I’m sure you’ve noticed that your phone battery isn’t quite as full of piss and vinegar as it used to be.
When you first got it, it would hold a charge all day long, and now you’d be lucky if it lasts till lunch… breakfast, even if you’ve got a few emails to send and a couple of YouTube videos to watch.
Of course, we can’t expect our batteries to stay on top form forever. The manufacturers themselves state that, after 2–3 years (300–500 cycles) of loyal service, we can expect to see about a 20% dip in performance.
But is it just me, or did your battery go south well before the 2-year mark?
It’s infuriating, I know, but before you write a strongly worded letter to the maker of your phone demanding answers, you should know that they’re probably not to blame. The villain we’re looking for here is, well… It’s us!
That’s right, folks, our charging habits have a seismic impact on the vitality of our phone batteries, and if we don’t learn the error of our ways, we’ll never truly optimize their lifespan.
Not to worry, though, because I’m going to teach you the tricks of the trade, right here, right now!
The key to minimizing battery degradation is – drumroll, please – frequent, short charging sessions.
In fact, if you really want to improve battery service life, you should be topping your phone up for every 10% of battery life consumed. Oh, and another thing, you should be trying to keep it as close to 50% charged as possible at all times.
Are these guidelines effective? Absolutely. Are these guidelines practical? Absolutely not, but you don’t have to follow them religiously to see the benefit.
I recommend using them as a reference point, then doing a spot of tinkering to make them more convenient.
If you’re wondering why lithium-ion batteries are such divas when it comes to charging schedules, it’s because, much like you and me, they get a little stressed in extreme situations, and, over time, this stress takes its toll. Their two main dislikes are
- Extensive depth of discharge. In other words, losing a lot of power before being recharged.
- Too much or too little power.
Busting Battery-Based Myths
I imagine that the guidelines we just discussed came as quite a surprise, as, for the longest time, the consensus was…
- You should wait for a battery to go completely flat before recharging, and…
- Repeated charging can actually hinder battery service life.
These two ideas are 100% incorrect, but there’s a reason why they became such popular knowledge: Once upon a time, they were in fact true.
Nickel-based batteries suffer from what’s known as the “memory effect”, which involves a battery “forgetting” its true capacity unless it’s discharged all the way to 1% and then recharged all the way back to 100%.
Batteries have since advanced a great deal, but our knowledge on the subject is still playing catch-up. Thus, we end up applying old rules to new tech, destroying it in the process — this is why we can’t have nice things!
Why Do Deep Discharges And Low Power Levels Damage Our Batteries?
As you use a lithium-ion battery, lithium becomes fused to the anode, forming a solid electrolyte interface, which is basically just a restrictive layer.
Over time, this layer expands, increasing the internal resistance of the battery, which, in turn, lowers capacity.
Deep discharge and extremely low power reserves don’t necessarily do anything that isn’t already happening during a battery cycle, but they speed up the formation of the solid electrolyte interface a great deal.
To make matters worse, the older your phone gets, the faster this already accelerated process becomes, unless, that is, we amend our charging habits.
At What Point Is Discharge Considered to be Deep?
There is no universally recognized point of power loss that is considered “deep”. All you need to know is that the longer the timeframe between charges, the greater the damage inflicted on your battery.
Unlike nickel-based batteries, lithium-ion cells require constant TLC to boost their lifespan, and a full 100–0% discharge can be ruinous.
If you can minimize discharge between charges, you’ll increase the cycle-life and capacity of your battery significantly.
When Is My Phone Battery Too Low?
The same principles apply to low batteries. The lower it gets, the greater the damage caused, and overcharging can be incredibly problematic too.
It may seem like a practical idea to plug our phones in before we hit the hay; they’re fully juiced come morning time, ready to help us face the day.
But the heat caused by such a long charging session ages the battery prematurely. To avert thermal damage, I use this auto-stop USB charging station that senses when my phone battery hits capacity, then automatically severs the power supply.
As mentioned earlier, 50% is the Goldilocks zone. At this point, our battery is neither bursting at the seams nor running on fumes, which means zero stress — it’s all very zen!
If we can keep our phones in or around this peaceful place, it will exponentially enhance battery life.
Is There Ever A Reason For A Full Discharge?
In most circumstances, full discharge should be avoided at all costs, unless, that is, you need to calibrate the battery. You’ll know if this is the case if…
- Your phone holds a certain battery percentage for a long time, then drops instantly to a much lower charge. For example, it might claim to have a 70% charge for a full 40 minutes, then, in the blink of an eye, drop to, say… 35%.
- Your phone dies on you even though it had plenty of juice left in the tank.
To recalibrate that misbehaving battery of yours, all you have to do is…
- Drain it completely flat or until your phone dies.
- Charge it to 100% (making sure your phone is turned off)
- Once 100% charged, unplug and turn on your phone.
- If your phone says it’s not at 100%, plug it back in until it is, unplug, and voilà; your battery will stop telling you fibs.
Why Do Our Phone Batteries Lie to Us Like That?
Attached to the lithium-ion battery in your smartphone is yet another, smaller electrochemical cell that takes power level readings and relays them to our phone.
The problem is that, unlike their big sibling, this little battery doesn’t degrade over time, which can lead to battery-to-phone miscommunications.
How Often Should I Be Recalibrating My Phone Battery?
It’s critical that you only ever trigger a recalibration when your phone is giving you incorrect information about the charge, or it’s been switched off for an extended period of time, as it puts a lot of stress on your battery.
Optimizing Your Phone Battery: Balancing Battery Longevity with Your Lifestyle
Okay, so, just to recap, your phone battery is happiest around the 50% zone, and it likes a top-up after just a 10% discharge, but we can’t devote our entire lives to maintaining that precious 50% charge every 20 minutes or so.
There must be a better way!
Well, what I do is take these principles, and widen the parameters a smidge to make them compatible with my lifestyle.
Instead of obsessing over that precise 50% sweet spot, think of it as more of a sweet zone covering, say… 20 to 80%.
Any time your phone gets near the 20% mark, plug it into an outlet and charge it up.
Once it hits 80%, unplug it. This is a much more realistic approach, and even though you won’t be fully optimizing your battery, you’re still saving it from the stress of 0 and 100% charges, which will increase its service life exponentially!
Bear in mind that this is just an example. You don’t have to follow the 20/80 rule. It can be the 40/70 rule, the 30/90 rule, the 25/65 rule… whatever works for you and your schedule.
The important thing is that you understand how lithium-ion batteries work and what can harm them.
Once you’re aware of the dangers, you can amend your charging habits to look after your phone in a way that doesn’t turn your daily routine on its head — hooray!