If You're Out Of Cellphone Service For A Long Time, Remove Your Battery

If you’re going to be in an area with no cellphone service for more than a few hours, consider removing your cellphone battery during that time or it might go dead. It seems that turning your cellphone off isn’t enough; the cellphone may continually try to resync with the mothership grid, and the successive abortive attempts are very draining on the battery level.

We found this out over vacation and had occasion where the cellphone was fully charged before turning it off, only to have it be flashing eep eep help me I’m dyinnnnnng when we turned it on again.

(Photo: dyobmit)


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  1. gibsonic says:

    you used the words “dead” “mother…” “abort…” and “help me I’m dyinnnnnng”

    if you read this post backwards it says something about a cell phone.

  2. TCameron says:

    Of course this trick can’t be used with the iPhone unless of course shutting off wifi and using the “Airplane mode” will help shut it off from the AT&T mothership grid. Ohh, Apple and you’re never see the guts to our product policy.

  3. joe6486 says:

    I don’t know of a single cell phone model that tries to sync when it’s “off”. This is bogus advice, and unnecessary.

  4. Wormfather says:

    @gibsonic: Nice pick-up.

    @joe6486: Hmmm, you may have a point. Now I’d like to see some reference information.

  5. Terek Kincaid says:

    I’m sure half the people reading this think when the screen is off the phone is “off”. A lot of folks still don’t get the concept of “standby”. If your phone is fully off, it won’t try to sync. Remember that thing about the FBI being able to turn on the mic on mafia phones remotely, even though they were off? Bogus misunderstanding of technology. *Maybe* they could activate the phone silently if it was on an on a network, but impossible if the phone is off. Like Wormfather, I want some proof.

  6. ErikinPA says:

    Are you an authority on cell phone electronics?
    How many cell phones have you examined?
    How many manufacturers’ websites did you check before making this post?

    I would point to the FXNWS article about how you can be “tracked” while your phone is off, but I don’t want to take the time.

    The poster above me has bogus advice, and his post is unnecessary.

  7. ErikinPA says:

    erm. @ joe.

  8. RogueSophist says:

    Nothing better than general advice gleaned from a single, anomalous experience. I’m guessing your battery is kicked. I’ve yet to see a phone that does anything like what you’re suggesting.

  9. kingoman says:

    If you think your phone is off but it still tries to resync then why didn’t your plane crash? ;-)

    This does speak to the difference between stand-by and off. A cell phone that is truly OFF and still does anything external to itself is either broken or evil. Either way, I’d get a new one.

    Even if it’s only that people don’t understand the difference, then how many phones are ON during a flight (and does that prove the navigational concerns are bogus)?

  10. Ben Popken says:


    Other people in my party and on the island experienced the same thing, so neener neener.

  11. edmundo says:

    Smartphones follow this procedure; they are never really “off,” they only go into stand-by mode. see any HTC model (PPC-6800, T-Mobile Wing, Cingular 8525), Moto Q, iPhone, etc. These phones will, even in stand-by mode, try to find a signal, and this drains battery life. For the people who have a smartphone, this post is good advice.

    For all other users, however, OFF is OFF. Flip phones and candybar-non-smarthphones do not need to have their battery removed. The OFF button will suffice, and there will be no attempts at signal acquistion.

  12. proginoskes says:

    My Blackberry Pearl is never completely ‘off’ when it’s in ‘off’ mode. (And for some strange reason, the ONLY way to actually reboot it is is to remove the battery.) But if I understand the documentation correctly, when it’s in ‘off’ mode or ‘Wireless off’ mode, the RADIO is off. If the radio is off, then that’s it–NO radio communication at all. These sort of mode changes should be clearly labelled in the phone’s interface. RTFM.

    I spent a whole week on a cruise with Wireless Off mode, so I could use the Memo functions and things like that while being sure to never incur roaming-in-another-universe charges from my provider, and the battery life was that of a radio-free PDA.

    You shouldn’t have to take the battery out just to be sure you’re not going to hurt an aircraft’s poor fragile electronics or drain the battery or whatever.

  13. ab3i says:

    Cell Phones attempting to Sync whilst powered OFF is highly unlikely. Perhaps you put in on a standby mode? or *MAYBE*, you accidentally switched it on without realizing it? As far as I know, Cells will attempt to find a network when not in a coverage area like a basement, or a beach etc.(esp. when the network is set to automatic by default). However, a phone which is switched off, shouldn’t be searching for a network at all.
    Now I am not an expert on cellular devices, so any posted references would be greatly appreciated.

  14. proginoskes says:

    @Ben Popken: Name names so we can confirm this problem for your device and mock it.

  15. Ben Popken says:

    @proginoskes: Ok, sure: LG VX8300.

  16. shoegazer says:

    Right, shoegazer to the rescue.

    Windows mobile phones like this one have a standby mode when you press the “off” switch. This is like being on standby for your PC: it’s not “Off”, the radio still tries to find a network, and yes it drains battery.

    This is more a smartphone feature and you can still switch the phone off completely (in this case, holding Power for 5 seconds). However once you switch it off completely removing the battery makes no difference whatsoever.

  17. yg17 says:

    @edmundo: On HTC phones (at least the P4350/Wing) if you press and hold the power button for a few seconds, it will ask you if you want to turn off the device. And that is real off mode, not standby. Standby leaves everything on, it just locks the keyboard and turns off the screen. But press and hold to actually turn it off.

  18. edmundo says:

    @BEN POPKEN: the VX8300, when actually powered off, will not look for a signal. the battery need not be removed. you might have an old, worn out battery.

  19. enm4r says:

    I have used my phone off to save battery as compared to attempting to roam/seek many times, when I knew I would be in areas with limited/no service. I have never experienced anything remotely close to significant battery loss.

    I’m no battery expert, but it seems to me when it’s powered down, even if it were in a semi-standby mode, it would be in radio off mode, which means that anything other than negligable battery loss should be unexpected.

  20. edmundo says:

    @YG17: really? that is a new feature with WM6, perhaps, but with the Sprint WM and Palm OS phones (6600, 6700, 6800, 755p, 700wx, etc), this is not the case. there is no OFF mode.

    the point is, SmartPhones often have a stand-by mode, while normal cell phones don’t.

  21. joharp says:

    Remembering the post a while back about snoopware on cell phones, it appears that the non-smart phones can be turned on remotely. Of course this required additional programming to be installed on the phone, but the idea of the phone not being completely off is not unheard of.

  22. cde says:

    Ask anyone in a secure military installation that has cell phone signal scramblers/shields. Leaving your cell phone on will, aside from getting you arrested in those high security areas, result in a dead battery from the phone constantly searching for a signal. A phone that is turned off (even if it still uses a bit of battery to keep the clock at the right time) will not have a dead battery after a tour in that area.

  23. shoegazer says:

    @edmundo: I think it’s a Treo thing rather than Windows Mobile. All the imate / HTC devices I’ve owned can power down completely (including Wm5 and earlier)

  24. ncboxer says:

    I have an LG VX8300 and I get no signal while I’m at work (surrounded by many concrete walls). I have to hold the “PWR/END” button down for a couple of seconds to fully turn the cellphone off, or yes the battery will drain while I’m at work. That said, when turning it off, it does not search for anything and does not drain the battery.

    Also as the battery gets older it will lose it charge faster. So previously 8 hours of searching might drain the whole battery, while now 2 hours of searching will do the same thing.

  25. yg17 says:

    @edmundo: Nope, my phone had the feature with WM5, and I upgraded to WM6 and it’s still there.

    @joharp: Need a tin foil hat for your cell phone too?

    I think CDE might have hit the nail on the head. The battery is probably being used to keep the clock. Also, on some phones, if you set an alarm or a reminder, and turn the phone off, the phone will still play a noise at the set time. The radio’s off, it’s just using a little power for the alarm feature.

  26. tvh2k says:

    Ben I’ve got the VX8100 (the 8300’s predecessor) and have to say that I’m not buying it. First, there’s no need to take off the battery to cut a phone off from the network. Just turn on “standalone mode” aka “airplane mode”. On the 8100:
    -press “menu” button
    -right arrow, right arrow (settings&tools menu)
    -[4] (system)
    -[1] (standalone mode)
    Toggle it off or on and press OK.

    Secondly, batteries can discharge when left unused but it’s not due to the device “phoning home”. Usually it’s at a very low rate (~5%/month) and due to the internal voltage monitoring (to prevent permanent damage to the Li-ion). The discharge rate can be more substantial in older batteries (with already reduced capacity) or ones exposed to extreme temperatures.

    I can attest to my phones ability to maintain a charge for 28 days of basic training. I signed in and dropped it off in a concrete building with no cell reception and when I turned it back on a month later it was still at 3/4 charge (wasn’t full when it was tuned off).

    But then again I’m no expert. Maybe you’ve discovered verizon’s top secret way of tracking you?

  27. chinadoll724 says:

    I know that’s not the case for my phone. I have a Sprint A920 and I had it turned off for 3 months while I was in China. Without charging it, I came back to use it with no problems (and full bars) at the end of that. I do have international call making capabilities, but I didn’t use it. It might have been because I was overseas, but there was no battery used on mine while it was off.

  28. Buran says:

    @ErikinPA: Uh, “off” means “off”. Something that is off is not going to respond to interrogation, period.

    Or does “off” mean something different on your planet?

  29. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    The cellphone clock is set by the carrier, it’s not “in” the phone. You can check this by leaving your phone on when the DST to Standard Time changeover occurs or by traveling from one time zone to another.

  30. chinadoll724 says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:

    This is only true for CDMA phones like Sprint or Verizon. For GSM ones that use sim cards (T-mobile, Cingular, etc), this isn’t true and the time in the phone is actually “in the phone” and don’t switch over when you cross time zones.

  31. yg17 says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: I think the tower sets it, and the phone maintains it. Otherwise, your phone would be constantly communicating with the tower which would be a waste of precious, scarce spectrum that cell carriers need as much as they can get. AFAIK, your phone checks the time every now and then to make sure the clock is in sync. Once when I was on a road trip and crossed time zone borders, my phone didn’t automatically change for quite awhile, an hour or so. The phone syncs with the tower every now and then, and uses the battery to keep the time (which is why your clock is still working and accurate when you don’t have any service)

  32. chinadoll724 says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:

    Not always true. While this is the case for CDMA phones such as those using Sprint or Verizon, GSM phones (T-mobile, Cingular, etc) do have the time “in” the phone and don’t change over when you cross time zones.

  33. chinadoll724 says:

    Sorry for the double. I didn’t think the first one went through.

  34. yg17 says:

    @chinadoll724: GSM phones switch when you change time zones. I have had both Cingular and T-Mobile, have crossed time zone borders with both, and they update. It’s just not instant, since they’re not constantly pinging the tower to get the time, it just checks in every now and then to keep everything in sync. A phone reboot will get it to resync, whenever I’m flying and the plane lands in the other timezone and I turn my phone on, it updates instantly. But when driving, it’s not so instant if I keep the phone on.

  35. Terek Kincaid says:


    Oh, Ok, you complain about me being an anonymous hack with no proof, and then “can’t find the time” to find the proof that makes your point. I would love to see that article so I can see what their sources are. Simply put, if the phone is off, it is off. That is the definition of off – it’s not working. Just because you can’t RTFM and figure out how to shut your phone off for real doesn’t mean we can’t.

    You said island. Was it hot? Where was your phone? Extremely high heat will bake the life right out of your battery. There are a lot of things that can take down a battery. How do you know for sure it was searching for a signal? Did you have an RF meter nearby? You’re just guessing, then throwing out advice. How about a little scientific method? I’m just sayin’ :P

  36. Cowboys_fan says:

    @chinadoll724: Thats not exactly true. GSM will sync on its own in time, or checks on power up also. It usually changes properly for daylight savings as well.
    This is a new one to me. I worked for a cell company as a csr. Out of all my training(my company was honest to the employees, even when not honest with customers), and the roughly 80 calls/day I took * 5 days/week * 50 weeks(2 weeks holidays) * 2 years = 40 000 calls, and I have never heard of this.
    Perhaps theres a short or something. I have a computer that won’t turn off w/ the power switch, I have to use the one in the back. Even when I hold it, it powers off, until I release the button. Try removing the battery to power off, then put back in and see if it still drains. I can’t imagine how this would happen to multiple people. I don’t know much about the VX8300 other than they boast 380 hrs standby.
    P.S. Of all those 40000 callers, at least 500 did not know HOW to turn off their phone. I hope you’re not one of those.

  37. solmssen says:

    We need to make a distinction here between the phone radio and the phone electronics. On many phones, the radio can be powered off independently of the electronics (sometimes called flight or airplane mode). If the radio is off, the radio is off. No communications between the phone and tower take place, and the high-power signal seeking mode that drains the battery in low signal areas will not occur. The phone electronics are energized as long as the battery is inserted – the power switch on the phone is not a physical throw switch after all – there has to be enough running to recognize the power switch and act on it. But that mode consumes almost no power at all, and the phone can stay in it for days or weeks if the battery is in good shape.

  38. horned_frog says:

    I’m curious Ben… what provider do you use? :)

  39. joharp says:

    @yg17: I don’t believe anyone should be paranoid about phone hacking, I am just pointing out that it is not difficult for a phone to have 3rd party software that prevents if from being truely turned off. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that a phone’s manufacturers or carrier’s OS to try to stay in-sync when it is off.

  40. cde says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: Like others have said, not all technologies and manufacturers keep the clock running the same. My v360 allows me to set the time manually or allow the network to set it, and the phone needs a way of maintaining the time when off or away from the network.

    Second, even when set to network time mode, my phone requires a reboot during dst time changes unless t-mobile sends a forced time update packet OTA like they do for setting up sms and other features.

  41. mistaketv says:

    This reminds me of that retarded email that says you can use your cell phone to unlock your car. Ben, I just don’t know if my love for you will ever be the same.

  42. bricko says:

    GSM phones DO change time when crossing time zones. I have one that does. Nokia 6102b, they know where they are when the “hit” a tower and it checks the time as it syncs up. In fact most all devices that access a network get the time from the net…not in the device. You cell, your DVR , your cable box, you old wireline phone etc.

    And they get it from the satellites or National Time system.

  43. eelmonger says:

    I think I’m going to have to disagree with Ben as well. I own the same phone and took it with me to England recently, where there is obviously no Verizon signal. I had the phone turned off 99% of the time (I needed the calculator once and the clock did NOT work without the signal). When I got back to the states, over a week later, the phone was still almost fully charged. First the laptop brightness now the phone battery, please try and do some research before posting stuff like this.

  44. bonafidebob says:

    It may not be the phone “checking in”, it might just be bad circuit design. It’s pretty easy to accidentally power portions of a circuit board, or not shut down all the components when turning the device off, and it’s common for prototypes to have power problems like this.

    Depending on the design team, these hardware bugs may or may not get resolved before shipping. (Even good companies can ship with bugs — I’ve got some early Motorola FRS radios that chew through their three AAs in a few days while “off”, and my old Eagle GPS will run down its batteries in only a couple of days.)

  45. edmundo says:

    @yg17: really? I’ve owned a PPC-6700 and -6800, both with Sprint, and they can’t turn OFF. Both are HTC devices; one has WM5 and the other WM6. The Palm devices behave the same way. Which devices did you have? I’m curious because I HATE not being able to power down the device.

  46. kimsama says:

    Hmm, I would not have believed this myself last month, but I just got back from two weeks in Asia and experienced exactly the same thing — full bars when I left, phone died when I got back to the U.S. and turned it back on. It was off the entire time I was out of the country.

    I never had this problem with older phones when I traveled to Asia and kept them turned off (I used to have some form of Samsung, now have a razr), but the current phone has a fantastic battery life compared to the old one, so I’m inclined to believe Ben. Not sure what else would explain this.

  47. plchan says:

    The cell phone battery would die out if you have it in the phone (even though you turn it off). However, I don’t think it is because the cell phone tries to re-sync thou.

    For example, you have always been advised that to remove batteries from the flash light if you do not the flash light for a long while. It is the same theory of the cell phone. Again, I highly doubt it is because the cell phone tries to re-sync it (except you set the phone to “standby” position, rather than actually turn the phone off (I don’t think Windows Mobile devices would be turned off completely).

  48. yg17 says:

    @edmundo: I have an HTC P4350 (basically an unbranded T-Mobile Wing). What happens if you hold down your power button for about 5 seconds or so?

  49. philipbarrett says:

    My Razr is guilty of this, either OFF is not really off or the circuit design draws current without the phone being powered. It takes about 9 days to go from full charge to empty and is a drag as you have to travel with the charger even if not planning to use your US “charge the crap outta you” carrier whilst abroad.

  50. dabean says:

    This most definitely applies to the LG CU500 I have.

  51. floofy says:

    I have been selling cell phones for 6 years. They do not re-sync when completely powered off. You would only need to remove the battery if you are using a smart phone which you cannot really turn off unless the battery is removed. People should already know that they should turn their phones off in low signal areas as it drains the battery much quicker. Duh.

  52. floofy says:

    Btw, I’m sure everyone already knows that any battery will discharge over time whether or not it is used. I think for Ben’s phone to discharge so quickly, he either misjudged how much power was left on the battery, or the phone is liquid damaged (which everyone denies even when the water damage sticker is bright red!)

  53. kimsama says:

    @philipbarrett: I agree that it must be a bad design — I never had problems with other older phones, but the razr dies every time I leave the country for 2 or so weeks. I guess it draws more power all even when it should be dormant.

  54. kimsama says:

    ugh, -“all” from my last sentence.

  55. Cowboys_fan says:

    @floofy: The sticker wasn’t red when I sent it in, I swear! F’n UPS.

  56. FordPrfct says:

    @edmundo: I have the Sprint PPC-6800 (Mogul), and have no problems in actually turning it off.

    Press “Power”: Standby (All buttons but “Power” locked, and screen off)
    Hold “Power” for five seconds: “Power will be turned off, and you may lose data if you have not saved them. Do you want to continue?” (Pressing “Yes” shuts down the phone completely.)