April 24, 2018

Phone battery not holding a charge? How to figure out if it’s time for a new one

By Team Ventev Topic: Tech Specs

If you’ve had a smartphone for more than a couple years, you might have noticed that the battery doesn’t last as long as it did when it was new. At first, you could get through the whole day, and happy hour as well, and you’d still have enough battery to request a ride.
Now? Not so much.

There’s a reason for that: batteries have limited lifespans. By that, we don’t mean your battery will reach zero and then you’ll just charge it up. Actually, we mean the opposite. One day, your battery will reach zero, and you won’t be able to charge at all.

Smartphone batteries degrade with every charge cycle. Every time one is emptied, it slowly loses its capacity to hold a charge. Device makers estimate that your battery has between 400 and 500 charge cycles. That means you should be able to fully drain and fill your battery between 400 and 500 times.

After that, your battery probably has just 80 percent of its original capacity. That doesn’t sound bad, but at that point, your battery’s capacity has already shrunk, and you may find yourself needing to plug in more often.

That doesn’t mean you can only charge 500 times, unless you’re going from 0 to 100 every time. You’re probably charging 50 percent here, 20 percent there, grabbing a 30 percent charge on your commute. When all those top-offs add up to 100, that’s one charge cycle. A single charge cycle can stretch over several days.

Most people hit 400 to 500 charge cycles on a new phone sometime after the two-year mark. The math is kind of fuzzy on this, because everyone uses their phone differently, but the calculation looks something like this:

Imagine you charge once per day, each time your phone is at 20 percent and you charge it to 100. At that rate, you’ll go through 4 charge cycles every 5 days. In other words, you’ll hit 400 charge cycles in 500 days.

Or, if you use about half of your battery’s capacity every day, you’ll go 1,000 days before you reach 500 charge cycles.

Because the battery’s capacity has shrunk, there’s more power in the 80 percent you use on the first day than there is on the 500th charge cycle. Thus, as time goes on, you’ll probably find yourself hunting for an outlet more often. Some people, obviously, are heavier users than others, so you’ll have to pay attention to your phone rather than rely on a guideline.

Your battery may be having issues if your phone:

  • Drains quickly
  • Suddenly powers off
  • Won’t turn on
  • Restarts without warning
  • Only turns on when it is plugged in
  • Gets unusually hot when charging
  • Begins swelling internally

Before you go plunking down $50 to $80 on a new battery, or worrying about buying a new phone, confirm your suspicions by downloading a battery monitoring app.

For iPhone, we recommend coconutBattery, which can tell you how old your battery is, the number of charge cycles it has gone through, and the capacity it has left. There’s also a Battery Health meter for iOS 11.3, which counts charge cycles. Just go to Settings → Battery → Battery Health to find it. There are more options for Android phones. We recommend AccuBattery, which measures battery capacity and comes loaded with lots of other features to extend the life of your battery.

If you need to get a couple more months out of your phone, consider carrying portable power. There are plenty of slim ones out there that are easy to carry and help you get through the day.

What have we learned? Batteries don’t last forever,but there are lots of clues as to how much longer yours will last. There are also apps that can tell you the same thing. That’s an easy way of knowing whether it’s time for a new phone, or just a new battery.

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