Battery life on smartphones is a perennial issue. The bigger the phone, the faster it falls. In this article I’ll show you how I got my Samsung Galaxy S3’s battery life up from under a day to getting on for three days by making a few tweaks and installing a couple of indispensable apps.

The GS3 is scarcely up there with the heavy brigade in size terms these days but it’s always had an iffy rep for holding a charge. When mine was new, a year ago, I’d get a day per charge at home but only around eight hours when out and about, even if it was in my pocket most of the time.

Obviously what I wanted was staying-power like this…

S3BatteryLife

…which is what I get now, yay!

Turns out Android devices are very bad at staying asleep. Sure they may look like they’re dozing away. But behind that blank screen there can be a maelstrom of activity going on.

And that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. The default setting on your Android is effectively ‘always on’. Your device constantly checks where you are, listens for wifi connections and polls for email and social media updates even when you think it’s idle.

‘But that’s what I want it to do!’ I hear you cry. Well fine, please stop reading now. It’s a valid choice and one which Google et al encourage you to make, you delicious little bundle of user profile data you. But you’re voting for your phone to eat its battery.

On the other hand, if you seriously desire to own a device that works perfectly well as a phone while also keeping you connected to the worldwide world whenever the set is in your hand and you’re looking at it, do read on.

Five Steps to Android Battery Heaven

Ready? Let’s begin. To get your Android battery life up from hours to days, you’ll have to install a couple of apps, turn off a few features and, yes, alter your expectations (but only a little).

  1. Go to Settings – Location Services and turn everything off. Android will act like you’ve just suggested Something Very Rude to the Queen of England. Ignore it. Location Services is one of the biggest battery hogs on your Android device but unless you need your device to tell you where you are every second of the day (in which case, see a doctor), the only beneficiary most of the time is Google. So switch it off and enable it manually as and when needed via the toggle icon in the notification drawer.
  2. Go to Settings – Accounts.  Work though all your accounts and set the sync option for each one to manual or the longest interval on offer. Doing this will stop your phone waking up every few seconds to check for updates (don’t worry, it will still receive voice calls and texts). This is where you come up against the fact that achieving decent battery life is really a state of mind. With these settings you’ll only get notifications from Facebook, Twitter, email and RSS every few hours, or when you turn your screen on. Weird idea, I know but what you’re actually doing is taking control of your personal comms while at the same time saving a huge number of pointless, battery munching connections while the phone’s in your bag or pocket.
  3. Go into Wi-Fi settings – Advanced Settings. Turn off ‘Scanning always available‘ and ‘Network notification‘. Doing so will help your Android get plenty of restful sleep because it’ll only check for a signal whenever you wake it. You’ll have to run a network scan manually to find public networks when you’re away from home but it will connect to your home Wi-Fi automatically on wake. Unless you have a very generous mobile data allowance, keep mobile data turned off when using these settings unless you’re out and about, since background apps may try to connect over mobile data if the phone is not connecting to Wi-Fi. (see the next section on useful apps to overcome this problem).

Chances are that lack of sleep is what’s been draining your battery’s life. If so, the preceding tweaks should result in a considerable boost. It goes without saying that you should also invoke your device’s power-saving options, like screen time-out duration and CPU power saving. (My S3 screen times out in 30 seconds but I don’t use the CPU power-save option as it doesn’t seem to have much effect on battery life relative to maximising deep sleep).

Android battery buddies. Two sleepy-time apps

Continuing our five steps to heaven, I’ve found the following apps are real life-savers when it comes to your Android’s battery.

  1. Deep Sleep Battery Saver Pro. This app constantly puts the device to deep sleep mode while the screen is off by switching off Wifi and 3G and stopping background apps. It offers a range of wake-up options for automatically bringing the phone out of sleep to download email and sync social media status before putting it back to sleep again (the default is one minute every hour). The paid-for version allows you to customise more parameters, including day/night settings, active period, screen time-out, sync strategy, ignored apps, etc. I’ve got it on all my Android devices and as far as I’m concerned it’s a five-star utility.
  2. BetterBatteryStats. On one level, BBS does what it says on the tin: it gives you a lot of info about your device’s sleep/wake activity and what’s using the battery. What also it’s very good for is highlighting rogue apps that won’t shut down or shut up when they’re not wanted. For example, when I first started trying to find out what was eating my S3’s battery, I installed a CPU monitor app. The S3’s battery life immediately became even worse and BBS confirmed that the CPU app had gone to the top of the list of ‘wakelocks’ preventing the phone from sleeping properly. I uninstalled the app, installed Deep Sleep Battery Saver Pro and haven’t looked back since.

There’s a third app I like to have on all my devices, which is Thomas Hubalek’s Battery Widget Reborn. It offers a nice home screen widget showing remaining charge in percent or hours, and you can tell it to turn off Wi-Fi and syncing at a specified time of day, which makes it handy as a lite alternative to Deep Sleep Battery Saver if you want something less powerful in control of your life …er …phone).