3G iPhone proves that battery life is a problem for everyone!

Posted on 13 July 2008, Last updated on 13 July 2008 by

This tickled me. A post on Friendfeed a short while ago…

“As the iPhone begins to resemble and be used like a computer, we will have to contend with challenges like crashing and battery life.” [Steve Rubel]

He’s right. Many people still assume that smartphones have excellent battery life compared to UMPCs. The reality is slightly less exciting if you use both devices for mobile Internet activities on a regular basis.

Apart from having a little giggle, the comment also reminded me to check up on the reported iPhone 3G battery life and compare it with my figures. I came up with an interesting article from AnandTech who have completed a browsing test which resulted in a dead iPhone in just over three hours. That’s much less than the 5-hrs quoted by Apple. It’s not even the most power-hungry test you could do on an iPhone. Try doing some Voip, live tracking or even IM with some music playing in the background and you’ll have a dead iPhone in under 2 hrs. Well, you would if the Iphone would let you run 3rd party background tasks!

3G radios, GPUs, displays are all going to take a lot of power whether they’re on a ultra mobile PC or a smartphone. Add 3rd-party software into the mix and you find that if you want the FIE on a regular basis, there’s no substitute for a fat battery!  As I mentioned in a previous article, 10wh is about your minimum battery size for any serious mobile Internet device in 2008 and 2009. The battery in the iPhone is only 5wh (possibly only 4wh according to this article.) 

In perspective, the iPhone 3G is still an impressively efficient device. 1.5W maximum power drain makes it one of the most energy efficient MIDs around and it’s still leading the way in the consumer-oriented market. In 2007 we were seeing best-of-breed UMPCs taking 9W to do similar 3G browsing tasks. Later in 2008, the differential will shrink to just 2 or 3watts and in 2010, the differential will be close to zero but in all cases, you still need that big battery if you need the FIE for long periods between charges. For now, the multi-device strategy still seems to be the best for you pro-mobile users.

[If you spot any other iPhone 3G battery life tests that were done under ‘MID’ conditions. Please drop me a comment. I’m interested. Thanks.]

26 Comments For This Post

  1. cjgunit says:

    I had bt, 3g, and wifi off, screen brightness down to about 15%, and 50 minutes of monkey ball had it shutting off. I for one would like to know how you managed 3 hours browsing, because i shut down after about 90 minutes. that by the way was on edge. i don’t have 3g in my area.

  2. Mark says:

    Good point – I don’t have a iPhone, but I do have an iPod Touch, and while browsing is impressive for such a small device, the battery runs flat in a very short period of time. So, I never bother to use it for that task – I just get my Vye out and use that instead.

  3. Synced says:

    The 624Mhz ARM Processor is the big battery sucker here especially considering the iPhone battery isn’t very large.

    In our business we typically ship 200mhz ARM processor equipped windows mobile devices to customers who need longevity in the mobile workfoce.

    These devices have 3G, run Opera and run quite fine.

    Unfortunately the port of OSX is quite hungry on resource requirements. Hopefully the next iteration is slimmed down significantly.

    The whole point of having a GPU like the iPhone does is so the CPU isn’t required for much processing for slick UI and handling the rendering of the browser. I fear they have many inefficencies still in the OS to require such a large processor. Hopefully this gets rectified.

    Usually that is the purpose of specialized chips. To reduce the main processor because specialized chips take less power and actually get the task done faster.

  4. pyrek says:

    On my old iPhone I can use internet (edge) for 2/3 hours, play bejegweled for another hour and leave it trough night without chrging. Next morning battery shows about 25/30 percent. IMO very good scores.
    But when I left iPhone over night with WiFi on, next morning battery was flat.
    For me, in XXI century, battery should last for at least 8/10 hours, otherwise it is just “half mobile”…


  5. Juniormarco says:

    Once again, sticking to so called “elegant” design that battery replacement is not allowed… this is stupid move. As a consumer, no battery? so i stop browsing, stop listening music. That wold be fine.

    I always queried why Fortune 500 companies will be satisfied with iphone… If battery is a problem, how can it be reliable machine for business? If i am CTO of big corp, i prefer look low-tech Blackberry more.

  6. ChristophD says:

    Mark, out of curiosity, how much wifi browsing battery-life do you get out of the iPod touch? Most reviews I looked at back in the day where talking about 4~5 hours which seems very much acceptable to me.

  7. zorg says:

    I’ve been using my new iPhone as hard as I can all weekend. So far the battery hasn’t bothered me—and I’ve seen those DIY Altoid tin USB batteries around enough to know that the inability to replace this battery never will bother me.

    I’m far more likely to be bothered by other aspects of the iPhone’s computerness—I’m sure crashing is in my future what with unproven apps and all.

  8. chippy says:

    What sort of batt life are you getting? How much of that time is idle time?


  9. nate115 says:

    @zorg – using the iPod touch for browsing only, I can get 4-5 hours on a full battery.

    @chippy – agreed regarding the multiple device solution: my iPod touch is my entertainment device, while my smartphone is my telephony device. If I did get an iPhone, as convenient as it may be, I’d have to compromise on my entertainment needs since having a working cellphone is mission critical. Having said that, I believe that a 3rd party manufacturer has come out with a sled-like external battery that attaches via the iPod connector. Not sure of the stats, but this could be a good alternative if one insists on having an iPhone, though its not really carrying one device anymore, is it?

  10. ecsk2 says:

    With this “Many people still assume that smartphones have excellent battery life compared to UMPCs.” I couldn’t help but think Chippy is referring to me among others (I can’t be “many people” after all :)).

    Anyway in my defense I’d like to say that I have strongly been saying that I don’t feel GPS is ready for being built in phones due to the battery time issue, and residing currently in a very 3G lacking area I haven’t had too much first hand experience with 3G so far, and I am not an AT&T customer so I don’t really have way to play with it. But I will say this UMPC’s do not have the same WiFi usage time as my (1st gen) iPhone by far.

    One thing though that you really need to take into account on the SMARTPHONE vs UMPC is the fact that a smartphone you wouldn’t turn OFF (or standby) when not using it and being around and about, unlike a UMPC which you would have to for many reasons, battery time, heat etc etc..

    Oh on this note how is the heat with the M528?

  11. ecsk2 says:

    …and yes I am a multiple device walking gadget geek too :)
    I usually have my Sidekick LX and iPhone (non 3G) and many times my old Dell x51v also with me.

  12. billy says:


    Just curious you consider the blackberry “low-tech”? It has more features and versatility than an iPhone. While some of the apps might be more polished on the iPhone it lacks a lot.

    Either way I welcome the iPhone and hope it spurs competition and innovation in the smart phone market.

  13. billy says:

    BTW … not trying to start the classic BB vs. iPhone war. They are both devices capable of doing a lot. I just want to point out that the BB is not a low-tech device.

  14. chippy says:

    You are probably right about BB not being low-tech but in my eyes, it always seems that way. The same feeling I always had with the Palm devices. Note that i’ve never really had much time with either of these devices.
    I wonder if this perception is simply a marketing thing.

  15. ChristophD says:

    Re: battery life the Austrian newspaper Der Standard also reports that it ran out after 3 hours of very extensive usage (as defined by 3G being enabled, e-mail sync, voice calls, watching a video, listening to MP3s, using GPS and lots of internet surfing). During normal use they’re estimating a requirement of at least one, potentially two charges per day.


  16. Will says:

    3 hours isn’t bad but I had hoped for more. It is however still pretty amazing for such a small device.

    Opera Mobile on a 200 MHz ARM processor runing Windows Mobile? Tried it once… never again. Opera Mobile is barely useable on my 624 MHz device. There is no way around it, to acceptably render most webpages these days, you need a lot of horsepower.

    Just FYI, the iPhone can sort of run background apps. They’re so far back, they’re running on a server! I haven’t looked into the API but you can have background tasks running on a server (hosted by Apple) and every time the task needs your attention, the server notifies the iPhone and you get a notification on your screen.

    Probably not the most elegant way of doing background tasks but at least it won’t result in the laggy mess which plagues other smartphone platforms *cough* Windows Mobile *cough*.

  17. coco says:

    Sure the battery on iPhone 3G is not that great, but what can we do? We want small size phones, powerful features and lengthy battery life.

    Just get a backup battery. I got mine from iPhoneck brands. Their new 3G backup battery is probably one of the better looking products in the market. Their website is http://www.iphoneck.com

  18. mw65719 says:

    I’d say this is exactly the issue why the “2 device” strategy will survive for a long time – which I believe Chippy’s survey a few weeks ago showed.
    Most people need their mobile phone to last through a few days (at least a day until they are home again where the charger is).
    So as nice as conversion is as a concept, it doesn’t really work for most.
    Now, in my opinion, if I have to carry 2 devices anyway, the size of the surfing / computing device should be somewhat larger – at minimum the 4.8″ of the M528 (which for me is probably too small already but which I would considere because it is pocketable and would also make a great PMP and navigation device if Gigabyte should offer it with a larger SSD), better the 7″ of the HTC Shift, Kohjinsha SC3, Asus R2E, etc. or maybe even the 8.9″ of the Kohjinsha SX3 (it is not that much larger than one of the 7″ UMPCs and you’ll have to carry a bag for either one anyway).

    As for the experience many have made with the battery life of the iPhone and other comparable devices, this confirms my opinion that the Shift’s 2 – 2.5 hours I can get with surfing via WiFi or 3G (not both on at the same time) isn’t as bad as many made it sound in previous discussions (still, an extended battery would be nice). And hardly any UMPC beats the Shift if you only use it for emails. This can almost exclusively be done in WinMo 6 (liberated SnapVue) and the battery lasts for 2+ days with 3G constantly on. You can even add an internet surfing session where a mobile browser is sufficient from time to time without seriously reducing battery life.

  19. ecsk2 says:


    I don’t know what you’re using/doing but I never had any issues with Opera Mobile, on the contrary it is a lot faster and “lighter” than Internet Explorer! I’ve used most previous editions of Opera on my 624Mhz Dell x51v and it has always performed better than IE! What device are you using and what else do you run at the same time? You are aware that on Windows Mobile “closing” a program is NOT the same as shuting it down, right?


    BB products are next into unknown in many regions outside North America, also indeed the BB products had fallen “behind” a while ago. It is only quite recently when they became more up to date and marketed (more aggressively) internationally. I mean just look at the history of Blackberry products AND the Blackberry software (two very different things from a history point of view BTW) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackBerry it wasn’t until 2002 that they released a “full” smartphone (not to mention the outdated look/feel of it) whereas Nokia has had the Communicator out since 1996 for instance. I feel that the NA market has a diffused image of BB being something very advanced just because a fair amount of government departments have used BB products and services for the long time. As such however the BB products have not by any means been ahead of other smart phones, not to be confused with the BB email handling that has been recognized by most mobile phone manufacturers who now incorporate support for BB email.


    I’m sorry but having extra battery/batteries is not the solution we are looking for, if we include that as a feasible solution the list of devices we could then consider/compare becomes endless. Whereas I have defended the iPhone a lot on here so far and I do like the iPhone UI but in this 3G case of battery time it just becomes evident that we need a “next generation” of either processors or batteries, or BOTH. Carrying around a number of batteries is NOT the solution. However what COULD be one step in the right direction is the development of LCD panels that have solar cells built into them.

  20. Will says:

    Being better than Pocket IE is not exactly something to be proud of. I don’t think anyone who uses their WM device to surf the web uses PIE.

    I’ve used Opera 8.65 on my Axim X30 (PXA270 624MHz), iMate SP3i (TI OMAP850 200MHz) and Samsung i780 (PXA3xx 624MHz). On simple, small sites, Opera works reasonably well. On more complex or larger sites, such as the Engadget homepage, the device stutters and becomes unresponsive for 10-30 seconds while it renders the page. It even has problems when you’re trying to move around a complex website.

    “You are aware that on Windows Mobile “closing” a program is NOT the same as shutting it down, right?”… Of course. One of the most useful apps on my phone is the Task Manager. How sad is that?!

    OS X Mobile is not that hungry on system resources at all. If you take into account the browsing time on EDGE or even WiFi (over 7 hours!), you’ll realise that the real culprit is the 3G radio.

  21. ecsk2 says:

    What mobile device have you been able to pull up Engadget website smoothly on??? :) Its got to be the most “mobile-unfriendly” site around!

  22. Will says:

    Safari on the ipod Touch renders Engadget nicely. It’s reasonably quick (for a mobile device) and navigating around the page is a breeze.

    NetFront 3.5 on my WM6 device displays Engadget quite nicely as well. It reformats the text to fit my display to minimise horizontal scrolling (just like the iPhone). It takes a while to render the page but once this is done, moving around the page is also very easy.

  23. ecsk2 says:


    Yes I know (as mentioned my “right pocket” device is an iPhone :)) but in this context “pull up” was refering to the time it takes, as its a very “demanding” page. Even though the iPhone pulls it up nicely (browser handles it ok that is, as it does with any blog) but it takes a significant amount of time including on wifi. The only page that has had my iPhone tilt a number of times is Engadget, it just closes the browser and that’s it, at times. Yes though I have a “hacked” iPhone, unlocked with a number of 3rd party “native” sw (not through iTunes).

  24. turn.self.off says:

    heh, engadget seems to be a badly built page. but that just makes it perfect for stress testing browsers ;)

  25. Will says:

    Well I did say fast for a mobile device! That is why I’m excited about the new ARMv7 CPUs which should hopefully make an apperance in phones in the next 6-12 months.

    I don’t own an iPod Touch or iPhone as they don’t have the connectivity options I need but I have played with them quite extensively and find that Safari seems to work quite well. I do remember it quitting on me once but coming from WM land, it just made me feel at home :)

  26. Jennifer R. says:

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

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