When it comes to high tech, downsizing is often looked at as a sign of progress. Microprocessors meant whole computers, for the first time, could fit on a desktop. LCD displays made them portable - in the form of laptops. Moore's law proved that chips that once would have been classified as capable of enterprise-level computing now occupy devices that easily fit in your pocket. And advanced lithium-ion batteries meant you could finally take yourself off the AC teat for an appreciable amount of time, and you could charge your gadgets over and over without worrying about the ridiculous cycling fatigue that plagued earlier rechargeable systems.
But in the world of smartphones, battery life hasn't actually been getting better - it's been getting worse. Even Apple's iPhone 4S has proven susceptible to this trend, likely due to the addition of a dual-core processor to the iconic device. I think it's pretty clear: as mobile devices get more powerful, so too does their thirst for energy.
Two years ago, the Nexus One was released. When I bought mine, I was satisfied with the battery life. As a borderline-obsessive email-checker (despite what Artem might say), I go through batteries pretty damn fast. Still, my good ol' Nexus could manage to get me to 5PM generally, and that was good enough - if only just. But as I became even more engrossed with my Android device, I found one charge at 8 just wasn't enough to get me through the day. So my lithium habit got worse, and I bought a spare battery, hoping it would give me some freedom from juice anxiety. I even started bringing a charger to work.
On "normal" days, this was enough. But on the weekends, I often found myself away from any convenient power source for hours on end, and became lax about charging my second battery. Why? Because I'm forgetful. And kind of lazy. OK, really lazy. Soon, I was so frustrated with battery life that I began taking obscene measures to meter my usage and deactivate my data connection if I knew my phone would be going unused for more than a hour. Then I got a new phone.
When I procured my DROID BIONIC, I knew full well things were only about to get worse, and get worse they did. I'm lucky to make it to 3PM if I'm actually using my phone as my primary email and chat / browsing device (as is the case on most weekends). I have a portable charger, but half the time I've forgotten to recharge it, or to bring it with me in the first place. So, my phone actually has a dead battery at some point three to four days a week.
What's all this got to do with the the so-called "thinness war?" Well, frankly, everything.
Death To The Ultra-Thin Phone And Removable Batteries
Phones that are incredibly thin are good for one thing, and one thing only: taking comparison pictures next to fatter phones. It's like those "world's tallest skyscraper" illustrations - they're fascinating, but totally useless. This isn't entirely true, as some exceptionally thick devices (like the Hero or slider keyboard phones) do make the case for slimming things down a bit, though I think it's safe to say that we've gotten to a point where anything less than 10mm can be called "thin enough."
But instead of aiming to stay within a certain profile size, manufacturers continue to push thinner and thinner devices, like we're all aspiring supermodels. And the real victim here is battery life. If you think 1900mAh is sufficient for a modern, dual-core Android device, you're probably a Samsung engineer. I cannot understand why getting a phone to 8mm is more important than getting it to 8 o'clock every night. It actually makes no sense whatsoever.
Some people might say that it's Android's fault for being such a power hog, but that's like complaining that a Lamborghini gets bad gas mileage. You don't tell your customers to go suck an egg - you put in a bigger gas tank.
So why don't most manufacturers do what is so obviously logical that it literally hurts my brain to think about it? My thought on the matter is this: it's simply a specification war that's gotten out of hand, and it's one that is absolutely screwing consumers. Yes, I remember the days of the bulky flip-phones and gigantic Sidekicks - that was a time when thinness was a real selling point, because getting your phone in your pocket could be a real challenge.
As we all know, that just isn't the case anymore. The only real question about phone size today is in the realm of surface area, or more specifically, display size. It's not a matter of whether the Galaxy Note is too thick to fit in your pocket, it's a matter of whether your pocket is large enough to accommodate its 5.3" display. No one ever says "this phone is just too thick," at least when you're talking about smartphones.
The only manufacturer to even recognize that some users might want a larger battery is Motorola, with the DROID RAZR MAXX. It's 9mm thick. Let me just say that again: nine millimeters. I've held a RAZR MAXX, and aside from the device's unusual width, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I can live with 9mm and a 3300mAh battery, even if it's non-removable. Just check out droid-life's review of it. That battery is the greatest thing since sliced bread (OK, I'm exaggerating), and I am seriously considering getting one because of it.
The reason they can jam that much battery in? It's non-removable, and they've made the chassis 2mm thicker. Let's be frank: if you were offered that much of a boost in battery life on your phone in exchange for it being non-removable and a couple millimeters thicker, you would take it. Talk to me all you want of cycle fatigue, but I couldn't care less - I'll take the multi-day battery and more solid build quality over some flimsy and creaky plastic cover on the back of my phone every time. I don't want to carry a spare battery. I don't want to carry a portable charger. I just want a phone that lasts all day.
And I'm just about ready to put my money where my mouth is.