Bonnie Cha

Improving Smartphone Battery Life With Apps

People will go to great lengths to charge their dying smartphones. But keeping your handset juiced on the go doesn’t have to mean running into the nearest cafe to find an outlet, or sitting cross-legged on an airport floor tethered to a wall socket.

Accessories like rechargeable battery cases and battery extenders can provide temporary relief from battery drain. There’s even a solution that doesn’t require carrying an extra gadget — the power management app.

This week, I checked out two such apps for Android: JuiceDefender by Latedroid, and 2X Battery by Sam Lu. It’s important to note that the Android operating system itself already has tools that can help you better manage battery life on your device. You can adjust the brightness of the screen, and manually turn off wireless radios, such as Wi-Fi and GPS, when not in use.

JuiceDefender and 2X Battery aim to make power management easier by automating steps. Both turn off your wireless connections when the screen is off, and then automatically resume operations once you’ve turned it back on. With the apps, I was able to get anywhere between four and six hours of extra battery life on the Nexus 4.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. With JuiceDefender, there was a slight delay reconnecting to my cellular and Wi-Fi connections. Meanwhile, not all of the features in 2X Battery worked.

Also, if you’re constantly using your smartphone, these apps aren’t going to help, since they need to be in “idle” mode to really work. Power users would be better off getting one of the battery-extending accessories; Juice Defender and 2X Battery are better suited for the average user.

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JuiceDefender is available in three different versions: Free, Plus ($1.99), and Ultimate ($4.99). I tested the Plus version, which I would recommend, since it gives you control over your apps (more on this later). Ultimate adds a slew of scheduling and customization options, which might be overkill.

The app offers five different profiles: Balanced, Aggressive, Extreme, Customize and Advanced. By default, the app is set to Balanced, which suspends wireless connections once the screen is off, but syncs data every 15 minutes, so you still get notifications about new email, Twitter interactions and so forth. You can also still receive incoming calls.

Aggressive and Extreme are all about maximizing your battery to the fullest, so the settings are more stringent. Meanwhile, Advanced lets you customize all the various settings.

It’s worth going through this app’s tutorial and reading the overview to familiarize yourself with all the different modes, since it’s a bit overwhelming.

At first I stuck with the Balanced profile, but soon changed it to Customized so I could have more control over my apps.

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I use apps like Pandora to stream music over my car stereo, but since all connections stop once the screen is off, Pandora would not advance to the next track once a song was over.

In Customized mode, you can bypass this by adding apps to an approved whitelist that allows them to keep working in the background even if the screen is off. Since adding numerous apps to this list would defeat the whole purpose of the JuiceDefender, I only included a couple, such as Pandora and Google Maps, while letting the others (Gmail, Facebook) sync intermittently.

You can change the time interval under the Customized settings tab, and also enable Night mode, which suspends the background syncing feature altogether during specified hours, such as midnight to 6 am. There are plenty of other customization options, as well.

The app worked as advertised in my testing. With moderate use, I usually need to charge the Nexus 4 in the evening. With JuiceDefender, I could go about a day and a half before needing to recharge.

Every 15 minutes, I heard an audio alert whenever I had new emails. But when turning the screen back on, I noticed that it took a few seconds to reconnect to T-Mobile’s network and my home Wi-Fi.

For example, several times I launched Facebook and got an error messaging saying, “No Internet connection.” Shortly thereafter it would be fine. This was slightly annoying, but I wouldn’t say it’s a deal-breaker.

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2X Battery works in much the same way as JuiceDefender. There are free and Pro versions; the latter costs $2.99. I tested the Pro version, which lets you have more than one app in the whitelist, adds “night” mode and removes ads.

The app keeps it pretty simple compared to Juice Defender. There are only two profiles to choose from: Day or Night.

In Day mode, all wireless connections are disabled once the screen turns off. But it can reconnect to the Internet to sync data at various time intervals — anywhere from five minutes to four hours. Night mode adds a couple more options, including the ability to switch to airplane mode.

Like before, I added Pandora and Google Maps to the whitelist. Whenever I used either app, 2X Battery knew not to disable the wireless connection when the screen is off.

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With moderate use, 2X Battery delivered similar performance to JuiceDefender. I went a day and a half before needing to recharge. The app was faster to reconnect to my wireless connections than JuiceDefender — almost instantaneously, in fact. But the background syncing didn’t always work.

Only twice during my testing did I receive an audio alert to new email, even though I knew I had messages waiting for me the other times.

As much as I want to conserve my battery, getting notified about new email is important to me, particularly for work, so this was a huge drawback. As such, I preferred using JuiceDefender over 2X Battery.

Smartphone batteries need a lot of improvement. But until that technology comes, these apps can help you squeeze a few more hours out of your smartphones, provided you understand the apps’ limitations.


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