Rhodri Marsden: Smartphone users moan about battery life but don't choose mobiles with the longest

 

My current phone has been my trusty companion, faithful friend and indispensable conduit to the outside world for 23 months now. In four weeks, I'll be urgently embarking on the biennial horror of the upgrade process – not because I'm desperate to experience the thrill of developments such as fingerprint readers, virtual surround sound or support for communicating in Swahili, but because my relationship with my phone's battery has reached breaking point. We're barely speaking. It's not putting in anywhere near the effort that it used to, and despite regular admonishment, it refuses to mend its ways. Only today, I cursed its uselessness as it counted down from 100 per cent to 0 per cent at record-breaking speed, and I vowed to consign it to an unecological landfill grave as soon as possible.

Smartphone owners moan about battery life more than any other aspect of their devices, and yet when it comes to choosing a new model, battery performance seems to plummet down our list of priorities like a novelty song in a post-Christmas chart rundown. Manufacturers know it, but you can't really blame them for pandering to our whims.

The form and functionality of smartphones is improving in leaps and bounds – thinner devices, lighter devices, devices that quietly whirr away when we're not using them in order to impress us with all the things they've been doing when we finally look at the screen – but battery life is sacrificed as a result.

You can almost sense the designers thinking, "How little battery life can we get away with, here?" – and the answer is, in fact, not much. We seem to accept the fact that we'll need to lug around chargers, battery packs and batteries masquerading as phone cases in order to prolong the life of these super-slim devices with dazzling screens, while also moaning thunderously about it.

So, ultimately, we're complicit in this state of affairs. Motorola appears to have carved itself out a niche as a company that gives slightly more of a hoot about battery life; its Razr HD has outperformed all the other leading models in tests, but the reviews say "Great battery life, shame about the features" and consequently I know no one who owns one.

And yet, simultaneously, we yearn for a brighter tomorrow, one in which battery life might improve; we pounce upon articles that promise "15 Ways To Prolong Battery Life" (but fail to prolong it for more than five minutes), we devour stories about graphene super-capacitors or resistive RAM that will charge our phones in seconds, or keep them going for days or weeks on end.

Even as I write, the technology blogs are buzzing with news that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding work at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory that will "charge your smartphone using urine". When you follow the link, you read about a fantastic project that utilises waste in an ingenious way, but it currently appears to use a small vanload of gear (and urine) to charge an old Samsung phone.

But for a moment, the contempt we had for our phone's miserable endurance levels had crystallised into a glorious image where we were able to simply piss them back to life. Oh well. Better to ask a friend if they have a spare charger. It's less messy, and it works.

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