multiple radio transmitters and each one draws power when they are turned on. Turn them off when you're not using them. HTC makes this easy on the ThunderBolt because it has a bunch of toggle widgets that you can tap to enable/disable the various radios/features (see screenshot below).

I always turn off Bluetooth and GPS, except when needed. If I know I'm going to be on the mobile network for an extended period of time then I turn off Wi-Fi so that the Wi-Fi radio isn't wasting power searching for connections. One of the things I did to save battery life when I was on the 4G LTE network was to use "Airplane mode" when I was in meetings or other long periods where I knew I wasn't going to be using the phone. This turns off all of the radios, including the cellular network.

4. Turn down the eye candy

One of the attractive things about the HTC Sense UI -- as well as the newer versions of Android and some of its third-party add-ons -- is that it has some great eye candy. The animated weather on HTC's default home screen clock, the live wallpapers that move in the background, and the eye-popping skins and alternative home screens all look great, but they can be an additional drain on the phone's resources.

I'd recommend using the simple and elegant "Slate" skin (below) on the HTC ThunderBolt. I'd also recommend avoiding the live wallpapers and selecting a static image. For battery savings, I'd also recommend turning off animations by going to Menu | Settings | Display | Animation and selecting "No animations."

5. Manage apps and widgets

We've already talked about how some apps and widgets can slowly siphon resources by syncing in the background. Many apps will also turn themselves on automatically (or remain in memory even after you close them). Of course, the widgets that you put on your various home screens are also running quietly at all times as well, so you'll need to be wise about which ones you use and keep an eye on them.

To monitor and manage your apps and widgets you'll need to download a task manager like the popular Advanced Task Killer. This lets you see what you've currently got running (and what is quietly turning itself on without your permission). You can do this periodically and manually kill all of your open apps to avoid letting power-hogs drain your battery. Advanced Task Killer even comes with a handy widget that you can place on your home screen. Just tap it once and it kills all your apps, and gives you a short message telling you how many apps were killed.

Even better, open Advanced Task Killer and go into Menu | Setting and set the "Auto Kill" option. I'd recommend setting the Auto Kill Level to "Safe" and setting the Auto Kill Frequency to "Every half hour." If you're really paranoid and want to keep stuff under wraps, you can set the Auto Kill so that it wipes everything out every time you turn off your screen. Keep in mind that some people argue that killing processes on Android has dubious value, but I find that it's a good way of keeping potential battery hogs under control, even if it knocks out some harmless stuff in the process.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

17 comments
sk238100
sk238100

Here is a nice site to learn about

info
info

It's actually got to the point with my HTC Desire that if I am out on business, I have to keep the phone plugged into the car charger whilst talking because, in my estimation, a 10 min call will diminish 10-15% of battery power. And if I'm browsing the internet? Gone in one hour. We've put a man on the moon over 40 years ago and cell phone batteries are still at this stage of development!

JenniferJJ
JenniferJJ

Don't forget about black backgrounds and themes on OLED based displays!! You can save a load battery power. There's Black Google Mobile (http://bGoog.com) to search the web and images in black on your phone.

aiellenon
aiellenon

A much better option, it monitors CPU usage and battery drain and you can get a historical graph. It also breaks this information down by app

jacobus57
jacobus57

...by accident with my Droid 2 surprised me. When I unplug it from the charger, the screen is very dimly lit. When I fist had the phone it would drain very quickly in the morning, until one dark day when I noticed this. Now I just click the screen on and off, and it made a huge difference.

tigertom
tigertom

I drive another hot Android, the Galaxy S, and instead of hog-tieing the phone to minimise energy use, I bought a few spare batteries. You can get two plus a charger for about $10 on eBay. I get through a normal day on a single charge, but if I'm flying long distance or making heavy use of the phone, it takes less than a minute to power down, swap the battery, and restart. And while you're doing that, you can ask all those smug iPhone users around you how long it takes them to swap a battery.

TBBrick
TBBrick

I messed around with similar battery saving hacks and apps to no avail. I gave up, went to Best Buy and got the extended battery. Life is good again.

wahupa
wahupa

I like the phone except for two things. The battery life is too short. I don't currently have 4G in my area and with 3G my battery lasted less than 12 hr although I basically did not use the internet and only had a couple of short phone calls. The battery went completely dead and after it charged a little, I had to reset things like Bluetooth that I would have expected to be in nonvolatile memory. Also, since you need to plug it in to do anything heavy, setting the phone up with the included stand puts the plug on the bottom which is awkward. Looks like HTC didn't have many design reviews or "common sense" reviews before going into production.

dkeefer
dkeefer

Jason, in tip 2 about sycning you steer us to "go to Menu | Settings | Accounts & sync". On my Moto Droid X the path is go to Menu | Settings | Accounts, and there is no setting for sync there. Would you or anyone else out there have that location for me? I would point out that the Droid X is currently using Android 2.2 with the 2.3 update pending, maybe I just need to wait for 2.3. In the meantime I control syncing with a sync widget, I manually turn sync on & off as needed. Of course I kick myself when I forget to sync often enough.

IT4Life
IT4Life

Found an app on the Market Place called Battery Doctor (free) - the software will recondition your battery by doing a slow charge. It has drastically improved my batt life in addition to the mods Jason recommeded.

jerrycline
jerrycline

After reading about the Thunderbolt, I am even more interested in the Bionic. When will we have detailed test reports? When is it expected to be available from Verizon?

nwallette
nwallette

Sorry man. I plug my iPhone 3GS in at night so it sleeps when I do. There have been many times I wondered "Why bother?" because I had used

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... how long it takes them to swap a battery." And they'll answer, "No time at all--because it doesn't need to be swapped." And I don't hog-tie my iPhone, either.

tigertom
tigertom

and have no difficulty getting through a normal day, like you. But if, instead of going to bed, they board an overnight 12 hour flight, then need to use the phone to do business the following day, they don't trust the battery life enough to enjoy music, review emails, play games etc. during the flight.

nwallette
nwallette

I see your point... I've flown hours and not used my laptop because I was afraid I would want that battery life later more than now. But generally, I don't worry about using my iPhone for entertainment. It can play movies for hours, music for a day, games for longer than I'm likely to stay entranced. I'm also not likely to spend more than an hour on the phone once I get where I'm going, so maybe that's just my use case. Now, I haven't found the need myself, but there are external battery packs for the iPhone. Throw one of those in your travel kit. If you need it, you have it. And you don't even have to power down to get a second wind. Problem solved. Also, who flies overnight playing with their iPhone, then goes to work all day? When do you sleep?? :-)

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