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October/November 2007 Issue | Volume 33 Number 7 | Page 28
Technology

Tips & Tricks

Eking Extra Time Out of Cell Phones, PDAs and Other Portable Devices

How come the battery in your cell phone always seems to die when you have one more call to complete?

Today’s lawyers are finding that some portable electronic devices have become seemingly indispensable to their daily lives. But those essential devices are pretty much useless when their batteries run out of juice. Here’s how to keep your gadgets’ batteries going a while longer.

“I think my battery is going dead—call me ba….” Click.  How come the battery in your cell phone always seems to die when you have one more call to complete? Or your camera’s battery conks out when you want to capture that once-in-a-lifetime picture? Last month’s column provided pointers for squeezing more time out of your laptop’s battery. In this issue, let’s cover some tips for wringing more power from your cell phone, PDA, BlackBerry, iPod and digital camera batteries.

As a starting point, review last month’s column because almost all the general laptop battery care and charging tips I mentioned will also increase battery life on PDAs, cell phones, iPods and their kin. And now, here are some specific tips for those devices.

Keeping Cell Phones, PDAs and BlackBerrys Humming

Cell phones, PDAs and BlackBerrys come packed with features that eat up batteries. Although some cell phones will save energy by going into standby mode or automatically turning off nonessential features when they’re idle, many other phones and related devices are not equally nice to their users. So as a general rule, if you don’t need to use a feature, you should take the initiative and disable it or turn it off manually. Dig around in the Settings or Tools menus and look for the following options:

  • Turn off Bluetooth. You should have Bluetooth on only when you need it, like when you’re using a Bluetooth headset, transferring files or sending information to someone.
  • Turn off wireless access when you don’t need it. Wireless is a huge drain on a battery, so only have it turned on when you have to, or configure it to “only on when needed” if you have this option on your device. This is particularly helpful if you are in a fringe area or getting a weak signal because the phone has to work harder to try to connect or stay connected in those situations.
  • Kill screensavers, moving wallpapers and games. They’re cute, but they use up power.
  • Be discreet. Turn down the ringer volume, turn off keypad tones, and don’t use vibrate mode when it’s not necessary. (These are good tips from an etiquette point of view as well.)
  • Set the screen brightness as low as you can.
  • Set the backlight timeout as low as you can.
  • Use lock buttons or Sleep/Wake features to disable keypads and touch screens.

And here are a couple of bonus tips specifically for BlackBerry users:

  • Use the Auto On/Off feature to have your BlackBerry automatically turn itself on and off at set times each day. This not only saves battery juice, but it also keeps those 4 a.m. spam messages from waking you and your BlackBerry up. Separate times for weekdays and weekends can be set independently. Fortunately, alarms and reminders will still work even if your BlackBerry is in Auto Off mode.
  • Use your BlackBerry belt clip. Several models of clips can help save power because they have a little magnet-operated switch that will turn off the screen and disable the keys.

Getting More Battery Life from Your iPod

Here’s rule number one for increasing battery life on iPods: When you turn your iPod off, be sure that it is really turned off (and just not on Pause). Press and hold the Play button for two seconds and make sure the screen goes blank. And to guarantee that it stays off, use the iPod’s Hold switch—look on the top for an orange indicator, which means that the switch is engaged. This will prevent your iPod from inadvertently turning on if something touches the controls.

And remember, you can also use the Hold switch when the device is running to prevent unintended bumps on the controls from doing anything errant.

When it comes to draining your iPod’s battery, the backlight is your worst enemy. Some suggest turning the backlight off altogether, but I find I just can’t see the screen when I do that. The best alternative is to have the backlight come on for the shortest possible amount of time, which is two seconds. Choose Settings-Backlight-Time-2 Seconds. Or if you want a bit more time, try setting it to 5 or 10 seconds.

You can also save power by dimming the backlight. At its default setting, my iPod could be used as a bedside reading lamp—in other words, it’s way too bright. Choose Settings-Brightness to set it to a dimmer level.

Your second-best option for more iPod battery life is minimizing hard drive activity. To provide skip-free playback and maximize battery life, iPods play music out of a solid-state memory cache. Spinning the hard drive to fill the cache uses power, but then the hard drive shuts down (and stops using power) when the cache is full. Pressing the Fast Forward button will force your iPod to fill its cache more frequently, thus accessing the hard drive more often and using more power. The solution: Lay off that Fast Forward button by creating playlists that cater to your various and varying personal tastes, or by using the Shuffle feature.

Using compressed songs will also minimize hard drive activity. iPod caches work most efficiently with average file sizes of less than 9 MB. So if your audio files are large or uncompressed (including AIFF or WAV format), you may want to compress them. Or you can use a different compression method, such as AAC or MP3, when importing audio files into iTunes. Also consider breaking very long songs into shorter tracks that have smaller file sizes.

The Equalizer feature will make your music sound more to your personal liking, but it also requires far more work from the iPod processor, which, or course, uses up power. If you don’t use the Equalizer, turn it off by choosing Settings-EQ-Off.

Note, however, that if you’ve added EQ to some of your tracks in iTunes, you’ll need to set EQ to “flat” in order to have the effect of “off” because iPod keeps your iTunes settings intact.

In addition, Apple claims that the latest version of the iTunes software will give you better battery life. So you will want to update your iTunes software, which will in turn update the software that runs your iPod.

To-Dos for Digital Camera Users

Digital cameras are great, and beyond snapping pictures in your personal life, you will find many uses for them in a law office. But like the other devices, they are worthless if their batteries are dead.

From a power consumption point of view, the LCD Viewfinder/Preview screen on your digital camera is your worst enemy. Nothing will suck your battery dry faster. This screen actually uses more power than everything else on your camera combined. So limit your use of it and turn it off when you can. At the very least, turn the screen brightness down.

Lastly, be aware that digital cameras place very high and constant power loads on their batteries as a matter of course. For this reason, stay away from cheap alkaline or lithium batteries and do yourself a favor by using rechargeable batteries.

Okay then, it’s time for you to go off and start tweaking your electronic devices for more battery life. Here’s to more music, pictures, PDA power and cell phone calls.

About the Author

Dan Pinnington helps lawyers avoid malpractice claims and looks for good tech tips in Toronto, ON. He is an editor of the Law Practice Today Webzine.

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