Secrets to longer battery life

Know the essential habits of highly effective users.

Rich Clabaugh/Staff

Getting the most out of cellphone and laptop batteries can be a bit like raising a baby. There are countless dos and don’ts, many of which make people wonder, “Would it really be so bad if I ignored a few rules from time to time?”

While no one expects you to follow every obscure precept, there are general rules that will help your rechargeable battery live a long and happy life.

Most new mobile phones, digital cameras, and cordless power drills rely on lithium-ion batteries. This popular choice is a big improvement over past rechargeable technology – it’s even been rolled into some AA batteries. But the fact remains that “all lithium-ion batteries will lose their capacity over time,” says Jerry Jackson, editor in chief of How to slow the process:

Play with the settings. The easiest path to longer battery life, many tech experts say, is to turn off device features. However, Mr. Jackson is not a fan of this advice. He doesn’t believe in limiting a gadget just to eke another hour out of the battery.

“You paid for that phone. Enjoy it,” he says. “Yet there are small tweaks that most people won’t notice.”

For one, lower the brightness. Screens are often the single largest power drain. Dialing it down a few notches will have a substantial effect on battery life, he says.

Second, switch off wireless access when you don’t need it, especially while on the road. There’s little reason for a smartphone to constantly hunt for a Wi-Fi signal while in the car. Many phones with e-mail functions allow users to set how often it checks an inbox. Jackson sets his to look every 15 minutes.

Understand cycles. Conserving energy can extend both the day-to-day charge and long-term life. Every time you fully drain and recharge a lithium-ion battery, it counts as a “cycle.” And every time it goes through a cycle, the battery holds a little less power than it did before. But you don’t burn through a cycle each time you plug in a device. If you come home after using half of your MP3 player’s battery and charge it up all the way, that only counts as half of a cycle. If you do the same thing the next day, then you’ve completed one full cycle. “Scientists will tell you that it’s not that simple, but that’s the basic idea,” Jackson says.

Use your gadgets. If you’ve neglected a device or spare battery for a while, it’s good to wake it up and get the electrons flowing again. Lithium-ion batteries should go through a full cycle every few months.

When you do put away electronics, Jackson says to never leave batteries with a full charge for very long. “It’s much better to drain it to about 60 or 70 percent, then put it away.” The extra energy can be bad for long-term capacity.

Start off right. It can be hard to come home from the store and not start playing with your new gizmo. But patience pays off. Before turning on a new gadget, make sure to fully charge the battery. This initial top-off can affect cycles down the road and ensure that the device stays vibrant longer.

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