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Understanding the Common Battery

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Link-Up Digital

In the world of mobile computing and digital devices, there’s little that seems more mundane than batteries, unless yours happens to run out of juice at a crucial time.

The realm of the battery can be more interesting than you might think.

A battery is a device that converts stored chemical energy into electrical energy to power laptops, tablets, e-readers, smartphones, and a million and one other things.

Today’s digital devices use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which is a more advanced technology than rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, which is a more advanced technology than disposable alkaline batteries. Lithium batteries are also the most expensive of the three.

The Italian Alessandro Volta, for whom the term “volt” was named, is credited with inventing the first practical battery in 1800, consisting of copper and zinc. For his work Napoleon Bonaparte made him a count, and his image appeared on some Italian paper money before it was replaced by euros.

But battery technology hasn’t advanced all that much over the past two centuries, not nearly as fast as microprocessor, storage, memory, and other digital technology has advanced over the past generation.

Battery power still for the most part lasts only a relatively brief period until batteries need to be recharged. And lithium-ion batteries can be recharged only about 500 times, more or less, before their maximum charge begins to decline, often forcing you to replace your devices every two years or so.

That’s why it’s smart to be mindful about batteries as you use your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here are tips on maximizing battery life:

  • Keep your software up to date. The latest operating systems have all kinds of tricks to conserve battery power, from reducing the processing power spent on running programs in the background to switching the screen from color to black and white.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures. The ideal temperature zone is 62 degrees to 72 degrees F., though generally devices can safely be used in temperatures from 32 degrees to 95 degrees. High or low temperatures can drain batteries more quickly, so avoid storing devices in heat or cold. Smartphones are generally better at being used at colder temperatures than laptops. Heat above 95 degrees can be especially dangerous, with the potential of permanently shortening a battery’s capacity or even ruining it entirely. So avoid keeping devices in such places as car trunks in summer, where the sun can quickly elevate the temperature. Also, avoid charging a battery in heat.
  • Periodically drain the battery. Unlike nickel-cadmium batteries, lithium-ion batteries don’t need to be drained each time before charging for maximum battery life. But they still benefit from being completely discharged, with advice differing, anywhere from once a month to once a year. Simply run the device until it shuts itself off, then recharge.
  • Store your device the right way. If you won’t be using it for a while, charge your device to about 50% and power it off completely. If you’re storing it for longer than six months, at six months charge it back to 50%.
  • Be careful about cases. If you keep your smartphone, for example, in a case, make sure it doesn’t cause the phone to build up heat when you charge it. If the phone gets hot, charge it in the future by first taking it out of its case.
  • Adjust the settings. Turning down your screen brightness will prolong battery life, as will setting it to black and white if this is an option. Turning off wireless connections such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, if you’re not using them, can also preserve power.
  • Be careful with apps. Some apps, such as Facebook and Instagram, are battery hogs. The iPhone, for instance, lets you see which apps use the most juice. Press Settings, General, Usage, and Battery Usage. You can optionally turn off background data use with apps that don’t need to be continually downloading data in the background by pressing Settings, General, and Background App Refresh.
  • Use the right device. If you’re primarily reading books, get an e-reader. With their black and white screens, they have a battery life that’s measured in days, not hours.

Researchers are continuing to investigate ways to make better batteries. One place interesting research is taking place is Singapore’s Nanyang Technology University. They’re experimenting with titanium dioxide nanotubes, which have the potential of allowing batteries, among other things, to be recharged 10,000 times, giving them a 20-year lifespan.

One can only hope.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at or

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