The Charge of the Battery Brigade

With several devices under evaluation I find that one of my ongoing tasks is ensuring that each device is kept sufficiently charged to remain functionally operational. This becomes an extra challenge when traveling. As can be seen from the photo on the right, one needs at least one (surge protected) power bar (for your destination country) in your kit along with at least one of every type of charger. Fortunately all my Nokia devices (N800 and N95 shown) can use a common charger; at the other extreme my Blackberry 8700 came with four additional "slide-in" plug adapters that made keeping my Blackberry charged while visiting Germany and England earlier this year much easier. There’s also a charger in there for my Gennum nXZen Bluetooth headset. Lose your device’s charge and you could end up paying premium rates to make essential telecom connections, not to mention loss of data plan access to mission critical business or emergency services information. One good piece of news is that all these adapters can run on both 110V and 220V power; this is a major step forward compared to chargers of a vintage 15 to 20 years ago.

Provoked by all the recent hyperbole over the iPhone’s supposedly long battery life, ZDNet’s David Berlind, in his Berlind’s Testbed blog, has brought into focus the need to consider the impact of various applications on battery life. In fact, a little tongue-in-cheek, he has issued a call for "the battery life equivalent of a ‘nutrition label’". His assessment, which is also my experience:

When handsets, iPhones or otherwise, come with ratings like the ones supplied by Apple, they pretty much mean nothing. First, they don’t cover every possibility (for example, Bluetooth usage or the 2.0 megapixel camera, which a great many people will use). Second, the footnotes on Apple’s Web site describe entirely unrealistic scenarios. Third, there’s no way for a customer to know what the impact of sending and retrieving e-mail every minute or every hour (Apple’s footnote claims its “benchmarks" are based on the latter; yet another unrealistic scenario) will be on the other ratings like standby or talktime. Until people start writing about their actual experiences, it’s pure guess work.

Dan York, in a post entitled "The Truth about the iPhone and Other Devices — .in the end it all comes down to batteries", has picked up on David’s post bringing into play his experience as a wireless device product manager:

Never in my life did I expect that so much of my time in the product launch would be consumed in dealing with issues around batteries! Being a "software guy", I really had very little understanding of the nuances of power consumption and their impact on battery life.

I can certainly confirm that my evaluations of various wireless products and applications are always tempered with a "what is the impact of – and on – battery life?" I have had beta applications that would drain my device battery within hours; a sure fire application death knell if not addressed by the product’s developers. As Dan so articulately states:

Batteries can only do so much – and the real challenge with a mobile device is to find every way possible to reduce power consumption so that the battery will go that much longer.

The device manufacturers have addressed battery life issues in various ways. The Nokia N95 (and N80i), for instance, includes the ability to turn off WiFi scanning, a significant power drain, once you have located a WiFi access point. Yet the N95 remains notorious amongst bloggers for its frustratingly short battery life; include me in that list. The N95’s much admired GPS and 5 Megapixel camera all come at some expense to battery life. At the opposite extreme the Blackberry’s API’s, I am told, actually include calls which assist with battery life management; to some degree this is confirmed by my experience wherein my Blackberry 8700 has the longest battery availability without a recharge (minimum two days with Bluetooth active). For instance, I have not noticed any significant degradation of battery life when using IM+ for Skype Software in the background. Fortunately, that nXZen Bluetooth headset also comes with the same battery staying power of the Blackberry with which I most commonly use it.As we keep looking for the "ultimate" wireless mobile device, battery life is the one seemingly mundane but most important issue that always needs to be taken into account not only in product evaluation but also product design and management. Keeping various devices charged has become my biggest frustration in product evaluation. Let’s hope the forthcoming Skype for Nokia N800 Internet Tablet has minimal impact on its battery life.

Turning to those Nokia and Blackberry power adapters/chargers I keep permanently attached in my car…. I knew there had to be "life after cigarettes" for the 12V socket formerly known as a cigarette lighter.

Tags: Nokia N-series, mobile device battery life, Nokia N95, Nokia N800, Blackberry, Dan York, David Berlind

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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