Thursday, March 22, 2012


My contract for my beloved Droid X is about to expire and my inner geek is gushing with excitement at choosing a shiny new phone. But that excitement is quelled by the lack of 4G in most of Alabama.  We’ve all seen the commercials about “4G” (fourth generation) data speeds that Verizon, AT&T and T-mobile are touting. Download speeds are often up to 10 times faster on 4G networks than they are on the 3G we enjoy over most of north Alabama. I’d love to have me some of that! Unfortunately, it is not to be. For now.

Right now, the only places in Alabama that actually have 4G coverage are larger cities such as Huntsville, Decatur, Birmingham and Mobile and each of those areas only have one tower that radiates 4G in a 10 mile radius. Those of us outside those areas will have to wait and, if past experience is any indicator, we will wait for years. This conundrum exposes a problem with the new 4G phones in areas not served by 4G signals: Battery life. The internet is rampant with users complaining of battery drain using new 4G phones.If you live in an area well served by 4G coverage, battery life seems to be normal. However, if you are in the edges of coverage or even in a large city where buildings can sometimes block 4G signals, the phone constantly searches for a good signal. The constant searching drains the battery. You iPhone users can pretty much ignore this problem since even the newest iPhones do not yet support 4G. Rumor has it that 4G will be offered in the new iPhone 5 coming out later this year.

Tweaking your phone’s settings so that it stays locked to 3G is said to increase battery life by 100% - or a full day instead of a half day. Manufacturers are starting to hear the complaints and are responding with phones that have bigger batteries. One of the newest phones is the Motorola’s RAZR Maxx. It is getting some good reviews and packs a huge battery. And that exposes another conundrum for smartphone users; While consumers are demanding exponentially more and more power from their phones, battery manufacturers are, on average, improving battery life only by about 1% per year. Unless some fantastic breakthrough in battery technology comes along, we consumers can expect bigger, fatter phones to accommodate fatter batteries so we can whet our bigger, fatter apatite for data.

There are some things you can do to improve battery life. First, lithium ion batteries in our phones are only able to be charged a few hundred times before they start delivering less power. So if your phone is more than about 18 months old, it could probably use a new battery. Next, check your phone’s settings. The screen is the biggest battery hog so turn down the brightness and make sure that “auto dim” is turned on so that your screen will automatically dim in low light conditions. Next, set your email, Twitter and Facebook applications to poll less frequently. Finally, Navigate to Settings -> About Phone -> Battery Use and take a look at what other things are drinking your battery juice. Turn them off if you don’t need them.


William.Russom said...

Most of North Alabama does indeed have 4G coverage. HSPA+ is considered 4G and is marketed as such, while it is not as fast as LTE it is a noticeable difference between 3G speeds. AT&T finally did something right when they implemented 3G across North Alabama, they went a step further and put enhanced backhaul in place to allow HSPA+ speeds.

Furthermore, the newest iPhone is indeed a 4G phone on AT&T. As of the newest update, the radio was updated to support HSPA+ as well. As a Verizon user this means mostly nothing to you but to some of your readers, (whom I'm certain are AT&T subscribers) this will benefit them in a small way. I've personally went from getting ~2Mbps down to ~4.5Mbps. Albeit, this is on my Samsung Galaxy Note. I would not be caught using an iPhone after I went the way of the Android a couple years ago.

William.Russom said...

I didn't even touch the subject of battery life. I think you covered it very well, although with the newer multi-core phones, battery life will improve slightly. Also, the big manufacturers are looking for new ways to make their displays more battery friendly. It does look like a bigger, or multiple, batteries is the way to go for any power user for now. Unless you'd like to try out one of the phone cases that have an extra few hours of battery life in them. Those however seem to be exclusively for the iPhone.

Jim Fisher said...

Thanks William! Good insight. Shoulda run this by you. However, you are well aware that no one actually has "4G" -- that's just what they are calling it. ;)

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