Monday, June 22, 2009

Palm Pre Battery Life Tips


Before I start this post I just wanted to apologize for missing last week's post and explain how this post is going to work. Things got crazy at work for Monday and Tuesday last week and so it made more sense for me to catch up on sleep by Wednesday than throw together a quick post. So this week I have some original content for you (battery life tips), and then I'll round out the rest of the post with only the bigger highlights from the past couple of weeks, carefully pruned from my large pool of tagged articles.

Oh, by the way, I got Burn Notice: Season Two on Blu-ray last week and wanted to review it today but I haven't had time to watch it enough for a review. I'll definitely have something for you guys on it to headline next week's post though (especially since no one else seems to have one up).

Pre Battery Tips

The two most common questions I get about my Pre are if it can cut cheese and how the battery life is. The first question was fine the first few times but just like when people call me "Elton John", it gets old real fast. For the record, it's not as dangerously sharp as Gizmodo would have you believe - it's not really as hard to cut cheese as you'd think. Anyway, I'm really here to talk to the second question: battery life. This is definitely a legitimate concern, but I really hope that people aren't asking it because Steve Jobs and Tim Cook would have you believe that it's physically impossible for the iPhone's battery to sustain background processes (it's sad that I've talk to computer scientists who believe this). Can you imagine if tomorrow HP told people that they were only going to sell laptops that could do one thing at a time because that's the only way you can get good battery life? But I digress.

For me to give you any sort of a quantified battery rating wouldn't really make sense, as Gizmodo pointed out last week regarding some hokey claims that AMD made (for shame, AMD - you're better than that). Something I learned a long time ago is that benchmark tests suck because they're not really all that impartial and there's almost never a test to accurately reflect your daily activities because people use their computers for different reasons on a regular basis. After all, cell phones are just small computers. There are a couple of good ways to do this. One way, also pointed out by Gizmodo in that article, is to give the figure for the lowest possible usage to see the idle battery life and then give the figure for pushing the processor/computer to its limit and see what that gives you. Of course, you'd have to get everyone to agree on this or else people wouldn't understand and would perceive your machines as being worse. The other way is to just gauge battery life in certain specific applications with all others under control, which is much harder to do on a laptop than a mobile phone. This is best done by customers and some at the Palm forums have taken to doing this.

I don't really have a good way to give you a battery life rating on the Pre after 2 weeks of usage because I haven't been that meticulous. However, I've found it more than adequate compared to my old Treo, especially given the things that I can do with it that I couldn't before. I charge it every night but if I didn't I could easily get 2 days of usage out of it if I wasn't pushing it too hard with the select few applications that are absolutely unruly with the battery. On weekends, I tend to use it more than on weekdays (where I spend most of the day in front of a computer), but even then I can easily go a day without charging while I use it to help me find a store while chatting with a friend over Google Talk and fielding Bluetooth calls, on occasion. I don't use my phone for talking to people a whole lot though, to be fair. I imagine I could get a good 2-3 hours of talk time out of it, though, while still doing other stuff on the phone throughout the day without killing it. What I find interesting is that I've had a couple of days where my battery inexplicable seems to do terribly. I'm wondering if some of the early software on the Pre has memory leaks, or if a bad combination of applications is especially detrimental for no good reason to my battery life for the day.

What I have been doing, admittedly, is researching general cell phone battery tips and frequently checking the battery indicator during my usage juts to see what hurts it the most. I have some interesting results for you:

  • Charge it often. I've heard from some people that when you get the phone you should first run it down to less than 10% and then charge it without interruption to 100%. That's fine, but after that you should top off regularly. Some people like to hold off on charging their phones and other portable electronics until they're near empty, but they're thinking of Nickel Cadmium (NiCD) batteries, which have "memory" and work better if charged after full discharges but are rarely used nowadays because of environmental concerns. In fact, if you discharge a Lithium Ion (Li-on) battery, like the Pre one, past a certain point, it damages it. So try to avoid pushing it below 10-20%, I'd say.

  • Keep the GPS off. This is defaulted to "On" under "Location Services" on the last page of the launcher. Unless you plan on using it a lot during the day (and most people don't), keep it off. I've discovered that when I was actively using it with Google Maps in walking somewhere it wasn't that bad, but when your phone is idle it does try to keep a signal, and when you're in a building (as I mostly am) or in a tunnel this will really tank the battery. It's easy to get to this menu anyhow, so you might as well keep it off until you need it.

  • Turn on Wi-Fi when you have it and only when you have it. That would've been a perfect place to use "iff", but I don't think I have enough math nerds reading so I'll restrain myself. Anyway, the Pre's data usage is quite performant if you turn on Wi-Fi and have it readily available. Unlike most other phones, it's better on your battery to use Wi-Fi than EVDO (Sprint's data network protocol). However, if you don't have Wi-Fi then this is going to really eat away at your battery since it's going to regularly poll for network connectivity (although I'm not sure how often it will poll). I usually only keep it on at home or when I'm at the gym.

  • Turn off Bluetooth when you don't need it. It makes sense to have Bluetooth one when you're in the car or when you have your hands busy (like cooking) and want to be prepared for a call, but keeping it on all the time is just silly and, just like the previous two points, means that it's expensively listening for Bluetooth connections. I don't think using Bluetooth when you need it is especially bad on battery though as I'll often use it when tidying up my apartment and chatting, and it can find my headset in under 10 seconds once I turn it on.

  • Turn on airplane mode when you have poor coverage. If you're in a tunnel or underground, keeping your Pre on means that it's trying fairly often to get on Sprint's network since having a voice network is, you know, fairly critical to most people's usage of a phone. If your coverage is terrible somewhere though and you don't need your phone, you'll get big gains from turning on airplane mode (accessible from tapping the top right corner of the screen) in those situations. I know I do in the bus tunnel.

  • Turn off AIM/Google Talk when you don't need it. If you're on your computer or you're at the gym and can't really chat, do you honestly need to be available on IM? I've had mixed battery experiences with Google Talk (I've had long chats before without a serious battery hit), but I've heard bad things about the battery life on AIM (which they may have recently improved). Don't go out of your way to turn it off if you're on the go and honestly would be interested in chatting with someone, but it's worth considering when you don't need it.

  • Dial down your e-mail updates. If you go to the menu in the top left corner in the e-mail application you can easily get to your accounts' setting and set how often you check for updates on each account. Most people don't check e-mail once an hour anyway, not counting the annoying pop-ups that Outlook gives you if you don't disable them, so updating your e-mail automatically more than once an hour is going to just needlessly take away some of your battery life that much more often. Forcing it to check e-mail in a folder is easy anyway: just open that folder!

  • Close out cards you don't need. This probably goes without saying, but we're so used to laptops and desktops where you're plugged in and don't need to worry about this that it's easy to lose sight of. If you have a card open that you don't need, hit the bottom button and toss it. I actually have fun doing this so I do it pretty often. It's ok to persist a couple of cards for hours at a time, but just be aware that some applications will take that as a signal that you want them to update regularly (like Tweed).

  • Be on the lookout for applications that are really bad on battery life. I know that's kind of a generic tip, but if you notice an application is really harsh on your battery then don't use it so much. I've found that many of the core applications that came with the phone (contacts, messaging, e-mail, web, memos, tasks, clock, etc.) are very good on battery life. I know for a fact that Sprint Navigation is terrible though, and I imagine that Sprint TV is taxing, but I've had mixed experiences with Google Maps, pictures, Pandora, and YouTube.

  • Update your phone regularly. I usually go to the "Updates" application before I go to brush my teeth because I'm anxiously awaiting webOS updates, and the last one actually did have battery performance improvements (although I'm not sure where since the update just came out on Friday). Mobile applications often do try to improve their battery life though, and that application will try to update not only webOS but all your installed applications.

That's obviously not an exhaustive list of what you can do, but I just really wanted to highlight the fact that battery life on a phone is really all relative to what you need it for and how you use it. It's easy for someone to bash a phone's battery life simply because they don't do fairly basic things to hint to the phone as to what they need it for. A cell phone manufacturer honestly can't do a whole lot to help you if you don't help them help you. So just temper the things you good/bad things you hear about the Pre or any other smartphone's battery life with some cold hard reality.

Rubinstein Takes the Reins of Palm

I don't want to talk a whole lot more about the Pre, but there are a couple of stories that I did want to mention. Sprint broke its records of first day sales and first weekend sales for any cell phone they've ever sold with the Pre. When you think of the selection of phones on Sprint historically, this really isn't that hard to believe. The Instinct was their last exclusive phone and while it captured the imaginations of many consumers it did not captivate tech journalists like the Pre did. The lines were shorter than any of the prior iPhone releases, but it sold out in most places and Engadget documented some of the lines. There have been a small number of new applications released since the launch (including, thankfully, Evernote) with more promised in the near future, but still no release date for the SDK (I'm guessing late July or early August).

In the midst of all this, Jon Rubinstein, formerly the SVP over Apple's iPod division, was named CEO of Palm less than a week after the Pre's launch. The former CEO of Palm had been there for 16 years and is moving on to Elevation Partners, a major Palm investor. In my opinion, this is a huge deal. I believe that the CEO of a company is there to drive vision, first and foremost, and having someone who helped transform the way we listen to music in charge is going to be a very different perspective from someone who was largely focused on popularizing the PDA and then fitting it into a cell phone, which is now old news.

Ars Technica has brought up the really cool point that Palm has now finally edged itself into the smartphone market with its own dominion, of sorts. The iPhone rules over multimedia-centric cell phones (and digital e-commerce) while the Blackberry reigns supreme over enterprise-focused cell phones (if you don't believe me, poll your friends that work at large companies), so what niche can the Pre fit in? Easy: syncing together the disparate parts of your life. With synergy it acknowledges that you have contacts in different places and would like to bring them together automatically. With messaging it understands that you text people over SMS and via IM, so it brings that together. With the calendar it knows that you have calendars for personal matters and for work, so it brings those together, too (especially nice since you can subscribe to friends/family on Google Calendar and easily toggle them on/off on the Pre). Once Palm fixes its issues with Exchange ActiveSync, it can compete with Blackberry over the enterprise, and once it releases its SDK it can compete with Apple's app store. It definitely has a bright future if Rubinstein plays their cards right.

Apple Releases the iPhone 3GS

Last week I was going to go into detail about the Apple keynote at WWDC, but it's old news now and there's plenty of coverage on it by now. People seemed somewhat disappointed in the iPhone 3GS in that it was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but I don't think we were led to believe that it would be anything other than evolutionary. Being speedier is I think just what people want nowadays on their cell phones since applications on the go are less useful if they take forever to load, and the 3GS does that. You can see videos on that and get more detailed impressions from Gizmodo's review, which I liked better than the other reviews I read out there on the 3GS. I think touch-to-focus on the camera was a very smart addition as was video, and my brother (who got one for his wife) tells me that the voice control works really well. Voice commands aren't really a new idea, but it opens a huge door to applications on the iPhone. The hardware looks nice, too, by the way.

The catch is that AT&T sucks. I may not be Sprint's biggest fan, but I'm glad I'm on Sprint and not AT&T - it's super annoying that I can't send pictures to a lot of my friends since they're on AT&T, and even though the 3GS supports this, AT&T doesn't. This may be the beginning of the end of Apple's relationship of AT&T since they seemed to really make a point of this feature at the keynote but that AT&T wasn't one of the carriers supporting it, or tethering (which the 3GS also supports). To add fuel to the fire, existing AT&T customers already in a contract have to pay $200 more for an iPhone 3GS than new contracts (including existing customers not in a contract). The hatred is really palpable on the Internets. A lot of people have rightly said that this is glorified whining from a group of people that just happens to be fairly large - this isn't a new pricing concept for expensive smartphones, so why did it take so long for people to become so outraged by it? I agree with the general discontent regarding buying cell phones, but people should be acting out against all the carriers, not just AT&T. I will grant iPhone users one thing: they're totally getting ripped off on data charges. I'm pretty happy with my Everything Plan on Sprint. They may have terrible customer service, but at least they have reasonable plans for mid-weight to heavy-weight voice and data users.

There was one more big thing that came out of WWDC: a new MacBook Pro. There's now a 13-inch MacBook Pro at $1200 with the 15" and 17" models at $1700 and $2500, respectively, but the real selling point is that they boast up to 7 hours of battery life. They basically designed their lithium polymer battery to integrate more tightly with the system and optimize appropriately, which has given them the largest gain in battery life of any laptop in years.

The Small Stuff

Alright, I've spent over an hour longer on this post than I intended, so it's time to wrap things up! Here are a few other articles I found interesting enough that I couldn't bring myself to cut them out of tonight's post.

Joel Spolsky has a really fun read on Inc. that points out the big differences in culture between Microsoft and Google and raises questions on inefficiencies in large companies.

I've talked a lot about Net Neutrality, but what about reverse-neutrality? The American Cable Association is trying to protect themselves from content providers like that will only work on ISPs who pay them. Personally, I think that this only hurts the original intention of the Internet as being free and open. Why not charge users of the site rather than the ISPs?

Aaron Greenspan wrote a really long article for the Huffington Post about how he had to take Google to court to get the customer service answer on why his AdSense account was canceled, and I think it's worth reading it just for the last few paragraphs on taking to task companies with terrible customer service.

If you've ever had to toy with your BIOS then you're going to love this guide. If you don't know what the means then hopefully you'll never have to!

I love Wired's lists of ways to provoke geek arguments - it's just too much fun.

Being a gamer, I adored Tech Radar's look at the history of video game graphics. I feel like I've lived through some piece of history in experiencing all these waves of games first hand, and I feel like video games definitely drive a lot of innovation in technology that people don't realize (just like the adult film industry does with multimedia).

HTML 5 is still a ways out, but this is a good look at what we have to look forward to, including embedded video (natively) and application caches, which I think are the biggest wins.

RIAA won its first lawsuit, against poor Jammie Thomas, for an exorbitant $1.92 million. It's not the fact that she lost that's shocking, it's the unreasonable award to the RIAA. I really hope she continues to appeal.

Lastly, Microsoft put out a really stupid checklist of things they claimed Internet Explorer 8 had over other browsers, and plenty of people took it to task. I liked this one the best.

Have a great week everyone!

1 comment:

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