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Feature on new iPhone 3GS: battery iDrain

July 2, 2009 | 10:20 pm

IMG_1224 Many of us iPhone 3G owners came to accept limited battery life as a trade-off for all the amazing things it did. So cheers erupted in offices nationwide from those of us eagerly following tweets and live blogs when Apple announced the new incarnation. 

The company listed several new intriguing features, including video, increased storage, a faster processor, a better camera, hands-free voice control and, yes, longer battery life. Apple's press release touts the souped-up battery longevity.

iPhone 3GS is not only faster, but with longer battery life you can watch more videos, listen to more music, browse the Internet or keep using your favorite apps even longer.

Well, as my colleague David Sarno points out here, not really.

The S in 3GS may stand for many things on this device -- "sexy," "speed," "sweet" -- but it certainly doesn't stand for "stamina."

This, um, bonus "iDrain" feature of the battery, as David writes, is proving to be something of an Achilles' heel for the device. The company's suggestions on how to preserve battery life include, in essence, turning off the very features that make an iPhone an iPhone, including the faster 3G network itself.

To make sure the problem wasn't just with David's phone, we tested how my 3GS stands up to typical daily use. My phone started the day with a 100% overnight charge. I made no calls during this period but had the phone at the ready. I did turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. Push was enabled because that's how I typically use it to receive work e-mail.

During the day, I did a quick look or two online and used a few apps such as Touch4, American Heritage Dictionary and Tweetie. I played a four-minute video and listened to 20 minutes of music. 

By 6:30 p.m. my iPhone, which had started so valiantly, crawled to the finish line, barely breathing, with only 17% of the charge left. I gave in and did a panic power plug-in.

IMG_1225 One of the reasons the phones might not be meeting the posted expectations is that Apple's preproduction model tests were in situations that rarely, if ever, reflect the way real people use the iPhone.

Check out the page on battery performance tests on Apple's site. 

Here's how Apple reports it tested battery life for surfing the Web over 3G:

Internet over 3G tests were conducted over a 1900MHz 3G network using dedicated web and mail servers, browsing snapshot versions of 20 popular web pages, and receiving mail once an hour. All settings were default except: Call Forwarding was turned on; the Wi-Fi feature Ask to Join Networks and Auto-Brightness were turned off. Wi-Fi was enabled but not associated with a network.

Most folks who whip out their iPhones to check something on the Web don't typically go into settings to forward calls and shut off auto-brightness and the Ask to Join Network features. Nor do they typically have a consistent signal or dedicated Web and mail server.

The day the 3GS was released, iFixit.com dismantled the device and found that its battery offered only a minimal increase over its predecessor: 

Apple promises improved battery life with the 3GS. The battery is listed as 3.7V and 4.51 Whr. This comes out to 1219 mAh, compared to 1150 mAh on the 3G. That's only a 6% increase.

David goes into greater detail on why packing sufficient power in limited space for better battery life is such a dilemma.

Until that is resolved, I suppose most of us will just have to keep staking out the nearest outlets and pull up a piece of carpet to keep connected while traveling.

-- Michelle Maltais  

Are you having battery issues -- or do you have a solution? Share the wealth in the comments area below.

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