Tech Mysteries: Why Can’t My Smartphone Keep a Charge?

Using your smartphone heavily for either voice or data functions will obviously drain the battery, and over time batteries can gradually deteriorate, but why do new smartphones sometimes lose their charge even when they aren’t being actively used? The answer, usually, is that some quiet but resource-intensive function is running in the background even when the phone is buried in your pocket.

The most common process is retrieving email. If you have “push” email enabled, your smartphone will periodically check the mail server for new messages. While this generally won’t put a huge dent in your phone’s battery, a particularly slow mail server can force your smartphone to spend more time actively attempting to pull messages down to the device. If you encounter that problem, or if you simply want to prolong battery life, you can switch to “pull” mode so that your phone only checks email when you specifically tell it to do so.

The more common battery-drain culprit is the GPS, or “location services.” Numerous apps rely on GPS — shopping apps that detect when you enter a store, task apps that fire off reminders when you enter certain locations, social networking apps that allow friends and family to locate and message you. To function properly, these apps need to frequently, if not constantly, activate your phone’s GPS. Each activation eats away at your battery.

How do you manage location services? On most devices, you should be able to find a list of apps that have permission to access location data in the device’s settings. In some cases, you’ll even see an indication mark that tells you how recently an app has accessed the GPS. Consider deleting apps that regularly access location data if they aren’t useful enough to justify the battery drain. Also, try to keep your apps updated; changes in device software or bugs in an app can make GPS access skyrocket and battery life plummet until the appropriate fix is applied.

A version of this article originally appeared in YourABA, a free monthly eNewsletter for ABA members.

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