Why our approach to smartphone batteries is misguided

Why our approach to smartphone batteries is misguided

Is this the stupidest idea the mobile industry ever came up with? That is, installing batteries into smartphones so that they can’t be replaced without expert knowledge. All comprehensible, reasonable arguments from the customer’s point of view clearly speak against doing this. Nevertheless, there is no longer a high-end smartphone with a replaceable battery and fast-charge technologies and power banks offer little consolation.

A few weeks ago, reports circulated that users were finding temperature-related errors in the fast-charging system in the Pixel 2 XL. We picked up this story and found a lot of comments had hit the nail on the head, “It’s not my fault if manufacturers don’t replace batteries and force users to recharge their smartphones outside in the cold.”

The battery is obviously the weak point, if not the breaking point, for smartphones. Devices have to recharged almost without exception every day and age so quickly that they’re ultimately unable to survive a complete working day by the time a contract ends, and sometimes even at the end of the warranty period.

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The LG G5 marked the end of the replaceable battery in the high-end market. / © NextPit

It was possible until 2014 to replace the batteries in a number of top-range devices, including those made by Samsung and LG, and now this is no longer an option in new smartphones. The last top smartphones with replaceable batteries, the LG G5 and the V20, have left the market.

Customers aren’t confronting this disgrace

It seems paradoxical that the greatest and most obvious design flaw in all the products of an industry doesn’t seem to have any influence on sales. If it really mattered, the LG G5 would have done much better than the Samsung Galaxy S7 and its built-in battery. But of course, the G5 flopped and a year later was replaced with the LG G6 that came with a build-in battery, the first in the series since the LG G2.

Even if the problems that built-in batteries have caused in energy-hungry devices like smartphones appear obvious, they cannot be solved by supply and demand alone. Customers prefer to replace their old device with a new one in order to get the new features along with the addition of a fresh battery. Thanks to contract extensions, this is still somewhat affordable, at least in the short-term.

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Qualcomm sees smartphones only as a training platform. In the future, Quick Charge will also be used to quickly load electric cars.  / © NextPit

Quick Charge, powerbanks and nonsense

Built-in batteries have led to absurd trends. Every smartphones manufacturer now has its own quick-charging standard or relies on Qualcomm’s Quick Charge or at least on the advantages of a Type C connection. Individual companies are able to generate additional revenue through licensing agreements and findings that they then later use to make profits in the electric car industry.

Powerbanks are batteries meant to charge other batteries on the road. If someone had told me ten years ago that people would need them to use their cell phones normally, I would have laughed. But here we are.

Not only are smartphone batteries difficult to replace, they are also too small. And instead of making smartphones a bit more resilient, they are built with exactly one day of battery life. In this case, an ideal has been established that makes no sense at all. Think of it this way: our cars don’t come with fuel canisters that carry three or four more times the capacity of the actual tank.

And if the fast-charging technology doesn’t start at temperatures below 20°C, it will bring me to tears.

This needs to be regulated somehow

Since consumers have proved to be incapable of holding manufacturers accountable, there needs to be some other way for this to change. We need incentives for repairs, a more accessible spare parts market, and above all, an easily accessible battery. What is your view on the subject of replacement batteries and built-in batteries? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Reg Joo Mar 10, 2018 Link to comment

    This is what the mfgrs want. Spend $$ on a new phone every year. Longevity isn't built in to these new "crop" phones, and it may be on purpose. Huawei is the only global, top "three" mfgr that seems to increase battery capacity. I'd rather have a phone that last for over two days instead of how fast it charges.

  • Albin Foro Mar 10, 2018 Link to comment

    Personally not been an issue: always bought replaceable for phones (not tablet) but never bought the second battery. An external charger is fine for me and more often handy to lend to others. The rare times I've missed a swappable battery have been using the phone's camera intensively, instead of bringing a Canon along - cannot shoot photos with a dangling charger.

    What has been intriguing me is the current state of scientific wisdom on battery charge level per cycle versus the lifetime number of cycles - google away, but I start with Battery University "BU-808: How to Prolong Lithium-based Batteries". The short story seems to be that lifetime cycles can double (assuming daily recharging) from about 18 months to about 3 years if a) the phone is not charged above 80%, and then not discharged below 20%.

    It's Intriguing because it indicates OEM's are setting phone battery calibration for unhealthy levels of supercharging per cycle at the dramatic cost of cutting the phone's potential lifetime in half - in fact "burning the candle at both ends". Suggests phone battery charge levels of "Full" and "Empty" should default to 80% and 20% with red-zone indicators (like car fuel tanks) for over and under-charging and warnings to users about the cost of unhealthy charge levels. (While it's "intriguing" for phones, more so for EV car claims for "full charge" driving range when fully charging and discharging to get that advertised range would cost many extra thousands of dollars in early battery replacement.)

  • Mike P Mar 10, 2018 Link to comment

    The reason why Im still holding on to my LG V20 :)

  • Kent Shephard Mar 9, 2018 Link to comment

    This is exactly why I buy an extended warranty for my phones.

  • Rusty H. Mar 9, 2018 Link to comment

    Part of the issue, with regard to non replaceable batteries, stems from the entire smartphone industry. When the "fashion designers" took over the design of smartphones, making them all colorful, SLIM and stylish, the removable battery, went by the wayside.
    By taking the removable battery out, phones could be THINNER, not needing the connections, hardware etc to support a removable battery. Plus, whatever room the fashion types left over, could support a battery sized to fit that leftover space. By taking away the hard plastic shell for batteries, the battery can be increased in size to support that, but, by removing that hard plastic shell, the battery needs to be effectively "sealed" inside the phone to protect the battery from consumers. Shoot, what was it, last month some video went viral of some clown biting into a battery pack in China or someplace? It burst into flames. Lithium batteries, are just itching to smoke and burn, and it doesn't really take much to set them off, so they need to be sealed, if not replaceable.
    If/when manufacturers get off of the "slim is sexy" nonsense, perhaps phones can get thicker, and go back to the replaceable battery. But, manufacturers, always wanting to shave a few bucks here and there, along with how people just chuck their phones and buy new ones year after year, might just keep the "slim & sexy" no replaceable battery.

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    Deactivated Account Mar 9, 2018 Link to comment

    Consumer protection agencies should require removable batteries in all portable electronics. It is all about planed obsolescence to force you to buy new phones, tablets, and other devices sooner. I will hold on to my oldies as long as I can have already stocked up on extra batteries because they will disappear soon I am sure.

  • D. van Wijk Mar 9, 2018 Link to comment

    Devices must come with replacable batteries! I still use Galaxy S4 (with custom rom) for this reason. And the OS should be updated by manufactures on a monthly basis for at least 6 years. But that's another discussion .

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  • Andrew Burgin Mar 9, 2018 Link to comment

    Note 4 is still the best smartphone with no worries about the batterylife,but just because Apple never offered the removable battery option,and we all know what was going to happen,Samsung had to remove one of the best phone options the removable battery,that is why i still have thE galaxy S5 as a spare phone,with a few spare batteries,Why?no one as come forward with a new type of battery seems very odd indeed

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  • storm Mar 9, 2018 Link to comment

    The manufacturers are disincentivized as they get new product sales out of this situation.

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