Smartphones are getting faster, lighter, and increasingly more capable, but their batteries can't seem to keep up. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that can make it an entire day on a single charge—some are barely capable of going 4 hours before running dry. Good battery life is important, especially on a device as portable as a phone.
We take battery life seriously here at TechHive: All of the phones we review are put through rigorous tests that allow us to examine the device's battery life in a controlled environment. First, we reset the phone to factory settings and set the screen brightness to 200 candelas per square meter—or about medium brightness. We then put the phone into Airplane Mode to prevent it from pinging mobile and wireless networks, and we make it loop a 720p video until its battery is completely drained. Our lab analysts ensure that testing goes off without a hitch, and record how long devices last before giving up.
We’ve tested dozens of handsets over the last 12 months, and our data has revealed the five smartphones that offer the best battery performance—as well as the five phones that will have you hunting for an outlet.
The Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD currently holds the top spot on our battery life rankings, scoring just over 12 hours of use on a single charge thanks to its massive 3300mAh battery. The AT&T and T-Mobile versions of the Samsung Galaxy Note II take the second and third spots, respectively, followed by the Motorola Droid Razr HD in fourth place. Coming in fifth is the unlocked Apple iPhone 4S, which has a battery life of 8 hours and 54 minutes.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the Sony Xperia Ion, an average phone with below average battery life. The Ion scored 6 hours and 33 minutes of runtime in our test, putting it slightly ahead of the Pantech Burst (6 hours and 29 minutes) and the HTC Windows Phone 8X (6 hours and 22 minutes). The LG Viper 4G LTE has a battery life of 5 hours and 56 minutes, close to half of what you get on the AT&T Galaxy Note II. The dubious honor of smartphone with the worst battery performance belongs to the HTC Rezound. With a battery life of 4 hours and 41 minutes, the Rezound is one phone where picking up an extended battery is more a necessity than an option.
The iPhone 5, Nexus 4, and the rest
Most of the phones we tested scored between 7 to 8 hours of battery life—long enough to keep you from being tethered to an outlet. On average, Motorola's phones have the best battery life, followed by Apple’s iPhones. Phones with keyboards, like the Motorola Droid 4, tend to score better than those without, and unlocked versions of phones tend to have significantly better battery life than their carrier-tied counterparts. The reason being that keyboard-toting smartphones have larger batteries at the cost of being bulkier, and unlocked smartphones aren't plagued by the excess software that ships on their carrier cousins.
Another trend we noticed is that all of the phones we tested that have quad-core processors (save for the Galaxy Note II) suffer from mediocre battery life: Google's flagship phone, the quad-core Nexus 4, barely manages to stay out of the bottom five with a battery life of 6 hours 52 minutes. Based on this data, it might be best to hold off on picking up a quad-core phone if you value battery life over raw performance, at least until manufacturers get the battery situation sorted out.
Smartphones will continue to improve when it comes to power efficiency, and it'll be interesting to see what results we get this time next year. With luck, more smartphones will boast all-day battery life, and we'll finally be able to finally leave our chargers at home, where they belong.