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Batteries: Can we stop talking about mAh and start talking “Feels like”


I can’t seem to read a press releases these days without being told about a handset’s amazing ‘1,650 mAh’ battery life. Or 1,800 mAh. Or whatever.

I really don’t care.

Let’s take the specs of one phone I was just looking at. It’s got a 1,500 mAh battery. That, the vendor reckons will deliver:

– 480 minutes of talk time
– 325 hours of standby time
– 1 hour of full transmission use time
– 3 hours of semi full use time
– Feels like: “Charge at lunchtime”

Now then, I should point out that the last three bits are mine. I added them. They’re completely made up.

Would it be good if manufacturers started doing this? It would certainly help consumers. We need some sort of battery standard definitions so we can all measure likely performance properly.

Witness, for example, the way the car industry does it. Here are the range specs for a Range Rover:

Performance (Manufacturer’s Estimates): 4.4L TDV8 Diesel Engine
Maximum speed mph: 130
Acceleration 0-60mph seconds: 7.5
Fuel Economy: 4.4L TDV8 Diesel Engine
Urban mpg: 24.6
Extra urban mpg: 34.5
Combined mpg: 30.1

Right and now a Ford Ka:

Maximum speed mph: 99
Acceleration 0-62mph seconds: 13.1
Fuel Economy: 1.2 Duratec Petrol
Urban mpg: 44.8
Extra urban mpg: 64.2
Combined mpg: 55.4

And there we go.

Easy, right?

The Range Rover does a combined 30.1 miles per gallon. The Ford Ka does nearly double at 55.4.

Now I know where I am.

Now I can make a decision based on other hygiene factors safe in the knowledge that the Ford Ka is way, way WAY more fuel efficient.

I think consumers should be able to do the same with smartphones.

We need an independent body that can establish some standardised tests for criteria like:
– occasional use
– light use
– heavy use
– always on use

On this scale, here’s how I’d mark the Nexus S battery experience:

– occasional use: 2 days
– light use: 1 full day
– heavy use: 4 hours
– always on use: 2 hours

And the iPhone 4:

– occasional use: 3 days
– light use: 2 days
– heavy use: 5 hours
– always on use: 3 hours

And a Nokia 1100:

– occasional use: 5 days
– light use: 4 days
– heavy use: 2 days
– always on use: 1 full day

Of course, we’d need to define what these terms mean specifically — these are just based on my own experiences.

What do you reckon?


  1. What a load of …


    and breathe….

    Right. So. How about this for a metric for the Ford Ka: MPG when driven over an army assault course / mountain range: 0.5

    Because after 500 yards it’s stuck in a ditch, on its side, with half the trim ripped off and a bent chassis.

    I guess Ka owners know not to driver over something like this so it’s a pretty unfair comparison. The Range Rover can handle it, it’s built for it.

    Thusly, comparing a Nokia 1100 to an iPhone is an equally rubbish comparison, as your implied iPhone’s ‘always on use’ would include tons of browsing, highly CPU-intensive graphics work showing video, high resolution images, location services yadda yadda yadda…

    ‘always on use’ for an 1100 means…er…making a phonecall and not hanging up. You can’t do anything else on it. (OK, maybe a Snakes marathon). In which case it will last you 4.5hrs. Which is almost HALF the 3G talktime of the iPhone 4S. ***HALF***, I tells ya. And the Nexus S has a talktime of 6 hours.

    So an apples-with-apples (see what I did there? SEE?) comparison of ***what the phone can actually do*** puts the modern smartphones ahead of the 1100. And you can use Hailo to order you a Black cab when it’s pissing with rain. Let’s see you do THAT Mr 1100 man.

    We already have industry-standard defined testing regimes for determining talk & standby time. Anything above and beyond that is so utterly convoluted and subject to randomness that it becomes meaningless PR waffle.

    Maybe a video spec could be: Number Of Plays Of Episode One Of Black Books (‘NOPOEOOBB’)

    Or an audio spec could be: Number Of Repeats Of Track 47 Of Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (the less-catchy ‘NOROTOHPATPOA’)

    Now those would be meaningful, consumer-friendly metrics. So Mr MacLeod, less smartphones-are-shit-becuase-people-use-them-so-much-‘cos-they-are-great if you please 😉

  2. …and another thing, while I’m awake at 1:24am and pissed off because I had to revert to a Blackberry for a few hours when my data USIM in my iPhone fell over:

    Blackberrys have great bty life. We all know that. Not because they are amazingly efficient, or have humungous batteries. No.

    Rather, because they are such an awful, awful thing to use that people do not spend the time faffing about that they do on Android or iOS devices, lest they be driven to take their own life.

  3. Now hold on a moment, *obviously* I can make the distinction between a Ford Ka (Nokia 1100) and a Range Rover (iPhone 4S?). But what about the distinction between, say, a Lexus 4×4 (HTC Sensation XL) and a Range Rover (iPhone 4S)?

  4. That wasn’t your illustration though – you put up smartphones against the dumbest phone possible, and painted a picture of woe that would have the great unwashed believing that a single tweet will drain their battery dead flat while a £20 Nokia will still be half-charged when they are buried with it in 50 years time.

    I submit to you my above industry standards for video and audio playback, should you desire to play fair with the smartphonistas. You read it here first.

  5. As long as you realise that non of the cars will *actually* get near those figures, which are done over either 2.5 miles, or 4.5 miles 

    So to carry that over to phones, lets test them for 10 mins, and base all our other data on that! 

  6. The problem is that as soon as you set up fairly simplistic specifications, like hours of occasional use, then manufacturers produce numbers that are based on ideal conditions and carefully set up circumstances. I am sure these numbers are produced with fresh batteries, fully charged with the optimum charging cycle, with full signal strength and the backlight dimmed, etc.

    I’d like to see specifications defined on more real-world scenarios, like standby and call time in certain signal strengths, as we all know how long a battery lasts when you are on a call with one or two bars of signal. Same for standby, or with screen backlight on, or playing a chosen game. The main thing is to have as tight a specification as possible that represents actual handset usage by humans, so there is little wriggle room for optimising handsets for idealised test scenarios and therefore being crap in the real world.

  7. While i agree with some of the ideas here, here are a few items which i would discuss, these are in no particular order :

    – The car is a simple purpose device. The car has two mode of operations “ON” and “OFF”, you do not leave your card in standby in your garage, and you do not ask it to do anything when you are not in it.

    – 90% of the car “energy drain” is coming from the “engine” subsytem. 10% of the car energy drain come from the other subsystem when in use (AC, Radio, etc)

    – 99 % of the users use the car in the same fashion, push the pedal and drive. They have different driving styles and patterns, and the road condition change, but basically have been segmented into TWO (in the US) at least “City” and “Highway” (nevermind that i drive my car mostly between suburbs and rarely on the highway).

    – Electric car manufacturers, such as Tesla, are marketing care differently. the Model S comes (i think) in three model 160, 240 and 300. This is the amount of miles the car can drive on a single charge. Different SKUs for different usage pattern and needs.


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