I believe the iPhone impressed with its battery life only once – when it was first launched on the market, in June 2007, 5 years ago. But even then, the crowd didn’t applause right after Steve Jobs said – “we’ve managed to get 5 hours of battery life”, which means it was good, but not impressive. Where do we stand 5 years after the iPhone “revolutionized” the smartphone market? Is the battery better, is it the same or it’s actually worse?


Did iPhone’s battery life improve?

Let’s return to the launch of the first iPhone. Back then, it had a built-in rechargeable Li-ion batteryof 3.7 V and 1400 mAh. You’ve already seen in the above video that the original iPhone was said to have “up to” 5 hours of talk time/video/browsing or “up to” 16 hours of audio playback. Do note that this iPhone was a 2G iPhone, therefore it had a very light “data burden” on its shoulders. Other numbers for the original iPhone (numbers coming from Apple) are, according to a very early review - 8 hours of calls, 7 hours of video, 24 hours of audio and 250 hours of stand-by. To sum it up:

  • Talk time: up to 8 hours
  • Standby: up to 250 hours
  • Internet time: up to 6 hours Wi-Fi
  • Video playback: up to 7 hours
  • Audio playback: up to 24 hours

But even then, the reality was different - 5 hours of video and 23 hours of audio with Wi-Fi enabled. At the end of the day, you’d still have to recharge your original iPhone, alas. Also, Apple said that the battery would start to lose its capacity after 300-400 complete recharge cycles. Losing capacity would mean to charge at 80%, when it used to charge at 100%. But, eventually, you will get a very poor battery life after 3-4 years of use so then you’d have to replace it. And here’s another famous issue with iPhone’s battery – you can’t replace it on your own.


Explaining battery capacity

By now, you already know that most of the portable devices have Lithium-ion batteries, and they are so popular mainly because they provide one of the best energy densities and have a slow loss of charge when the batteries are not being used. Next, what you need to understand is how mAh – Milli Amp Hours work. In a very basic explanation, more mAh would mean that the battery has a bigger life span. Scientifically speaking, the amount of mAh represents the quantity of energy  that is discharged from the battery until the battery is empty. Your battery works as the fuel tank where the fuel is its capacity.

Another thing – voltage, this is the electrical pressure applied to the battery. Thus, the amperage (mAh) determines how fast the battery gets depleted and the voltage shows the electrical pressure. Also, we shouldn’t forget about the physical size of the battery, especially the volume and plate areas. Therefore, the larger is the plate area, the more you can “stuff in”. Steve Jobs said that the first iPhone lacked 3G support because the chipsets would’ve taken up too much room and drain too much of the battery. But that had to change.

iPhone’s battery with 3G

The first real test for iPhone’s battery potential was the 3G radio chip. So, in order to accomodate the 3G chipsets, the battery had to be made smaller, from the initial 1400 mAh to 1150 mAh. The voltage has remained the same up until the recent iPhone 5. Now, the iPhone 3G was said to have an improved battery, providing:

  • Talk time: up to 10 hours  on the “weaker” 2G network; up to 5 hours on 3G
  • Standby: up to 300 hours
  • Internet use: up to 5 hours on 3G; up to 6 hours on Wi-Fi
  • Video playback: up to 7 hours
  • Audio playback: up to 24 hours


If it was harder to compare the original iPhone with its competition, now we can simply compare the iPhone 3G’s battery performance (at least, what Apple’s numbers say) with the original iPhone one. We can see that talk time on the 2G network has increased by 2 hours, from 8 to 10; the standby time has increased by 50 hours, from 250 to 300; video playback has remained the same as well as audio playback.

Don’t forget that the official data is obtained under “perfect conditions”, meaning Apple makes sure there are no other applications open and all settings are perfectly suited to offer such impressive results. Real-life situations are very different, though. One of the first reviews came from AllThingsD’s Walt Mossberg:

In my test of 3G voice calling, I got 4 hours and 27 minutes, short of Apple’s maximum claim and nearly three hours less than what I recorded in the same test last year on the original iPhone. In my test of Internet use over 3G, I got 5 hours and 49 minutes, better than Apple’s claim, but far short of the nine hours I got using Wi-Fi in last year’s tests.

Next comes some important information from AnandTech’s review:

Battery life with 3G enabled was 4 hours and 44 minutes, down from nearly 6 hours when I tested the original iPhone. Turning off the 3G modem and switching to Edge, my call time went up to 6 hours and 4 minutes, about where it should be based on my original iPhone test results. With less than 5 hours of talk time, if you plan on doing a lot of talking you had better shut off 3G mode on the iPhone. Note that this is far less than the 10 hours of talk time that Apple claims on the iPhone 3G’s spec sheet.

iLounge comes with a comment that seems to shed a light on why the iPhone 3G’s battery doesn’t live up to the official numbers:

The iPhone 3G will work better than its predecessor; use 3G, and you’ll fall well short of last year’s numbers. From our perspective, this drop in call performance is unacceptable by phone standards, as it means that active 3G users will need to recharge the device twice a day. . .  Apple should have done the right thing and further increased the battery’s capacity, or offered an extended battery with a user-replaceable back plate. As it hasn’t, potential buyers should pass on iPhone 3G in favor of a more power-efficient sequel, or be prepared to do lots of charging, then request a replacement battery before the end of the warranty period.

So, we can already see that in 3 reviews from respectable online outlets, there’s really no praise for iPhone 3G’s battery life. It won’t perform much better than its predecessor because of its added 3G chip and also because it had to be thinner, right? Well, not quite, because the iPhone 3G wasn’t thinner than the original iPhone, it was actually slightly thicker. And dare I say that if they didn’t reduce the size of the battery, it could’ve looked like a brick.

But let’s not forget the new audio chip and the increased sound capacity from the speaker. Also, as you’ll find on many other reviews online (or if you had your own iPhone), that in order to have a proper battery management, you’d have to be a little tech-savvy, in order to adjust the proper settings: knowing when to exit apps, maybe install battery management apps. A smartphone requires smart approach.

iPhone 3GS – speed lands on the scene

The iPhone 3GS had its battery increased from 1150 mAh to 1219. By now, we can safely assume that iPhone’s battery has improved, but not by much, exactly because Apple didn’t increase battery’s capacity. We see now that they’re steadily increasing it, but there’s still a long way until the initial 1400 mAh capacity. But let’s see the battery stats for the iPhone 3GS. If you forgot, S was for Speed. Also, the battery indicator appeared in the 3GS this time.

  • Talk time: 12 hours on 2G, 5 hours on 3G
  • Standby: up to 300 hours
  • Internet use: 5 hours on 3G, 9 hours on Wi-Fi
  • Video playback: up to 10 hours
  • Audio playback: up to 30 hours

We don’t see a seriously improved battery life here, but it’s an incremental update. But this is actually good, if we take into account what the new iPhone 3GS came with. S was for speed because there was an increase in the processing power, from 412MHz ARM 11 to 600MHz ARM 11, an almost 50% increase! Add  to that some gaming performance and the 3MP camera and you have some battery drainage. We can see a 3 hours increase in video playback and 6 hours increase in audio playback.

With new wireless data technology, it was interesting to see how iPhone’s battery will perform. A compelling review from the same iLounge didn’t bring too much hope:

Battery life for 3G calling and data remains unacceptably low, requiring heavy phone or 3G data users to perform mid-day recharging; use of other new features, including video recording, drains battery at even more rapid rate. AppleCare policy is strongly recommended for body and battery in second year of ownership.

But apps load faster on the iPhone 3GS, web pages load by almost 30% faster, but try and convince the consumer about that. What he’ll get will be the same battery life or, even worse. Here’s what TechRadar had to say about iPhone 3GS’ battery life:

Battery life, despite being tipped as much longer on the new iPhone, seemed to be pretty similar to the iPhone 3G. When browsing the web, calling and uploading over 3G intensively, we hit around 5-6 hours of functionality, which is pretty much the same as the last iPhone. Over 2G we managed to make the phone last for a day under heavy use, but that’s mostly because we got too irritated with the web to really use it hard.

So we can see the same scenario once more – very small update in battery life, and that is only if you can manage to use your iPhone properly: to exit 3G and make a call on 2G if you need to; to exit Wi-Fi if you don’t need it anymore; to kill applications once you’ve stopped using them and so and so forth. And you think they just couldn’t do anything about it at that moment because it’s about physics here? Here’s an interesting comment that might put things the other way around:

In most conversations, there’s a significant amount of dead air. Even if it’s only 1/10 – 1/4 of a second at a time, over the course of several hours, that will add up. But with most music, there’s almost no dead air. Even when the person isn’t saying something, there’s at least some sound being generated. Detecting that dead air and not transmitting would probably be the best for battery life, but even if it continually transmits, the compression would reduce the amount of data transmitted to almost nothing. I would guess that choosing an audio source that more closely matches an actual conversation would provide a somewhat more accurate test result.

iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S

iPhone 4 was the biggest jump and we won’t go into more details here – you already know it had Retina Display, a totally different form, it was thinner, improved camera, video and the introduction of the A4 processor. To cope with all that, Apple had to increase the battery capacity, and so it did, taking it to 1420 mAh from iPhone 3GS’ 1219, and 20 mAh more than the original iPhone. And here are the official battery stats:

  • Talk time: 7 hours on 3G, 14 hours on 2G
  • Standby: 300 hours
  • Internet use: 10 hours of Wi-Fi, 6 hours on 3G
  • Video playback: 10 hours
  • Audio playback: 40 hours

And let’s put it in a small table to compare it with the iPhone 3GS. Again, we see a slight improvement on the 3G and 2G talk time, but that’s rather useless if you don’t need a 2G network anymore, right? Standby time remained the same, video remained the same. We see an increase in the audtio playback and 1 hour added at 3G Internet use. This time, while the battery is not ground-breaking, better reviews come in:

The battery life on the iPhone 4 has been outstanding thus far, exceeding our expectations for longevity during testing. We’ve only had a short time to use the phone, but in the week or so we’ve been carrying the device as our main phone, we’ve had pretty amazing results under normal to heavy use. In fact, we managed to squeeze more than 38 hours — yes, 38 hours — of life out of a single charge using the phone as we normally would. We’re talking calls, some gaming, lots of push email and calendar invites, playing music over Bluetooth in the car, and just general testing (like downloading new apps, rearranging icons, tweaking settings

This was Joshua Topolsky and if you’re interested, read AnandTech’s review, which also highlights the fact that iPhone 4′s battery impressed. Also, iLounge, who has been very critical, yet objective of previous performances, said the following this time: “Due to a combination of a larger battery and more efficient processors than in prior iPhone models, iPhone 4’s battery life is touted as superior—and our tests confirmed this”. We can see that a bigger battery capacity did wonders this time.

Now let’s what happened to the iPhone 4S‘ battery stats:

  • Talk time: up to 8 hours on 3G
  • Standby: 200 hours
  • Internet use: 9 hours of Wi-Fi, 6 hours on 3G
  • Video playback: 10 hours
  • Audio playback: 40 hours

Oops, less than 300 hours on Standby time? When the iPhone 4S was launched, Apple didn’t even put the standby time on their presentation sheet. This is actually less than the original iPhone. Could it because of the new processor, could it be because of Siri? Anyway, the iPhone 4S got yet more things inside – 8MP camera, update to iOS 5 ( which was also called culprit many times for battery issues), gaming performance.

That’s why Apple increased once more the battery capacity, by 12 mAh, in order to cope with all these things. Also, let’s not forget about better antenna reception. But yet again, the battery wasn’t improved too much. And iPhone 4S was launched when there were already enough ideas for a battery revolution. Why didn’t Apple take some billions from its huge pile of cash and come up with something truly revolutionary? Don’t they want to become a super-hero company?

iPhone 5, the same thing

No, iPhone 5 didn’t fix the battery issue. But the iPhone 5 is 20% thinner (not the thinnest in the world, though), so that was quite a challenge for Apple to make a pleasing battery. Also, iPhone 5 has a bigger display, with a bigger processor and 1GB of RAM. Siri has gotten smarter and probably the biggest impact for battery – LTE speeds have appeared. We already know just how quick LTE can “destroy” your battery so the fact that iPhone 5′s battery managed to offer equal time is actually a laudable fact.

iPhone 5′s battery has 3.8 V and a 1440 mAh. There are yet no reviews from third-party voices, so the single information that we have comes from Apple itself:

  • Talk time: up to 8 hours on 3G
  • Standby: 225 hours
  • Internet use: 10 hours on Wi-Fi, 8 hours on 3G, 8 hours on LTE
  • Video playback: ?
  • Audio playback: ?

iPhone 4S managed to deliver a satisfying batter experience, let’s see how will iPhone 5 cope with LTE, improved Siri and a lot of applications being run by smarter consumers. But look at the beginning of the article and you’ll see that talk time has remained the same, standby time has decreased and Internet use has slightly increased. If you leave aside everything that the iPhone 5 has, you could say it has a battery almost equal to the first iPhone.

But we are not allowed to do that. We can’t ignore that you can take a 8MP picture, then you can view it on an awesome clear design, you can play 3D games with impressive graphics, you can load web pages very, very fast, you can record videos in awesome quality, you can run conferences with your iPhone, you can… Your iPhone has become truly a digital assistant and you can do so many with it. Sure, we want better battery life, but we have already so many.

Others can do it better

This is what Apple wants us to believe, because they think the battery life they currently provide is just enough for your everday use. But let’s have a look at competition to see what they’re doing. It’s not fair to compare iPhone’s battery with its competitors since it’s smaller, but, in the end, all that the consumer gets is less or more hours of use, right? Here’s what TechRadar has to say about Samsung Galaxy S3′s battery life, for example:

The Samsung Galaxy S3 managed to get to only 82% battery power by the end of the test – compare that to the 60% of the HTC One X and 74% of the iPhone 4S and you can see why we’re impressed.

We are yet to see complete reviews on the Nokia Lumia 920, as well. But, by now, we already know that key to better battery life, judging by the current technology we possess, is more mAh. Therefore, if Apple doesn’t come up with a revolutionary solution about battery, chances are, unfortunately, that we won’t see increases in battery life and the cycle will continue – the iPhone will get stronger, thinner, smarter but you will still have to charge it more often than you’d like to.

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Managing Editor

is the Managing Editor of Technically Personal. When he has some extra-time, he writes about Windows 8 apps and reviews them on Wind8Apps. Believes that technology is the main engine of civilization. Send him a tweet or make him your Facebook friend

 
 
  • http://www.CravingTech.com/ Michael Aulia @CravingTech.com

    Wow, that’s a really comprehensive and good article to read (too bad I haven’t went and bought my morning coffee yet :))

    I don’t mind charging my phone every night though sometimes it’s pretty handy to carry some portable battery charger along for emergencies

  • http://www.facebook.com/terrokkin Terence Waters

    Nice research; very interesting to read as well, thank you!

    What makes this more interesting is how 4G LTE has made a difference in how people view battery life. (I’m an S3 and Android user but do see the value in what the iPhone brought to the table with its initial launch.)

    I find that keeping connected to WiFi when not in need of the LTE network, it tends to lengthen the battery life because of the less need to run off the cellular side of things. It is one thing to get used to from diving head-first into the 4G world, but the more you continually use LTE, the worse battery life becomes. It’s simply how the cellular network runs (not just AT&T but also Verizon, and soon-to-be Sprint).

    This all said, it’s about time iPhone joins in on the LTE goodness with the iPhone 5. I’m willing to sacrifice some battery life for its speeds…you’ll see what I mean as you start using it ;) LTE rocks!