4G Phones Are Fast But Spotty Service Is A Real Drain On Your Battery

With Verizon’s 4G network covering a good chunk of the country and AT&T gaining ground, more smartphone users have access to the fastest wireless service available. But because 4G coverage isn’t truly continuous in many locations, users’ batteries are taking a big hit.

“I love everything about the phone, but with 4G on, it just sucks down the battery,” one Verizon Wireless customer explains to the Wall Street Journal. “It’s very frustrating. Why can’t I get a phone to last a whole day?”

The problem, reports the Journal, is that 4G phones in areas with spotty 4G service spend an awful lot of battery power trying to hunt down a signal.

“So you’ve got a situation where the phones are sending out their signals searching and searching for a 4G tower, and that eats up your battery,” says Carl Howe, a vice president for research firm Yankee Group.

Improved networks will help curb this issue. But as 4G becomes more readily available, you can expect people to use their phones for more battery-draining purposes like streaming video or browsing more web pages than they would on a slower network. Many of the latest phones have batteries that are not capable of handling such a workload for any extended period of time.

The one phone that is getting the most attention with regards to battery life is the new Droid Razr Maxx, which promises upward of 21.5 hours of continuous talk time. I got my hands on the device back in January, but wasn’t able to give the battery any more than a cursory test.

However, my cohorts at Consumer Reports are now putting the Razr Maxx through the gauntlet — and with decent results.

“My informal tests suggest the Razr Maxx’s battery life is simply astounding,” writes CR’s Mike Gikas, “and the best I’ve ever seen on a smart phone.”

After a full day of moderate-to-heavy use on Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network, he found that the phone retained around 75% of its battery power.

And on the streaming video front, he was able to stream “Iron Man 2” from the HD Netflix app for almost three entire viewings before the battery died. The non-Maxx version of the Droid Razr conks out 30 minutes into the second go-through of the movie.

Fast Phones, Dead Batteries [WSJ.com]


Edit Your Comment

  1. fruvous says:

    So… this article is about LTE service?

    The carrier’s use of the term “4G” is coming back to bite them in the ass.

    • amuro98 says:

      My understanding is that the US does not have true 4G, just some sort of 3G++. Hence the “4GLTE” designation because it’s not truly 4G.

      • homehome says:

        No it doesn’t have true 4G. This country for some reason decides to make 4g phones without finishing their 4g network, they haven’t finished their 3g networks yet and arguably many haven’t finished their 2g networks. At least the asian countries build the network b4 the device.

    • El_Red says:

      Not out in USA yet. Big companies are running tests, no word when it will become available.
      Now the max is HSPDA+ in USA. Technically both are “4G”. 4G is completely meaningless, since technically there have been several generations already in cellphone technology, more like 23rd G.

      • NeverLetMeDown says:

        Huh? Verizon covers 2/3 of the US population with LTE, AT&T covers about 1/3 (will be nearly 2/3 by the end of 2012).

        US 4G networks are FAR more extensive than anywhere in Europe or Asia.

  2. mikedt says:

    “But as 4G becomes more readily available, you can expect people to use their phones for more battery-draining purposes like streaming video or browsing more web pages than they would on a slower network.”

    Oh don’t worry. With data caps and even throttling those with unlimited accounts, you’ll have plenty of battery power later in the month when you’ve hit your data limit.

  3. alaron says:

    So this is an ad…?

  4. Dallas_shopper says:

    I have a Samsung Galaxy and Sprint. On the odd moment that it finds a 4G network, I can practically watch the battery drain. 3G is too slow to do many things, especially on a crappy Galaxy (droid) phone.

    I rue the day I ever signed up with Sprint and chose this crappy phone.

    • homehome says:

      why dont ppl cut off 4g when it’s not in use?

      • who? says:

        Can’t. Not easily, anyway. There’s no “turn off 4G” button anywhere.

        • blogger X says:

          Depends on the model. You can turn it off on the EVO.

        • Dallas_shopper says:

          Correct; I can’t “turn off” 4G on my phone. Theoretically you should be able to, but in practice you can’t. Plus, they keep doing updates to the OS and every time they do, it gets more difficult to turn off alarms or to answer calls on that stupid touch screen. Ugh.

          I rue the day. I really do.

  5. AngryK9 says:

    Sprint’s 4G is virtually nonexistent, so I don’t even bother with it.

  6. d0x360 says:

    I just bought a samsung galaxy nexus for verizon. Its a 4g dual core beast of a phone that sucks the battery down. Any time im not actively using the internet on the phone i go into the options and set it to cmda (3g) then when i know ill be doing online stuff for more than a min ill set it to cdma/lte (3/4g). That way my phone isnt always trying to access battery draining 4g when im its not being used. I have a widget that makes it quick and simple.

  7. castlecraver says:

    Actually, switching between 3G and “4G” on AT&T is considerably more power efficient than doing the same on Verizon due to the original 3G infrastructure on the respective networks and the additional hardware required in the Verizon handsets. Fewer radios, better tech. (At least until Voice-over-LTE becomes standard.)

  8. johnrhoward says:

    If you’re not actively using 4G, then it shouldn’t be turned on. There’s no need for 4G to download your email or Facebook updates in the background. And if it’s not on, it’s not draining your battery. I don’t see the problem.

    • consumed says:

      That’s the problem – users want instant access to the data when they do stream movies and stuff. And if they have to toggle the LTE radio on and off then it defeats the whole purpose of LTE because it slows everything down, and even if it was automatic it takes a few seconds for the LTE radio to power up and associate with the network.

      AT&T does have the upper hand here because its 3G network is more advanced than Verizon’s or Sprint’s, and will be a smoother handover to LTE towers.

  9. consumed says:

    I’m sure in 2 months they’ll come out with the Droid Razr Maxx Ultra II Plus with 49% more battery life and 5% thinner.

  10. Yomiko says:

    A Verizon store rep actually discouraged me from buying an LTE phone recently. He told me that I’d be better off getting a 3G phone until the service issues get sorted. Of course, the poor fellow looked at me like I had 3 heads when I told him that none of the phones he was selling actually had 4G at all.

    • El_Red says:

      He actually gave you a good advice. A good old functional reliable (though slower) network vs the new spotty thing.
      As to 4G wording, it’s just semantics for marketing. LTE/HSPDA/CDMA, etc are more accurate descriptions; difficult to market though.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      “Of course, the poor fellow looked at me like I had 3 heads when I told him that none of the phones he was selling actually had 4G at all.”

      Huh? ITU has officially declared LTE to be 4G, as a forerunner to IMT-Advanced compliant LTE Advanced.

  11. blogger X says:

    Sprint’s WiMax speeds have slowed down in my area, and their 3G speeds were like using EDGE. So I kicked them to the curve and got the iPhone 4S on AT&T, I average about 7-9 Mbps down and 2-3 Mbps up, the same speeds I was initially getting on WiMax.

  12. who? says:

    My experience. This is totally true. I have a Verizon 4G phone (Droid Charge). I live in an area with strong and consistent 4G, and work in a place where, up until recently, 4G coverage was spotty. On days I went to work, the phone would be dead by evening, even if I just left it sitting on my desk all day. On days when I was at home, I had plenty of battery, even if I was using the phone a lot.

    Recently, they added another 4G tower near my work, so I have better 4G at work. Battery problem is resolved. Yay!

  13. samonela says:

    So can I do like that woman who sued Honda?

    Can I sue Verizon for selling me a 4G phone when I have seen it actually attain 4g maybe twice in the 60 or so days I’ve had it?

    I don’t really care. Just wondering.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      IANAL but…

      Doubtful… it is your right to sue in this country. Unless you accepted a binding arbitration agreement when you signed up with Verizon (probable) so, you’re not going to get very far in the courts.

      Even if your case was heard, Verizon’s lawyers would certainly point to some fine print on their brochures which read along the lines of “4G service not available in all areas.” Then, were they able to link you to your Consumerist screen name, and pulled up your post, the case would be dismissed with prejudice, and they might even come after you for their legal fees defending against your suit.

  14. baquwards says:

    Download “Battery Defender” for free from the android market. It turns off the data when the screen is turned off. I bought my partner a Samsung Stratosphere (4g) for Christmas, he barely used it during the day and still only had like 30% battery after 8 hours. After installing battery defender, he has around 70% remaining when he gets home.

    I use it on my 3g droid incredible with similar results. It has a whitelist where you can grant certain apps access to data when the screen is turned off but the app continues to run (like pandora).

    The app opens data every so often to allow push services.

  15. Cosmo_Kramer says:

    The only thing 4G is good for right now is criticizing the iPhone for not suporting it.

  16. Peter V says:

    I had the Samsung Stratosphere (an updated Galaxy S/Fascinate) from Verizon, I finally got to go to Ogden UT to test the LTE… FAST, Like Crazy (Video like Youtube or using Streaming HTTP would loadly before I finish letting go of the button)… It had a 1850MAH battery, it sucked the battery just as fast (within 5 hrs of 4G… DEAD) so I really couldn’t using to it’s smartphone purpose even with 5 hrs of connected LTE (Push notifications, 1 hr of Pulse or Google Currents). Back home with 3G, it would last most of the day (dead by 7:30 on normal use). Time was ticking (return policy), I decided to go with the iPhone 4 and I am happy with my choice (faster 3G than my previous phones too!).

  17. Spaghettius! says:

    Got an Evo with Sprint… I love it, but my old piece of s&$# Motorola bricklet could go 3 days without being charged, and this thing needs charging every 6 hours or so. I got it to last overnight once by switching between airplane mode and regular service (without internet). It sucks, because if I need it for the whole day and forget to turn even 3G off, the battery eats itself up.
    And the screen. I imagine just turning the screen on and off eats up juice. I almost miss the bricklet. The Evo is my first smartphone, and I don’t know if I want another one when the contract runs out. I like internet, but don’t *need* it, but I love a long battery life.

    • bomber991 says:

      I too have an Evo 4g. You can leave 3g on, but turn off 4g. Also for your background, you want a static image instead of one of those dynamic backgrounds. By making those changes, my battery will drop about 15% over an 8 hour period if I’m not using the phone at all.

  18. CorvetteJoe says:

    How is this news?
    Any android user knows to turn off anything he’s not using, an that 4G should only be turned on when needed.

    and on that note… I wish people that have a cheap non-4G phone that they complain about “android is so slow I should have bought an iphone” needs to shut up. Hey moron, it’s your crappy phone that’s slow. Don’t cheap out next time. Quit blaming the OS. No wonder Android gets such a bad rap. It’s like Windows on ANY PC hardware vs OSX on ONE single type of hardware. Same argument.

    Don’t cheap out and learn to use your device.