5 Ways to Improve Battery Life on Android KitKat
There I was, showing off my new HTC One to a friend when “plink!” the low battery alert sounded. Considering it wasn’t yet lunchtime, this was potentially embarrassing. With under 20% charge left, I had to act fast.
Charging An Android KitKat Phone
Getting the phone charged up was my priority – but what could I use?
Looking around, I saw a wall outlet, and my USB adaptor just happened to be in my bag (not a surprise, as I also carry a Surface Pro in there). Fortunately, throughout the demo I was able to keep the phone plugged in and charging as I showed off photos, videos, games, and the slick HTC Sense 5.5.
Heading back home, I decided to keep the phone charging in the car. Using my cigarette lighter-powered charger, I found that rather than charging the phone at the usual rate, the charger was giving a current akin to the trickle charge that you get from USB connectors on your desktop computer.
That is, a charge that wasn’t going to make any considerable impact on the low battery.
It was then that it struck me. A couple of weeks into life with my new phone – and new to KitKat – it was time to start managing its battery use more effectively.
Using A Battery Saver Mode
Although unavailable on stock Android 4.4 KitKat devices (rather limited to OEMs like HTC and Samsung, such as the HTC One and the Galaxy S5, which has Ultra Power Saving Mode), using the built-in battery saver tool was my first port of call.
You can open Settings > Battery Settings > Power on some devices (labelling can differ from manufacturer to manufacturer) to check your battery level and to activate Battery Saver mode. The HTC Battery Saver mode is configurable, enabling you to enable or disable further elements such as your data connection, vibration feedback, screen brightness, and CPU usage.
Meanwhile, use the App Usage list (or equivalent) to find out which apps are using resources. These can be tapped to open their app details screen, and the app can be disabled if required.
If your Android 4.4 KitKat device isn’t a Samsung or HTC, you’ll need to find a battery saver app in the Play Store.
DU Battery Saver and Battery Doctor should be the first apps you try, both of which have been updated and optimised for KitKat.
Managing Connectivity: Location Mode
You should probably be aware that one of the key causes of low battery on your Android device is connectivity.
GPS, for instance, is used widely these days with many apps taking advantage of localization data to serve information based on your current whereabouts. This can prove hugely convenient or terribly inconvenient, depending on when you need to use your phone.
Introduced in Android 4.4 KitKat is the Location mode screen, a feature that enables you to select the accuracy of your localized data, with the least accurate method using only GPS and less battery than the most precise option, which employs Wi-Fi and mobile networks. The Location feature can also be disabled.
Other battery savings can be made by using Wi-Fi over mobile Internet. Although a good option, even in 4G areas, be aware that open wireless networks are almost always non-secure, so don’t use these connections for any sensitive tasks such as online banking or shopping.
Using a tool like Trigger to switch to favourite Wi-Fi networks instead of your mobile Internet automatically as soon as they are in range can help here.
Deal With Always-On Wi-Fi Scanning
As well as switching off Wi-Fi when no connectivity was needed, I also discovered that there is an additional wireless networking setting that can also contribute to battery drain. Hidden away in the Settings > Wi-Fi > Advanced menu is a feature that helps your phone’s location be pinpointed by apps, games, and Google Play.
Disabling the Scanning always available feature will help reduce the speed with which your battery runs down, but it will also reduce the effectiveness of Google Now.
Google Now Launcher: Killing Batteries?
The “OK Google” voice control feature of Google Now is probably its most popular and visible element, but the app is constantly busy working away in the background to find information that it deems relevant to you based on your profile.
So if you’ve already disabled its ability to accurately determine your whereabouts, why not go further and reduce its impact on your battery further?
You should probably know already that the “OK Google” hotword can be disabled. If not, head to Google Now, scroll down to the bottom and tap the menu button to open Settings. From here, tap Hotword Detection and switch to Off.
What you may not know is that the whole Google Now service can also be disabled. Via the same Settings menu, toggle the Google Now switch to disable the service, then Turn off to confirm your choice. You might also check the box to delete location history.
Note that if this seems too extreme, you can skip this and leave Google Now activated but with limited battery impact (and relevance from the information it finds for you) from the disabled location services.
Don’t Use ART To Reduce Battery Use
Introduced with Android 4.4 KitKat is ART, the Android Runtime that is included as an alternative to the default Dalvik runtime. We previously explained how to enable ART, and the potential speed improvements of doing so, but if you’ve followed that guide or any similar steps to switching your KitKat’s runtime to ART, you may have unwittingly made your battery run down quicker.
At this point, the jury is still out on ART, but that shouldn’t matter at this stage as it is a beta runtime, not yet intended for full production use. Although many apps may launch and run quicker, impact on battery drain overall is unclear, based largely on what apps and services you use.
If you’re looking for a “hacker’s option” for reducing battery use in Android KitKat, why not install a custom ROM with built-in tweaks? There are guides here on MakeUseOf for installing custom ROMs, and once you’re familiar with the basics you will find further help – and custom ROMs to download and flash – at the XDA-Developers forum.
You Shouldn’t Be Recharging Twice A Day!
The tips listed here are specifically for Android 4.4 KitKat devices. Battery saving tips for earlier Android versions may also work.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t be charging your phone more than once a day; you could even squeeze two days out of some phones with moderate use. Since disabling Google Now alone, my HTC One runs for an additional 2-3 hours on average – not a bad result.