Older adults group-text friends, navigate around traffic jams on trips and stream videos on services from Apple TV to YouTube. So it’s no surprise that the batteries on laptops, smartphones and tablets might conk out quickly.
You can squeeze more life from your battery and enjoy more time with your tech. These tips also can help put off the time when your battery stops holding any charge at all.
1. Dim the screen
Turn down the brightness of any screen you're on to at least half to help preserve battery life. This can usually be found in the Options or Settings area.
On an Android device, such as a Samsung Galaxy, swipe down twice from the top of your screen. You'll see a ☼ sun icon at the bottom, on the left of a thin bar. Manually lower the brightness of your phone or tablet by dragging your finger along this line.
Keep in mind that Android settings vary across devices, so the steps you see here and elsewhere in this article may look a little different on your phone.
On an iPhone or iPad, swipe down from the top right corner of your display — or on iPhone 8 or earlier, swipe up from the bottom edge of your display — to access the Control Center, which has a thick brightness bar identified with a ☼ sun icon. To lower the brightness, use your finger to drag the line between light and dark down or to the left, depending on your phone's orientation.
Alternatively, many devices have a sensor that can detect ambient light around you and adjust the screen accordingly, such as by brightening the display in a dark room.
Many Android phones already have adaptive brightness enabled and are supposed to learn your preferences as you use your phone. If you've been frustrated with changes in brightness that you didn't expect, you can clear those preferences and make the phone learn all over again. To clear the preferences, tap or search for your Settings | Apps | Device Health Services | Storage | Clear cache. Then adjust the brightness manually. If your lighting changes and the screen is not what you want, change it again. The phone needs about a week to relearn your lighting preferences.
For an iPhone, enable it by going to Settings | Accessibility | Display & Text Size | Auto-Brightness. If the toggle switch is green, it's already on.
2. Shorten the time until sleep mode
Laptops, phones and tablets turn off their screen after detecting inactivity. That way, they're not using power to illuminate their display when you're not looking at it.
While 10 to 15 minutes of awake time is a good rule of thumb for a laptop or a tablet, you might want to power down your smartphone sooner. When any device enters sleep mode, the display turns off and background functions are paused.
You’ll have to enter your password again (or use a biometric method) to wake it up, a good deterrent to pranksters who might want to walk away with your phone or send a crude message in your name. Here’s how to change the default.
• With an Android phone, find your options at Settings | Display | Screen timeout.
• On an iPhone, choose your favorite time in Settings | Display & Brightness | Auto-Lock.
• On a Mac with macOS Ventura, click the Apple logo | System Settings | Lock Screen | Turn display off on battery when inactive. Choose a time from the drop-down menu.
• On a Windows PC, type sleep in the search bar or magnifying glass 🔎 at the bottom of the screen to find several options for Power and battery settings.
3. Use power-saver mode
While you might not want low-power mode on all the time, many new computers, smartphones and tablets offer it in some form, enabled in Settings, that often turns the screen to black and white, darkens the display and turns off nonessential wireless features.
Devices running low on battery power will sometimes switch to a power-saving mode automatically with about 20 percent remaining power. You can handle it manually on your phone.
• On an Android phone, go to Settings | Battery and device care | Battery | Power mode. You'll notice the phone will project how much time you have left on your present charge in Battery and, by tapping More battery settings, gives you the option to choose an Adaptive battery option that could extend battery life based on your usage patterns.
• On an iPhone, find the toggle switch under Settings | Battery | Low Power Mode. Clicking the switch to green will put your phone in Low Power Mode immediately.
• On a Mac running macOS 13, also called Ventura, click the Apple logo | System Settings | Battery in the left column, also called a rail. Click the box next to Low Power Mode to indicate whether you will enable this mode when the computer is Only on Battery, Only on Power Adapter, Never, or Always. In this mode, the Mac will reduce energy usage to increase battery life and operate more quietly.
• On a Windows PC, click Start ⊞ at the bottom of your screen | Settings ⚙ | System | Power & battery | Power mode. The Start menu is in the lower left corner on Windows 10 but more toward the bottom middle if you have upgraded to Windows 11.
4. Watch out for power-hungry apps
No matter what your device, its battery will drain faster if you’re using it for tasks that demand more of the system’s resources, such as watching video or playing multiplayer games. So it’s a good idea to make sure that whatever you’re using is well charged or plugged into a power source.
Other apps that require a lot of computing power and therefore battery power include programs that render images in 3D, productivity software such as Adobe Photoshop and Apple iMovie, and sophisticated games. Less taxing tasks include typing notes or browsing the web.
Animated wallpaper, also called live or dynamic wallpaper, looks nice but requires power for the animation. Don’t use it, or at least search for battery-friendly versions.
Peripherals, devices that attach to your computer such as external microphones, monitors and add-on webcams, draw power from your laptop when you have them plugged into a USB port on your computer. Use only what’s needed.
Multitasking, such as listening to music while reading an e-book, also can contribute to faster battery drain. So close an app when you’ve finished using it.
On a computer running Windows, you can check the Task Manager — Control, Shift and Escape keys depressed simultaneously — to learn what applications are consuming the most power. On a Mac, use Activity Monitor, found in Finder | Applications | Utilities | Activity Monitor. Then you can choose which apps you don’t need open at the moment.
5. Lock your phone
Always lock your smartphone when you aren't using it. Many have a button on the right side.
You'll still be able to receive calls and texts, but you won't accidentally turn on the phone when it's in your pocket or purse because you hit a button or the screen. This also prevents embarrassing pocket dials.
6. Update your operating system
On all your devices, remember to download and install all updates to the operating system whenever they are available. Manufacturers are always trying out new ways to improve power management and fix software bugs that could affect battery performance, too.
Check to see if your device is set to do this automatically. That's best.
• On an Android phone, and as a reminder the steps vary by model, go to Settings | System update | Download and install. You may also see a Check for install button. By placing your finger on Download and install, your phone will check for any updates. The option of Last update on the same screen as Download and install tells you not only when your most recent update was installed but also what's new. Most system updates and security upgrades already happen automatically.
• On an iPhone, go to Settings | General | Software Update | Automatic Updates to make sure that the toggles for Download iOS Updates and Install iOS Updates are turned on and green. You can also enable a toggle to automatically install Security Responses & System Files.
• On a Mac running Ventura, click the Apple logo | System Settings | General | Software Update and select Automatic updates. For more granular control, click the circled i to enable switches for Check for updates, Download new updates when available, Install macOS updates, Install application updates from the App Store, and Install Security Responses and System files.
• On a Mac running Ventura, click the Apple logo | System Settings | General | Software Update.
• On a Windows PC, type updates in the search bar – or magnifying glass 🔎 – at the bottom of the screen and click on Check for updates. Most automatically update but allow you in Advanced options to pause updates until a date you choose if needed.
7. Reduce push notifications
If you can, turn off push services or reduce the frequency with which your smartphone notifies you of new information, such as incoming email, game updates, real-time sports scores or stock quotes. The updates require your phone to check regularly with a company's computers over the internet.
Instead, choose to pull down messages only when you need to. If you still want push mail, at least disable push notifications individually for little-used apps in your smartphone's Settings section:
• On Android phones: Settings | Notifications
• On iPhones: Settings | Notifications
Also, phone manufacturers sometimes allow you to turn off wireless features you don't need at the moment to save on battery use. That includes Bluetooth, GPS, near-field communication (NFC) and Wi-Fi. But learn which of your favorite apps use these features.
For instance, the coronavirus Exposure Notifications System on iPhones and Android phones uses Bluetooth to check your proximity to someone who might later test positive for COVID-19. Apple, Google and Samsung mobile payments use NFC technology. Google Maps uses GPS. And you may want your phone to use your Wi-Fi at home if your wireless plan limits data use.
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8. Limit location services
Check your smartphone settings so that any app is tracking your location only when you’re using that app, not all the time. The bonus: Your phone also will be gathering less information on you, and you’ll have more control over when it happens and for your convenience.
9. Store at room temperature
Keep your tech cool and dry. Extreme heat, cold or dampness can prematurely drain your battery and affect its overall longevity.
Smartphones. Going to the pool or beach? Cover your phone or tablet so it's not in direct sunlight.
Laptops. Portable computers also can run hot under the hood, and that heat needs a way to escape. Never block the air vents on the back or sides. Always use your laptop on a hard, flat surface.
Those vents are easily obstructed if the laptop is kept on a soft surface, such as a bed, blanket, pillow or sofa. Blocking those vents could be a fire hazard, too.
Desktop computers. Tower-based desktops may have their “brains” on the floor under your desk. So keep the vents clear from dust and pet hair for the same reasons.
10. Carry a power bank
A backup battery pack, also called a power bank, is a great way to juice up a smartphone or tablet while on the go. That way, you won't need to find an electric outlet to plug in a device in danger of shutting down.
Many of today's laptops with USB-C ports also can charge up via one of these small battery bricks.
This story, originally published Feb. 15, 2021, was updated with new information throughout.
Chris Morris contributed to this story.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies.
How to get a quick charge and keep it
A few other considerations for getting the most out of your built-in batteries:
• You can reach 100 percent on your phone's battery faster by setting its toggle switch to Airplane mode, which turns off most wireless features. On an Android, it's Settings | Connections | Airplane mode; on an iPhone, it's Settings | Airplane Mode.
For a shortcut on many Android models, you can also swipe down from the top of the screen and then tap a button with the picture of an airplane.
You can also turn on Airplane Mode from Control Center on iPhones.
• Don't charge your device while it's still in its case. That may generate excess heat. If your phone feels warm to the touch when it's plugged into a wall, remove the case first before charging.
• Use your original cellphone cable and power cube, which plugs into the wall, for optimum performance. Even if another plug fits, it might not be the best solution for that exact device.
• Take advantage of wireless charging if your smartphone supports it. That's where you lay the phone on a flat disc or pad to power up. But keep in mind it will take longer to charge this way than by plugging it in — though Apple's new magnetic MagSafe chargers are quite fast.
• If you're going to power down a device for a long while, do it when the battery is about 50 percent charged. This could be when you go on an extended international trip or if you're a snowbird who leaves a phone behind for several months. If a battery's remaining percentage is near zero, Apple says it could fall into a deep discharge state, which renders it incapable of holding a charge once you reboot it. If it's stored at 100 percent for an extended time, the battery may lose its ability to recharge to 100 percent, leading to shorter battery life. And remember: Keep the phone in a dry, cool environment.