Jule Turkewitz, The Times’s correspondent in Denver, often finds herself on mountain roads and unexpected flights. But being prepared for anything means knowing what’s essential.
Apple may be dealing with the fallout for a while. The company published a lengthy memo in December saying that smartphone batteries became less effective over time and that its software was intended to prevent iPhones with older batteries from unexpected shutdowns. Apple also apologized to customers for the slowdowns, offered discounts for its battery-replacement program and said it would introduce software to gain visibility into the health of an iPhone battery.
Yet since then, consumer advocacy groups have filed lawsuits against the company for failing to disclose that the software would throttle old iPhones. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have also started an inquiry into the matter, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be named because the details were confidential. Bloomberg earlier reported the inquiry.
Early Wednesday, Apple said in a statement that it had received questions from some government agencies and that it was responding to them; the company did not specify the agencies it had heard from. The Justice Department declined to comment.
As for the wait times that Ms. Schipper and others are experiencing for a battery replacement, a spokeswoman referred to Apple’s support webpage, which states that battery supplies at its stores may be limited.
Let’s not wait around. Here’s a guide to other solutions to keep an iPhone running in the absence of an Apple battery replacement.
Third-Party Repair Shops
Plenty of irate Apple customers are turning to local third-party repair shops to get their iPhone batteries replaced. At Mega Mobile Boston, twice as many customers are coming in for iPhone battery replacements than in years past, said Adam Fullerton, the store’s operations manager.
Third-party repairs are a decent — but imperfect — solution. One drawback is that they vary in quality; some repair shops buy lower-quality batteries that don’t last. So to find a good shop, rely on word of mouth and reviews on the web, similar to how you might seek out a good car mechanic.
Another issue is that if you service your phone with a third-party battery and later take your device in to Apple for repair, the company could refuse to service your phone. So if you go the third-party route, chances are you will have to stick with third-party repair shops through the end of your phone’s life.
There’s a less risky route here. On Apple’s support webpage, you can look up third-party repair shops that are authorized by Apple as service providers. These are fixers who have been trained by Apple and carry original parts. But the list is short.
If you find a good local fixer, there are plenty of benefits to sticking with one long term. For one, third-party shops tend to have shorter waits. Mr. Fullerton said his shop could typically get an iPhone battery replacement done in about 30 minutes. The process involves opening the device, cleaning away the old waterproofing adhesive, replacing the battery and applying a new waterproofing adhesive.
For another, local repair shops make their prices competitive with the manufacturer’s. In the case of batteries, many shops are discounting their battery replacements to match Apple’s $29 pricing.
“We’re probably losing money on it with the cost of a half-hour time from a technician,” Mr. Fullerton said. “But it’s like a loss leader in any other industry. If you’re Best Buy and you get them to buy one item at cost, maybe you can teach them something about your business.”
Finding a good repair shop can feel daunting, but if you ask around, your peers will probably have recommendations. For a sample, here’s a list of highly recommended repair shops in the United States that I compiled from talking to repair experts I trust:
■ In Chicago: uBreakiFix Chicago
■ In San Francisco: MacRepair
■ In New York: Simple Mac
■ In Boston: Mega Mobile Boston
■ In Washington: Computer Geeks
■ In Austin, Tex.: Austin Mac Repair
Fix It Yourself
You can always replace an iPhone battery by yourself. The pros: You can choose the best components for repairs and minimize costs. The cons: Learning repairs can be time consuming, and if you mess up, you have no one to blame but yourself. And again, Apple stores could refuse to service your phone if it sees you have repaired it with third-party parts.
A good place to start for D.I.Y. repairs is iFixit, a company that provides instruction manuals and components for repairing devices. It is offering discounts on battery replacement kits for older iPhones, which cost $17 to $29. Each kit includes a new battery and the tools for disassembling iPhones.
Installing a phone battery can be intimidating. Replacing an iPhone 7 battery, for example, requires eight tools and 28 steps. Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, said some customers also opted to buy a battery from iFixit and then take it to a local repair shop for installation.
Carry a Battery Pack
If you don’t feel confident hiring a third-party fixer or installing your own battery, you can always wait for Apple to replace your battery. But since that could take weeks or months, don’t suffer with a sapped phone battery in the meantime.
A better temporary solution is to invest in a battery pack that you can carry around until replacement batteries arrive at an Apple store. Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews products, has tested hundreds of battery packs to recommend a few. My favorite is the Anker PowerCore 20100, which can charge a smartphone every day for a week.
Ms. Schipper, the Seattle resident, is considering buying a battery pack. In the meantime, she is constantly plugging her iPhone into a power outlet because her battery lasts only two hours a day.
Yet she has resisted what she thinks Apple wants: for her to buy a new phone.
“I was tempted to just chuck this phone and suck it up and spend $1,000-plus and get the iPhone X,” she said. “I said, ‘No, darn it, I have a budget I’m saving up.’ I’m not going to let Apple push me around.”
Here’s what you need to know about the device.
The signature feature of the Mate 10 Pro is the processor, which has a dedicated part of its silicon specifically designed for artificial intelligence.
This allows the phone to crunch algorithms and do things like automatically recognize an object so that the camera can be adjusted to focus quickly and let in the right amount of light. Huawei also says A.I. allows the phone to maximize its performance: Periodically, it will automatically do maintenance, like clearing out old system files that might otherwise slow down the phone.
The camera is notable as well. Huawei teamed up with Leica, a popular camera maker, to develop the phone’s dual-lens setup. Like phones from Apple and Samsung, the Mate 10 Pro’s camera can create a so-called bokeh effect, where the two cameras work together to show the picture’s main subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background.
Like other modern smartphones, the Mate 10 Pro is water and dust resistant. But it also has an extra-large battery that Huawei says will last longer than that in many other phones. That’s partly because of its A.I. processor, which examines how the battery is being used and changes resource allocation to prolong its life.
The Mate 10 Pro also ships with a screen protector applied to its display, and inside the box there is a plastic protective case. These are thoughtful additions. The case absorbs the impact of drops, and the screen protector helps prevent scratches, which weaken the structural integrity of a display.
Pros and Cons
In my tests, the two best features of the Mate 10 Pro were the camera and battery. The least impressive was the display.
But let’s start with the good stuff. In side-by-side comparisons with an iPhone X and Samsung’s Galaxy S8+, the Mate 10 Pro came in second to Apple’s offering in photo quality. All took nice photos, but the colors in the Galaxy S8+’s pictures looked oversaturated, and while the Mate 10 Pro’s photos appeared rich and clear, the shadow details looked better on the iPhone X.
As for the bokeh effect, also known as portrait mode, the Mate 10 Pro excelled at separating the subject from the background compared with the Galaxy S8+, but I still preferred the iPhone X because it did a better job at lighting up a person’s face.
There was one area where the Mate 10 Pro was the clear winner: the battery. In my tests browsing the web over a cellular connection, Huawei’s phone had roughly two hours more juice than Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 and the iPhone X.
The display — the biggest downside of the Mate 10 Pro — had a lower resolution than the Note 8, the Galaxy S8+ and the iPhone X, meaning some graphics and text looked more pixelated. Over all, text appeared crisper and websites more vibrant on the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy screens than they did on the Mate 10 Pro’s display.
The Mate 10 Pro is an impressive smartphone, but you probably aren’t going to buy it even if you get your hands on it. The lower-resolution display is a major negative, as is the lack of carrier support.
Huawei said that to get technical support for the Mate 10 Pro, you can call its hotline, and for repairs, you can ship your device to a center in Texas. That’s still not ideal compared with the ease of strolling into an Apple store or your carrier’s nearest location.
Privacy and trust are also important. In 2012, the House Intelligence Committee concluded that Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecommunications company, were a national security threat because of their attempts to extract sensitive data from American companies. And in 2016, security researchers discovered preinstalled software on some Huawei and ZTE phones that included a back door that sent all of a device’s text messages to China every 72 hours. That feature was not intended for American phones, according to the company that made the software. But American lawmakers have been wary of Huawei.
At CES, Huawei’s Mr. Yu described how the company had previously overcome trust hurdles — including at home in China, where Huawei’s smartphones were initially distrusted by Chinese carriers because the company was a newcomer.
“It was very hard,” he said. “But we won the trust of the Chinese carriers, we won the trust of the developing market and we also won the global carriers, all the European and Japanese carriers. Over the last 30 years, we’ve proven our quality.”
What Apple is acknowledging is a power management technique in which the iPhone scales back processing power to keep the device running for longer when its battery health is low. Lithium ion batteries have a limited number of charge “cycles” before they can no longer be recharged properly. Apple’s website says the battery loses about 20 percent of its original capacity after 500 charge cycles.
In other words, if your iPhone is beginning to run out of battery capacity, these slowdowns might kick in to keep it running for longer or prevent it from shutting down unexpectedly.
Apple is not admitting to planned obsolescence. If Apple explicitly said that they injected code into older iPhones to slow them down because new ones came out, that would be admission. All it is admitting to now is trying to keep the old iPhones running for longer.
Does this change your conclusion last month that this is not a conspiracy to force users to buy new phones?
The premise of my previous column was that the vast majority of slowdown problems are fixable without buying a new phone. That point stands, and now we have even more information supporting that premise: a battery replacement also helps.
How many users does this affect?
Apple has said the power management technique works on iPhone 6, 6S, SE and 7.
What else could be slowing the older phones down?
Often, a buggy operating system upgrade can cause glitches when running apps. Another common cause is having little available device storage. Smartphones rely on flash storage, which keeps data in the cells of semiconductor chips. When stored, that data is scattered across the drive. So when you call it up by opening an app or a document, you are retrieving it from multiple parts of the drive. If lots of space is occupied, the data gets crowded and the device may feel sluggish.
Some users say that installing bigger batteries seems to fix the problem. Does that make sense? What else can users do to, short of buying new phones?
I would recommend paying a third-party repair shop to replace the aged battery with a fresh one. This will cost between $20 and $70, depending on where you live and which iPhone you own. Repair shops will probably recommend against installing a battery that has a larger capacity than the original, as there can be risks of damage.
The other solutions I wrote about in my last column included doing a clean install of the operating system and freeing up storage on the device. There is a scenario where you absolutely can’t get around buying a new phone: App and game makers design their software to work better on newer, faster devices. So if you have an older smartphone and you want a brand-new game with heavy graphics to work as well as it possibly could, you’ll want a new phone.
Is this unusual? Do other smartphone makers — or, more broadly, electronics companies — do this, too?
I don’t find the power management technique that surprising or unusual. You have probably noticed that when your smartphone (iPhone or Android) is running out of battery, like when there is less than 10 percent, the device begins to run more slowly. That is partly to keep it running for longer.
Could Apple have avoided this by, say, using a different type of battery?
We all dream about the day that the tech industry will adopt a longer-lasting, smarter battery than lithium ion. But battery technologies have to pass rigorous safety testing — if something goes wrong, they are miniature bombs. (You saw what happened with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7.) Lithium ion, though flawed, is still the safest and most easily reproducible battery technology on the market.
Apple is known for its masterful marketing. Do you think it has handled this controversy well?
No, it could have avoided controversy by being more transparent to begin with. It could have notified people that a power management mode was kicking in to keep their iPhones running for longer because their batteries are running out of juice. That would also inform people that they should be getting their batteries replaced. Because Apple was not transparent, it’s natural for people to suspect it of deliberately crippling their devices to get them to buy new ones.
This episode is a good reminder that even digital devices need maintenance. Many people believe that because gadgets lack moving parts, they should keep working as intended. But we still need to take care of them. Last year I wrote a column about maintaining our devices, which included tips like replacing aging batteries, freeing up storage and, in the case of desktop computers, removing the cover and blowing out dust.
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The results showed that some conventional beliefs about extending battery life — like turning off Wi-Fi or shutting down all your phone’s apps — produced negligible or even harmful results. The Wirecutter also found plenty of helpful practices to get more use out of your battery, like playing music stored directly on the device (instead of streaming it) or tweaking email configurations.
The Wirecutter tested a range of recent Apple and Android smartphones with the latest operating systems in tightly controlled environments. Your phone’s results will vary depending on the phone model, cellular carrier, location and other factors, but the general results should hold. Here are eight tips and seven myths busted by our findings:
1. Use auto-brightness for the screen.
A smartphone’s screen consumes more energy than any other component, so the easiest way to cut down battery drain is to reduce your screen brightness. In an hourlong test, an iPhone 6s used 54 percent less battery power with the screen brightness at minimum as compared with maximum brightness. An Android test phone used 30 percent less.
But it’s tough to use a dim screen in bright environments, so most phones offer an auto-brightness mode that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness based on ambient light. The Wirecutter found that enabling auto-brightness saved a good amount of battery life.
2. Block power-sucking ads.
When browsing the web, your smartphone also burns through power when it downloads mobile ads on websites. Installing an ad blocker will greatly extend battery life.
The Wirecutter ran a test that cycled through a list of websites for two hours over a Wi-Fi connection. Safari on an iPhone 6s used 18 percent of a full battery; Chrome on a Moto X Pure Android phone used 22 percent. Installing the 1Blocker ad blocker on the iPhone reduced battery usage for the same test to only 9 percent of a full battery; on an Android phone, using the Ghostery Privacy Browser, which blocks ads, used only 8 percent of the battery.
3. Tweak your email settings.
Email can have a major impact on battery life if you have multiple email accounts and receive lots of email. Your smartphone can update your email automatically using a technology called push, which brings new messages to your phone the instant they are transmitted. Push can be a power hog because it requires your phone to constantly listen for new messages, so if you get a lot of email, there’s a good chance your phone is using lots of energy.
The Wirecutter tested an iPhone 6s Plus configured with three email accounts, receiving a total of 20 to 30 messages an hour. In these tests, having push active over the course of a day caused Mail to account for 5 to 10 percent of the phone’s overall battery use.
To save energy, most phones can be configured to instead check for (or “fetch”) emails on a schedule — say, every 30 minutes — or only when you manually tell your email app to refresh.
4. Play downloaded music instead of streaming.
The next tip may come as unwelcome news. Nowadays, online streaming is the most popular way to listen to music, with services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music — but this method guzzles lots of battery power. In the Wirecutter’s tests, streaming music over a Wi-Fi connection for two hours used 10 percent of an iPhone’s battery reserves; streaming the same music stored directly on a device over two hours consumed only 5 percent.
Fortunately, streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music still let you listen to songs the old-school way: by storing the music right on your device.
5. Turn off wireless when reception is poor.
You may have noticed that when you’re in a place without good Wi-Fi or cellular coverage, your phone’s battery seems to drain much more quickly. That’s because the phone uses energy searching for a good signal and, if the signal is very weak, trying to get a better connection.
To conserve battery life, disable the phone’s wireless circuitry. Airplane Mode, an option that will turn off all wireless features, is a quick and easy solution in areas with poor reception.
Alternatively, you can disable (in your phone’s settings) a single wireless feature. For example, if you have terrible wireless carrier coverage in your office, but Wi-Fi is great, disabling cellular connectivity while there will keep the phone from wasting energy trying to get a cellular connection while still letting you connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi.
6. Check the battery usage lists.
Consumers can get even better results with a bit of sleuthing. Both the iPhone and Android systems provide a simple way to see which apps are using a lot of battery power. For iPhones and Android phones, open the Settings app and in the Battery menu, there are sorted lists of apps that are using the most energy.
On the iPhone’s battery usage screen, tap the clock button to reveal information about how much of your battery life each app is consuming when you’re actively using the app (“screen”) compared with when you’re not (“backgd”). On Android, the most useful information are the timers for “CPU total” and “CPU foreground.” Foreground is how much time you had the app open; subtract “foreground” from “total,” and you’ll know how much time the app has been busy in the background.
Be on the lookout for apps that are active for extended periods in the background and are using a lot of battery power. Examples include an email app that spends lots of time checking for new messages even when your phone is asleep, a news reader that updates articles in the background or a fitness app that constantly monitors your location.
If you find apps using up lots of energy in the background, disable their background activities. On an iPhone, go to the Settings app, tap General and then Background App Refresh and disable the background activities for any apps. On Android, go inside the Settings app, tap Data Usage, choose an app, then select “Restrict Background Data” for background data usage.
7. Disable unnecessary location tracking.
Watch out for apps that track your location. Your phone’s GPS circuitry, which determines your geographic location for mapping and fitness features, consumes a lot of battery power. A run-tracking program that monitors your precise location for the duration of an hourlong run will lower your battery level.
If a location-based app is using a lot of power, especially in the background, there’s a good chance the app is using GPS, Wi-Fi and the phone’s sensors frequently. You can decide whether to disable location features for it (either via your phone’s Location Services settings, or by changing settings in the app itself). On an iPhone, you can disable the app’s ability to track your location by going to Privacy menu and Location Services.
To disable location tracking on Android, go inside the Settings app, tap Apps, choose an app and select “Permissions,” then tap to disable Location permission.
8. Shut off unnecessary push notifications.
Both Apple and Google recommend disabling push notifications, which are essentially app alerts, to conserve battery life. Notifications require regular communication with notification servers, and each notification causes your phone to wake up for a few seconds, including turning on the screen, to show you a message and give you a chance to act on it.
In the Wirecutter’s testing, receiving a few dozen notifications over the course of an hour didn’t noticeably affect battery usage. But if you get a lot of notifications each day, that energy use can add up. If a particular app or service (say, Twitter or your email client) is constantly producing notifications, consider disabling notifications for that app.
On an iPhone, open the Settings app, tap Notifications, tap the app name and disable Allow Notifications. On Android, disable notification in an app’s settings menu, or long-press the notification itself and select the “i” icon. This will send you to that app’s App Notifications settings, where you can block all notifications.
Beware battery-saving myths.
1. Closing unused apps.
There is plenty of inaccurate conventional wisdom about methods to prolong battery life. Let’s start with one of the worst “tips”: Closing (or force-quitting, as it’s commonly called) apps you are not currently using. The theory is that apps running in the background are using your phone’s components, so quitting them will save energy.
While that may be true on a computer, smartphones are designed differently: Once an app is no longer in the foreground — meaning you are not actively using it — most or all of its processes are frozen. In other words, while an app may still be loaded in a phone’s memory, it probably is not doing much in the background to drain your battery.
Finally, quitting apps actually has drawbacks: When you force-quit an app, all of its code can be purged from your phone’s RAM, which means that the next time you open the app, the phone has to reload all of that code. That, of course, requires energy.
2. Don’t assume turning off Wi-Fi will always help.
A common suggestion for extending battery life is to disable Wi-Fi. However, if you’re in range of a strong Wi-Fi signal, your phone uses less energy to connect to the Internet with a Wi-Fi connection than a cellular one. If you regularly use apps that rely on your location, having Wi-Fi enabled helps your phone determine its location without having to rely solely on power-hungry GPS features, so it actually helps a battery last longer.
An exception is when you’re at the edges of a Wi-Fi network, where your phone is struggling to get a good connection, and you have a good cellular data connection. But in most cases, you’re usually better off keeping Wi-Fi enabled.
3. Avoid disabling all location services.
Many apps that use your location do so only intermittently. Even using the Maps app for short navigation sessions doesn’t use more than a few percent of your battery’s capacity — and having the phone’s screen continually on is a big part of why navigation uses a lot of power.
In other words, don’t disable all of your phone’s location-based features just to extend your battery life. You won’t see a big jump in use time, but you may end up disabling — and subsequently missing — useful features. Instead, check (using the tips above) to see if any of apps consuming the most battery life also track your location. If so, and if you don’t need that location tracking, consider disabling it for those apps.
4. Don’t always choose Wi-Fi over cellular.
Many people, and even smartphone vendors such as Apple, claim that using Wi-Fi for wireless data consumes less power than using a cellular signal, so you should use Wi-Fi whenever you can. However, the Wirecutter’s testing found this isn’t always the case.
In testing in a location where both Wi-Fi and cellular LTE signals were strong, an hour of browsing over Wi-Fi used roughly the same amount of battery power as an hour using LTE on an iPhone. On a Motorola Android phone, LTE used only 2 to 3 percent more power than Wi-Fi.
In other words, as long as you have a good signal, you probably won’t see a huge difference between Wi-Fi and cellular data, and it’s probably not worth the hassle of switching between the two.
5. Let Siri and Google listen for your commands.
Both iPhones and Android phones include a hands-free feature for summoning their virtual assistants by speaking voice commands. You can just say “Hey Siri” to the iPhone or “O.K. Google” and then speak your request or command. While convenient, this feature requires your phone to constantly listen for that special phrase, which uses some power.
Yet if you have one of the phones that supports this feature, disabling it won’t conserve much battery life. In the Wirecutter’s testing with an iPhone 6s Plus and a Nexus 6P, there was a negligible difference in battery usage between having the always-on virtual assistant enabled or disabled over a two-hour period.
Using Siri or O.K. Google uses some energy, so if your phone’s battery is getting low, you should probably stop asking the phone question after question during your commute. But just having the feature enabled isn’t worth worrying about — and it can be quite convenient.
6. Don’t forgo third-party chargers made by reputable vendors.
A common warning around the Internet is that you should use only the charger that came with your phone, otherwise you could damage your phone’s battery. In reality, the phone itself contains all the circuitry responsible for charging its battery. The AC adapter (as it’s more accurately known) simply converts the AC current from a wall outlet into low-voltage, low-amperage DC current that it provides via a USB port. This is why you can also charge your phone using the USB port on a computer, a USB battery pack or a charger in your car — the phone is designed to allow it to charge from a variety of power sources that can produce a wide range of current.
Finally, you may see warnings that a cheap third-party charger could damage your phone. There’s some truth here: Many chargers — especially budget models sold online, or even at your local shopping mall kiosk — are poorly made, or use low-quality components. A poorly made charger can not only damage your phone, but could also hurt you by exposing you to dangerous currents. So if you’re replacing your phone’s AC adapter, or buying an extra, stick with a reputable vendor.
7. Calibrate only occasionally.
For many years, devices that used rechargeable batteries required “conditioning” or “calibrating,” a procedure that prevented the battery from forgetting how much capacity it actually had. Today’s smartphone batteries no longer suffer from this issue.
What can happen, however, is that the phone itself loses track of how much capacity its battery has: Every battery gradually loses capacity over time as you use and recharge it, and the phone’s software isn’t always good at accounting for this capacity change. By periodically (once every couple of months) fully charging the phone and then using it until it dies, your phone’s software will determine the battery’s current capacity and thus let the phone better estimate how long it will last on a charge. In other words, the battery won’t last any longer, but the phone’s battery meter will be more accurate. If you find that your phone claims you have 80 percent of a charge left, but it dies a few hours later, you should try this procedure.
If all else fails …
If you have tried all the above and still struggle to get through the day with your battery, consider buying an external battery. These accessories — which can take the form of a bulky case with a built-in battery that you wear on the phone, or a separate battery pack that connects to your phone with a cable — can provide power to last an additional few hours at the end of the day, or even to fully charge your phone’s battery.
The Wirecutter tested more than 100 external batteries for dozens of hours to pick a few favorites. Its favorite battery case for the iPhone 6 and 6s is Anker’s Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case, which has enough power to fully charge a dead iPhone and then some, more than doubling the phone’s battery life. For larger iPhones — the 6 Plus and 6s Plus — the Wirecutter prefers Tylt’s Energi Sliding Power Case because the case’s two-piece design makes it appealing.
For Android phones, an external battery pack is a good option. The AmazonBasics Portable Power Bank with Micro USB Cable 2,000 mAh is the best pack the Wirecutter tested that will fit in your pocket with your phone, and it’s less than $10. A great battery pack for the iPhone is the $29 TravelCard, which is almost thin enough to fit in a wallet — with a built-in Lightning-connector cable to charge your phone.
For days of smartphone power, the Anker PowerCore 15600 is the Wirecutter’s pick if you need to charge a phone repeatedly or keep a full-size tablet and phone topped up through a busy week. It has enough available power to charge a typical smartphone five times or to fill a large tablet such as an iPad Air almost twice — for under $40.
After her stressful day at Disneyland, Ms. Temeña bought an external Amazon battery pack. She said the pack could fully charge her phone six times, but it wasn’t ideal because of its bulk. Ultimately, she wishes her iPhone had a better battery.
“I don’t understand why a battery wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the other advances they’re putting into phones now,” she said.