How Valuable Are Smartphone Battery Life Figures?

I do a lot of hands-on research on smartphones. I do this for two reasons. First, I believe they are fast becoming one of the prevalent cloud clients, and second, they are fast becoming a popular device to consume video. AMD obviously is involved in building the cloud with the AMD Opteron Processors but also conversion to make a video smartphone-friendly can take a tremendous amount of compute power, and ATI Radeon HD 4800 series graphics and AMD Phenom II X4 processors do those conversions quite well.

One smartphone element that needs some more discussion is the value of battery life figures that one finds at the point of purchase or research. Whether it’s the iPhone, Blackberry Bold, Blackberry Storm, or Nokia N6, there initially appears to be variability between claims, tests, and personal usage. Let’s take a look at each phone and see if that’s the case.


iphone_09_patApple’s web site lists the following for the 3G iPhone:

• Talk time: up to 5 hours on 3G, 10 hours on 2G

• Standby time: up to 300 hours

• Internet use: up to 5 hours on 3G, 6 hours on WiFi

• Video playback: Up to 7 hours

• Audio playback: Up to 24 hours

The birdseed print states that the testing was done with pre-production handsets back in June, 2008. I also found the methodology interesting in that different features were sometimes toggled on/off during the tests: WiFi association, WiFi ask to join networks”, call forwarding, and auto-brightness.

Anandtech did their own testing and reported the following battery life for the 3G iPhone:

• Talk time: 4 hours 44 mins (284 mins) on 3G; 6 hours 4 mins (364 mins) on EDGE

• Web browsing: 3 hours 17 mins (197 minutes) on 3G; 6 hours, 40 mins (400 minutes) on WiFi; 4 hours and 3 mins (243 minutes) on EDGE.

Anandtech’s number confirmed and disputed some of the numbers listed by Apple, but then again they may not have tested exactly the same way. I am impressed by Apple’s depth and transparency of information as you will soon see why…

Blackberry Bold

iphone_09_bb_boldRIM’s web site lists the following for the Bold:

• Talk time: 4 hours, 30 mins

• Standby time: 324 hours (13.5 days)

I found it interesting that there were no disclaimers evident anywhere on the web site and there were no battery life scores for internet, video or audio.

I looked long and hard and found some testing reviews by Boy Genius and Asian One that listed what I would describe as good compilation battery remarks”, but couldn’t find as detailed a review as Anandtech had for the iPhone.

BoyGenius commented that their testing had included:

• 300-500 emails a day,

• one hour of web surfing over 3G,

• Wi-Fi usually turned on, Bluetooth turned off,

• JiveTalk connected, and around one hour of phone calling (although they admitted that they didn’t normally use the BlackBerry as a phone), and that their test phone’s battery lasted from 9AM until 4:30AM (or 7 ½ hours).

The talk time figure is around what I get, but I would like to see more granularity by usage model with more details around specific usages around internet use and video playback.

Blackberry Storm

iphone_09_bb_stormRIM’s web site lists the following for the Storm:

• Talk time: 6 hours

• Standby time: 356 hours (15 days)

As with the Bold, I also found it interesting on the Storm that there were no disclaimers evident anywhere and again there were no battery life scores for internet, video or audio.

CNet reported the following test results for the Storm:

• Talk time: 7 hours

• Music: 14 hours, 45 mins

As with the Bold, the Storm’s talk time figure is around what I get, but I would like to see more granularity by usage model with more details around specific usages around internet use and video playback.

Nokia N96

09_nokia_storm_patNokia’s web site lists the following for the Nokia N96:

• Talk time: up to 150 / 220 minutes (WCDMA / GSM)

• Stand-by time: up to 8 / 9 days (WCDMA / GSM)

• Video playback: up to 5 hours (offline mode)

• Music playback: up to 14 hours (offline mode)

There is an asterisk that disclaims that Operation times may vary depending on radio access technology, used operator network configuration and usage.”

All About Symbian reported the following activities they could complete in 16.5 hours on the N96 on one charge:

• YouTube Videos: approx 1 Hour playing using the S60 browser through 3.5G

• General Web Surfing: approx 1 Hour using both WiFi and 3.5G

• Mucking about with settings and navigating menus, etc.: approx 1 hour

• Setup Profimail and synced my IMAP account, 3,200 Emails, approx 400MB using WiFi, 3.5G and GPRS

• Downloaded the AAS Podcast, approx 20MB directly on the N96, and played the file using a stereo Bluetooth headset

End users may even find this test methodology the most valuable in that it shows a day in a life” given a particular charge. This data is impossible to compare against Nokia’s corporate website, but it was nice that Nokia would, like Apple, provide video and music playback numbers. I would like to see Nokia commit to an internet battery life figure.


So what can we take away from this mash-up of smartphone battery life figures? First, there are some significant variances from vendor to vendor in the terminology and the information depth and transparency provided. Secondly, when a third-party review was conducted, it could sometimes be compared to the manufacturer’s specs, sometimes not. In some cases, the third-party review supported the claim, sometimes not. But that could be attributed to a difference in methodology. Net-net, not a whole lot of consistency exists with audio, video and internet battery life scoring.

My single biggest positive takeaway was the consistency with almost everyone on the usage and application of talk time” and standby time.” While not as cool as internet battery” life, if you believe that talking is the primary use for your smartphone, this is good for the consumer.

What do you think about smartphone battery life marks? How is their accuracy and value?

Pat Moorhead is Vice President of Advanced Marketing at AMD. You can find him on his AMD blog, personal blog, Twitter, FriendFeed, and LinkedIn. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied.

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