How to make your phone’s battery last longer: condition it properly

We all like getting new phones, right? In all the excitement of a new cell phone, many consumers forget about the battery. After all, the battery is just the thing you throw into the cell phone to make it work – why must we worry about it instead of playing with our new bazillion inch touchscreen? The thing about the battery, though, is if you condition it properly when it is new, it will last longer and last stronger; and since no one likes to have to recharge their cell phone midday, giving the battery its due rights at the beginning is in the best interest of all of us.

New batteries need conditioning. (No, not the conditioner you use in the shower.) By “conditioning” I mean properly initializing them so they hold as full of a charge as possible. How to condition the battery depends on what type of battery it is:

  • Nickel-Cadmium – NiCad batteries are often found in older, “dumb” phones. NiCad batteries have a “memory” that consumers need to “train” to make the battery properly hold the full capacity of charge as defined by its hardware. “Training” a NiCad battery is simple, but can be a bit annoying:
    • Fully charge the NiCad battery using the outlet charger that comes with your cell phone. Because the voltage on car chargers (and USB charging via a computer) is lower than an outlet charger, it is recommend to use an outlet charger while you condition the battery. It is also recommended to leave the first, initial charge going for 10-15 hours because cell phones often misread new batteries and tell you they are fully charged when they are not.
    • After the NiCad battery has been fully charged, use the cell phone normally; but it is preferable to use the phone in such a way that the battery is discharged evenly (i.e. don’t surf the Internet for an hour then just text for the rest of the day). Furthermore, discharging slowly is preferred over quickly. Fully discharge the battery until it hits zero (if possible), or discharge it as much as your cell phone allows.
    • Repeat this with 4-6 charge/discharge cycles (note you do not have to charge the battery 10-15 hours when performing the charge/discharge cycle).

After the NiCad battery has been “trained”, try to perform a full discharge of the battery every few weeks (2-3) to recondition the battery. (This helps the battery remember it can be fully charged – this is called the “memory effect”). However, keep in mind frequent discharges of a NiCad battery will hurt the battery life, so try to charge your battery whenever it is at 10-20%, unless you are conditioning/reconditioning it. Also, avoid heat – heat kills batteries. (That does not mean don’t use your cell phone outside; rather that means keep it away from non-typical sources of heat, such as your laptop’s air vent.)

  • Lithium-Ion – Li-ion batteries are the newer type of battery that are found it most newer cell phones (most definitely most, if not all, smartphones use Li-ion and many “dumbphones” use them too now). Li-ion can be thought of as “smarter” than NiCad batteries; Li-ion batteries don’t suffer from the “memory effect” and thus don’t need to be conditioned like NiCad batteries.

Rather, to condition a new Li-ion battery, fully charge it; it should be allowed to charge for 7-8 hours on the first, initial charge. In other words, when you get your new cell phone – and it has a Li-ion battery – allow it to charge for 7-8 hours even if the cell phone claims to be fully charged. (It is preferable to use outlet charger vs car charger or USB charging via computer because of the voltage difference.) After that, there is no reconditioning necessary for Li-ion batteries since they don’t suffer from the “memory effect”. However, be sure to avoid fully draining/discharging the Li-ion battery as much as possible; every time a Li-ion battery is fully discharged, it loses battery power and life. (That doesn’t mean your battery will die if it is ever fully discharged; it means it is best to avoid fully discharging when possible.) Try to recharge Li-ion batteries when they are at 15-25%. Similarly, avoid heat as much as possible and when (if) storing Li-ion batteries, store them not at full charge.

Update: The only time you should ever intentionally fully discharge a Li-ion battery is if your phone is not properly reading the battery. In other words, if you go from 100% -> 90% in ten minutes but go from 90% -> 80% in one hour with the same amount of usage, that means your phone is not reading the battery output evenly. If this is the case, then fully discharging your battery once and then recharging it can fix the issue of your phone not reading the battery properly. Take note, however, this full discharge/recharge won’t increase your battery life — it will only ensure your phone reads the battery properly.

People often confuse Li-ion and NiCad batteries and try to condition Li-ion batteries by charging/discharging them 4-6 times. Trying to condition a Li-ion battery like it is a NiCad battery (i.e. charging/discharging the Li-ion battery 4-6 times) hurts the Li-ion battery more than helps it. So, be sure to condition your new cell phone’s battery, but be sure to condition it properly. Otherwise, you may be doing more harm than good. If you are not sure what type of battery you have, read the labels on the battery – they will always say whether the battery is Lithium-ion or Nickel-cadmium. Good luck and may we all have long lasting batteries =D.

Feel free to share any tips you have on extending battery life and power in the comments below.

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