Opinion: Who Buys Spare Smartphone Batteries?

Last night, I spent more than three hours on a train with a rapidly dwindling smartphone power supply. Plenty of people tweeted me to suggest that I should have backup batteries on me. But does anyone actually do that? Last night, like a lot of Sydneysiders, I was stuck on a train waiting to get home as the result of some sudden wild storms that brought trees and powerlines down, rendering the city's train network into more of a standing impersonal sauna. Unpleasant stuff, but at least I had my smartphone on me to keep me entertained and up to date… as long as the battery lasted.

As it was near the end of the day, my battery power on my Galaxy S II wasn't looking too great. I was in the rather rarefied position of having three handsets on me; alongside the Samsung I was also lugging around an iPhone 4S (that I hadn't really touched or charged that day) and an HTC Sensation XE. Yeah, bits of me will probably start falling off when I'm sixty, but by then I'll be sixty, and won't really need them any more. Anyway, the practical upshot of this was that I was able to switch phones and at least surf the web and tweet intermittently, including noting when I switched phones.

More than a few twitter acquaintances sent me messages pointing out that I really should have spare batteries on hand — unless I was "unlucky" enough to have an iPhone. Memo to those folk: The iPhone's not the only unit with a sealed battery, although it is the most obvious target for that kind of jibe.

It's an age-old argument in technology circles; systems with sealed batteries are said to be inferior to those with removable batteries. There's been a slow shift in the direction of fully sealed systems — it's not just Apple, although it's the most obvious target for this kind of criticism. As our smartphones have become thinner, more vendors are adopting sealed systems, either for aesthetic reasons or to keep things as simple as possible.

I do sometimes travel with a spare battery, but that's more in the form of a charger used for multiple devices including smartphones — the PADACS battery I wrote about for Gizmodo last year, in fact — and I didn't have it on me. But the twitter chat got me pondering on the whole issue of spare batteries.

Who actually does it, especially for smartphones? I'm genuinely curious; not only is there the obvious added cost of the batteries, but there's also the difficulty in keeping extra batteries charged; by and large you've got to put them into the phone you're using to charge them, which is inconvenient.

Then you've got to have somewhere to swap them out. Depending on your phone model, that may involve a tough case removal, slipping out a SIM and swapping batteries, and if you're on public transport, that can be fiddly in the extreme. It's been talked about endlessly, but is it just a furphy, or a genuine feature? I don't think I've ever met anybody who actually carries around a spare smartphone battery. Do you?

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