We usually have the luxury of regular charging for our electronic devices, which means that atrocious battery life isn't necessarily a terrible thing for super-thin phones, tablets and smartwatches. But there are some times when you need to eke the utmost from your device, making a series of small changes that may not add up to much individually, but together make for a pretty massive difference. Here are a few tips for getting the absolute most from your smartwatch.
Here's The Ambitious Goal
In the middle of last week, I headed to Singapore for four days. I was away from 7:30AM Wednesday morning until 7:30AM Saturday. As something to do while I was waiting for planes and taxis and press conferences to start, I gave myself a bit of an optimistic goal -- could I make my LG G Watch smartwatch last for that entire 96-hour period on a single charge?
I'm not usually especially careful with the battery of my LG G Watch, because it usually sits on the sticky-backed charger next to my bed overnight -- as long as it lasts from 7:30AM in the morning until 9 or 10PM that same evening, I don't really care. Because of that, I usually have the screen set to always-on, brightness at its maximum and don't bother with muting notifications unless I'm in the middle of writing or a meeting.
To make the G Watch last for the entire length of my short overseas trip, though, I had to exercise a little more care than usual.
(And of course, I should note that this wasn't exactly necessary. My hotel room was chock-full of those brilliant multi-plug international power connectors, and it even had a couple of USB ports specifically for charging mobile devices. The G Watch's charger is no larger than the smartwatch's own 47x38x10mm dimensions, too, and it uses a standard microUSB connector -- even travelling with just hand luggage it wouldn't have been hard to fit in. I just wanted to see if I could do it.)
Mute Notifications When You Don't Want Them
For (relatively short) periods of time like the ride to the airport, I wanted notifications, so I could preserve the battery life of my massive 6-inch-screened Huawei Ascend Mate7 by keeping it switched off in my pocket. (I was also bleary-eyed and didn't exactly want to deal with the usual morning deluge of emails just yet.) Once I was at the airport, though, and had my phone in hand to start working, I muted the G Watch's notifications to save its battery.
This feels like the biggest thing you can do to extend your smartwatch's battery life. That Bluetooth ping, the lighting-up of the LCD screen, the buzz of the vibration motor -- each time that happens you can feel those precious electrons draining away. If you get a lot of notifications it can actually also get pretty annoying. But more than anything, it's just unnecessary to get that notification on your watch if your phone is already displaying it in front of you.
Turn The Brightness Down When You Don't Need It
When you are getting notifications, the watch's screen lights up, as you'd expect it to, to show you the card for whatever that notification is. The G Watch has six levels of brightness, and unless you're literally out in the daylight and standing around with the sun blazing away overhead, you really don't need those top two brightness levels. For the vast majority of my trip, I had the screen's brightness set to the third increment, and when I was sitting in a dimly lit press conference even the lowest setting was more than adequate.
This is one of those smaller but still important changes that can transform your Android Wear smartwatch's battery life from good to great. It's not exactly mandatory, but it's probably the difference between four and a half and five days. The G Watch consumes the most power when the screen is on and displaying notifications, and if you can lower the power usage even a little bit during those battery-intensive sessions, you're doing well.
Turn Off The 'Always-On' Screen Mode
This is the big one. Without the G Watch displaying the time all the time -- yes, I know, that's why it's called a watch, it tells the time -- the battery life jumps massively. This, more than anything else, is responsible for the G Watch getting four or five days of battery life. It certainly makes the watch less powerful as a horological device, but you have to make some sacrifices to maximise your smartwatch's battery, at least until battery or LCD screen tech improves significantly.
You can still tell the time with the LG G Watch, and any other Android device, perfectly easily by lifting it to a vertical orientation -- like when you twist your wrist to look at the watch face -- or by giving the touchscreen a quick tap. My practice was -- especially when I was sitting in traffic back to the airport and about to miss my homeward-bound flight's check-in windows -- to tap the screen, check the time, and cover the screen again quickly.
Cover The Screen To Dim Notifications Once You've Read Them
If you do want to receive notifications, then it's a good idea to get to them quickly, read them, and swipe them away. Unfortunately, Android Wear doesn't give you very much granular control over how and when notifications appear, so exercising a bit of care can -- as I experienced -- massively improve the battery life of your watch.
When the watch buzzes, you have two choices. Quickly glance at the notification, tap the screen to read it in more detail, and swipe away straight away, or come back to it later. Either way, when it's done with, covering the watch's screen with your hand tells it you're done -- to dim the screen in always-on mode or to shut it off completely if otherwise. This way, you don't use unnecessary power lighting up the screen when you aren't looking directly at the watch, and that's the important part.
Power It Off When You Don't Need It
For the eight-hour flight from Sydney to Singapore and the seven-hour flight back, I tapped and swiped my way through the G Watch's menus to the not-easily-found "Power Off" setting. With my phone in flight mode, the G Watch wouldn't be receiving any notifications, but even with the screen off it still uses a tiny bit of power ticking over in the background -- and I figured I needed everything I could get.
With the watch powered off, it wouldn't be using any power until I switched it back on. By the way, switching it back on is actually pretty annoying, since the G Watch's only button is a little recessed thing near the charging pins on the watch's base that needs a paperclip or the tip of a pen to press it (like the convenient one in my Bellroy Passport Sleeve).
Here's How It Went
It was a breeze, actually. I only gave this a bit of forward thought and planning before I got the watch off its charger on Wednesday morning, but as the picture at the top of the story can attest to, I got back home bright and early on Saturday -- slightly over 96 hours after I'd left -- just as the G Watch trumpeted its last 15 per cent of battery life.
In the end, I didn't bother to power off the watch on the flight back to Sydney, so that's another 8 or so hours that could be added on. I didn't mute the watch when I was waiting in Changi Airport, either, so that's a little bit of wasted energy there too. I checked the time a lot when I was worried that I'd miss my flight back to Australia, probably more than I needed to.
By my calculations, I could have just reached through to Sunday morning, if I needed to, with the same procedure of muting the watch when I didn't need it and keeping that always-on setting switched off. Five days from a little 400mAh battery is a pretty impressive achievement. Of course, it's not a patch on what any real watch can do, but when you remember that the G Watch has the same 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor and other computing hardware as a 10-inch G Pad tablet, that's pretty cool.
As it stands, I'm back in the office now, the G Watch's screen is back to always-on, brightness is back to that blindingly luminant maximum, and I'm not bothering to mute notifications. For those crucial 96 hours overseas, though, it worked a treat.
Do you have any other tips for getting the most out of your smartwatch's battery? Feel free to chime in with a comment below.