On extended batteries and the smartphone arms race
We live in a post-Pocket PC world, and by this I mean that form has been prioritised over function. As few as five years ago, the norm was button-encrusted, stylus-equipped, external antenna-sporting pocket-sized computers, a far cry from the polished black slabs of touchscreen we see everywhere today, not least in our own hands/pockets/glued to a nearby power socket. Targeted squarely at business users and priced to match, Pocket PCs were handheld office suites, filled to the brim with VPN support, exchange ActiveSync, and all manner of other features largely irrelevant to a consumer user-base. As those who used them will attest, they certainly functioned, but eye candy was no priority, and ergonomics came second to cramming as much into them as possible. Though we now live in a world of high-speed buttonless glass, one thing that has not changed drastically is the technology behind the batteries in our devices. With few exceptions, you’ll be running for the charger after a hard day’s use.
When Apple unveiled the first iPhone in 2007, it was greeted with scorn in some circles for not being at feature parity with its contemporaries. No handwriting support, for example, and most topically, no removable battery. Yet it was simplicity and user-friendliness that took the world by storm, and created the highly competitive consumer-orientated market we enjoy. One frequent complaint as the arms race for tech-specs has increased is that battery life simply isn’t up to scratch on many high-end devices. Apple are generally held to be market leaders here as well, as the iPhone range’s non-user replaceable power sources are a benchmark to measure others by – they simply have to be, since you can’t get them (Although they’re not ‘quite’ at the level of Nokia bricks of days gone by). Anyone familiar with Android forums can vouch for their being rife with topics on magic cures for battery woes, turning off this or that, and flashing all manner of custom firmware in the mighty quest for lower power consumption – this is certainly the case with my current toy, Samsung’s Galaxy S II.
The Galaxy S II’s much-touted 4.2” ‘Super AMOLED Plus’ screen equates to a rapidly drained stock 1650mAh battery for most power users. The solution? Well, it’s certainly not to use my laptop-priced phone less – We need more power, Scotty! What interests me, here, is how the evolution of the accessories that accompany devices such as this has progressed at a different rate to the devices themselves. While the third-party open market has certainly provided a range of options to cater to a power-using audience, we still see extended batteries that bulge out of phones’ backs, or bulky cases with additional power cells integrated into them. These provide function over form, distorting the clean, ergonomic lines that sold us on new devices in the first place and marked their evolution from the Pocket PCs of yore. When a phone’s thin profile and light weight can be major selling points, there’s simply very little room in which to cram a large battery amidst all the gee-bees and wy-fys. Yet Samsung have done something I think is quite significant, and they’ve done it very quietly: An official ‘extended battery’ has been released, with a matching battery door.
Now, that’s hardly newsworthy, as it’s been commonplace for OEMs to churn out these chunky things for many years – the difference here is that the extended battery is only extended to a modest 2000mAh, and in doing so, barely alters the profile of the device. Indeed, it is an accessory that arguably adds to the ergonomics – the new, thicker battery door takes the ‘chin’ on the phone’s back and levels it out – as well as giving it a pleasantly rounded feel in hand, and a nicer, ‘quality’ heft. Additionally, the thicker battery door indents the camera module, which normally sticks out when using the stock backplate, so the extended battery kit offers a wee bit of extra protection should one be unfortunate/careless enough to drop the thing.
When first revealed at the end of August, 2011, in thisXDA-Developers thread, these battery kits were in very short supply. Indeed, many well-known sites weren’t expecting stock until early November of last year. I picked mine up from mobimega.com after much Googling, and had it in-hand four days later for $58.97 US shipped. For ~25% extra battery life ‘and’ an improvement to the form factor, this was a pretty good buy in my book. One crucial thing to note is that there are actually two different models of these batteries – the one to look for is EB-K1A2EBEGSTD, as this is for the international/open-market standard GT-i9100 version of the Galaxy S II, rather than the EB-K1A2EBSG for the Korean edition. The catches on the sides of the Korean release’s battery door have a slightly altered layout, so while the battery itself will work either way, it won’t stay in terribly well if you have the wrong battery door. Some have reported limited success in chopping off tabs, but this is ill-advised. Be VERY sure which one of these you’re purchasing before putting down your dollars, folks.
A ~25% increase in battery life may not seem overly significant at first glance, yet in practice I’ve found this can make a pretty large difference. Instead of trawling through the aforementioned miracle cures for battery life woes, one can simply get on with using the bloody phone and not worry about running out of juice at the end of the workday. Indeed, in a few days of testing, I’ve come home with 50% left instead of the 20-ish% I’ve had previously. As useless as anecdotal reports like this are, I will say that I use my phone a lot. Data is always activated, and always 3G. Brightness is automatic, and that 50%-left figure accounts for about 3-4 hours of screen-on time throughout the day. Texts are sent, three email accounts are set for push sync, I use Google Voice/Facebook Messenger/Google+ Messenger, multiple social networks are checked, web pages are browsed, and much music is cranked. The odd game is played when I can catch a reasonable break. Charging overnight is the simple reality of the technology at play here, and not something I have a problem with – What ‘does’ bother me is needing to beg workmates for the use of their microUSB chargers when my phone embarrassingly dies before 5pm.
The trick with this battery kit is that it’s almost too perfect. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before – it’s an accessory that perfectly integrates with the device, in the kind of seamless fashion that’s reserved for the like of MicroSD and SIM cards. Here comes the speculation: In Samsung’s mission to dominate the tech-spec world, they must surely have explored a number of options. Did they pass over this specific battery and battery door for the current 1650mAh one to keep that desirable slimness factor? Given that competitors ship phones with giant batteries - thinking of the Motorola Atrix’s 1950mAh stock battery here, not to mention the RAZR MAXX’s 3300mAh juggernaut – and how perfectly this 2000mAh battery integrates, it seems plausible. The Galaxy S II is incredibly thin and lightweight, and Sammy clearly went to great trouble to make sure the stock battery didn’t contribute a lot to that depth or heft. When you look at the battery’s housing, you can see that a sheet of plastic, the digitizer, and the screen glass are pretty much all that’s below it. The stock battery life certainly isn’t worlds of terrible unless you’re doing something wildly wrong or an app is misbehaving, yet the device is an awful lot more functional in my eyes with the extra power – as well as being a little more fleshed out.
So, Samsung, why didn’t you include the 2000mAh battery as stock? And why not make more fanfare about the release of this wonderful accessory? I suspect that it wouldn’t have worked as well in reverse, for one. Who would buy a battery with ‘less’ power just to make their device a little slimmer? And here it is: The compromise between the smartphone arms race and, shockingly, functionality.
Galaxy S II 2000mAh battery review
I received my new 2000mAh battery on Thursday the 5th of April, and was as keen as mustard to see just what extra punch it would produce. I was pleasantly surprised that it arrived 60% charged. Despite knowing I could just leave things as it was, I wanted to see what the bigger battery’s full potential was going to be, what I consider a small outlay of cash, the bigger battery. It didn’t take too long to complete charging at work via the micro USB cable.
Then I set about using the phone more than I possibly would have. Only that it was Easter at the time, which meant at home I was more or less constantly using the phone, whereas work - well, it’s work.
This would be the first time I hadn’t put my phone on charge overnight. Part of the overnight charge routine is the phone sucks too much juice in a day to for me to be confident that I’d get another day’s use without scrambling for the charger at work. And, well, Cantabrians tend to be less naïve about a steady uninterrupted stream of power these days. We have the earthquakes of the past 18 months to thank for that.
During the time in which my phone was discharging, I was using it quite heavily. I spent time catching up on Google Reader, Facebook, a steady stream of tweets, and taking photos which I was uploading to Instagram and Box.net. Email was flooding in, I was back and forth on the browser, even a few texts were sent and received. Pretty much I had it all going on, except for music or gaming.
At 15% life left the phone started its chirping about needing to be plugged into the charger. Also, when I went to use the camera, I received a message about the low battery. But due to the customised ROM I run, this warning was just a warning, and didn’t actually prevent me from continuing to use the camera.
At 5% battery remaining, I noticed the phone switched to the lowest screen brightness setting. It’s probably a feature, and a good one at that. Additionally, at 5% I could no longer use the camera.
While the screen shots below show I was left with 1% with 23hrs 58mins, the phone didn’t actually shut itself down for what I estimate to be another 30 minutes after this, although it was inactive during this time.
As well as understanding how much extra oomph you’ll get from the larger battery, people want to know how long it will take to recharge the phone now it has an extra 25% to play with. Despite my best attempts to capture the time it took, I got distracted [Watching batteries charge is about as exciting as watching paint dry – Nik] and when I looked at the phone it was fully charged at 4hrs 14min. I know it didn’t take this long because I’d checked the phone about an hour earlier, and it was almost fully charged.
One thing Lee on Geekzone had mentioned was having 2 of these bad boys and a desktop charger. The 2nd battery would be great, but you can only charge the battery with it safely in the phone, so it defeats the point of having a 2nd battery without some sort of charger for the battery by itself. Since we’ll soon be travelling overseas, the 2nd battery would be a welcome addition, but there’s really no point unless I get that desktop charger. I’d actually looked at those when I first bought the phone in May last year. At that time you could either get cheaper knock-offs via eBay, or the genuine article from UK sites that would not ship internationally. You’ll notice in the link above, this online store ships to over 50 countries.
And for the proof:
Right now I’m on my 2nd discharge. Current stats are:
Would I recommend buying this battery? Indeed. Without hesitation. The only difficulty is finding a local supplier of the genuine replacement.
There was a flurry of sales to the reseller Lee had put us in touch with. Sadly they’ve since sold out and due to the slow delivery from Samsung will not be restocking the part.
Editors Nick & Nik also bought theirs from MobiMega, so it seems this is a good alternative to the local (NZ) online store I managed to pick mine up from. Here’s the link if you’re interested.
So, what are you waiting for?