Gadget

How to make your smartphone last longer

Replacing a smartphone every two years is partially why billions of phones go into landfills each year. If stacked flat atop one another, that many handsets would reach farther than the ISS. But we’ve become accustomed to that 24-month time frame because wireless carriers often push an upgrade on biennial contracts, and many smaller phone makers only offer software support for two years. But now, with longer software commitments from major manufacturers, along with growing right-to-repair legislation, many newer phones can stay in our pockets for closer to seven trips around the sun. Here’s how you can extend the lifespan of your smartphone and avoid shelling out hundreds before it’s absolutely necessary.

How to make your smartphone last longer

Pela

Engadget

Use a case

It’s a flashy move to carry a naked phone around, but the chances of a handset making it through a tumble go up dramatically when you employ extra protection. We recommend a number of them in our guide to iPhone cases and in our eco-friendly phone cases guide. In my family, we’ve been happy with Mous cases. Though we’ve never subjected our phones to the brutality seen in the company’s ads, I can say that these cases have seen my partner’s aging Samsung Galaxy and my elderly iPhone through some pretty gnarly spills, sparing them from scratches or worse.

Take care of the built-in battery (or use a power bank)

Since a phone’s battery is often the first thing to show signs of age, it’s worth it to follow recommendations for extending its lifespan. Lithium-ion batteries don’t perform well in heat and you should avoid charging them if it’s hotter than 95 degrees — doing so can degrade the battery quickly and even cause them to malfunction. They’ll tolerate cold weather better, but can get sluggish when things get too chilly.

If you’re storing a phone for a while, it’s best to do so with the battery at half charge, rather than full or empty. In fact, Li-ion cells last longer when they spend less time being either completely discharged or full — that’s why battery optimization features in iPhones and Pixel phones delay overnight charging to 100 percent until about an hour before you typically grab your mobile. And while it’s sometimes necessary to charge a battery quickly, a slower charging method when speed isn’t critical will put less stress on the ionic components and help extend the cell’s life.

But over time, any battery will eventually wear down. The cell powering my iPhone 11 can make it through a typical day, but if I’m traveling, relying heavily on navigation or using the phone as a hotspot, it’ll need a top-off before bedtime. That’s easy if I’m home, but out in the world, a battery pack is an essential. I have a slew of them on hand after testing for our best power banks guide and the two I grab most often are the Otterbox Fast Charge, because it looks cool and has a good capacity, and the Nimble Champ Pro, because it’s crazy fast.

If you really want to give your phone a new lease on life, a new internal battery could be the ticket. For Pixel phones, you can go through Google’s official channel for either a walk-in or mail-in repair, or you can pick the DIY route with iFixit’s Pixel repair kits and instructions. For iPhones, you can start with Apple’s official page, go through Best Buy or other third-parties, or try iFixit’s methods. Samsung also has an in-house option, or you can try Best Buy or iFixit. Depending where you go and the model of your phone, the price for a new battery and installation will likely run you between $45 and $150 — still far less than ditching your handset for something brand new.

Clean up your phone’s storage

Most advice on how to declutter your phone and make it run faster centers on one thing: freeing up space. Your phone’s OS will likely have suggestions for clearing up storage space, like automatically offloading unused apps or deleting year-old messages. You can also do things manually by deleting any apps you don’t use. Next, consider the photos and videos you’re storing locally and either opt to pay for cloud storage or transfer the files to a computer or an external backup device. You can also consider getting rid of any music and movies you may have downloaded for offline use, and deleting old messages and large attachments. A good rule is to keep your storage at around 80 percent capacity. Once you’ve deleted and transferred what you can, restart your phone to give it a chance to clear up its temporary memory.

Why you can (and should) extend the life of your smartphone

The Pixel 8 is slightly more compact than last year's phone while the Pixel 8 Pro features a new matte glass back.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The e-waste stream grows each year and doesn’t do great things for human or planetary health. Smartphone companies are offering better and more consistent trade-in deals, but even some electronic recycling has its faults. Simply hanging onto a device instead of opting for a new one is the most efficient way of cutting back on a phone’s environmental impact — plus it’ll save you money.

While every giant phone maker would like you to believe that upgrading annually is critical, it’s worth noting that new generations of phones often bear strong resemblance to the prior year’s model. We called both the latest iPhone and Google Pixel the most significant updates in years, but prior to that, upgrading didn’t make much sense. The latest Samsung Galaxy phone has a slew of new AI tricks, but physically, it’s not much different than the one that came before it.

With only minor hardware upgrades, the more exciting new features come via over-the-air software updates. When Google released the Pixel 8 last October, the company promised security and software updates for a full seven years. Samsung came out with the Galaxy S24 in January of this year and committed the same support for its handsets. Apple hasn’t made the same pledge, but when the launch of iOS 17 last year cut support for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, both models had enjoyed around six years of updates from launch.

What Apple did announce is that the batteries in all four models of the iPhone 15 last twice as long as the company originally claimed. Originally, battery capacity was listed at 80 percent of the original full charge after 500 cycles. Now, that same capacity rate applies to 1,000 cycles. The improvement, Apple says, comes courtesy of advanced battery tech and better power management from the operating system. It’s true battery technology has improved in capacity over the years, but longevity hasn’t gone up across the board, as a study by PhoneArena makes clear.

More advancements in battery life spans may be on the horizon particularly as the EV industry grows, which also relies on lithium-ion cells. For now, declining battery health is usually the most noticeable issue affecting older phones. This year, the European Parliament voted for rules surrounding battery-powered devices and included a mandate to allow consumers to “easily remove and replace” batteries. That won’t go into effect until 2027, and there will be plenty of interpretation as to what “easily” means. But EU mandates are what made Apple finally ditch Lightning ports on iPhones in favor of USB-C, so this could eventually be a step towards (once again) having smartphones with swappable batteries.

Even in the US, legislation will soon compel companies to make repair a better option. Right-to-repair bills were passed last year in New York, Minnesota and other states. California has the strongest rule, and it even garnered Apple’s support. Once the law goes into effect in July, it will require companies to provide repair tools and documentation, and to sell components for seven years after the last new model is made for any device costing more than $100. Of course, the law didn’t say anything about prohibiting “parts pairing,” in which a device only works properly when repaired with official parts by a manufacturer-authorized repair center.

Currently, a number of phones have decent repairability scores, according to the online repair community iFixit (the FairPhone 5 gets the highest marks). After California’s law goes into effect, more models may become user-repairable, considering few manufacturers are likely to ignore the state’s nearly 40 million customers. In the meantime, authorized repair is an option, as is self-repair for the more industrious.


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