Extend your phone's battery life with these four easy steps

Never say die

iPhone battery settings
iPhone battery settingsDavid Nield/Popular Science

To own a smartphone is to know the frustration of having its battery die right when you need it most—whether you're approaching your next high score or need to call Mom. While modern-day displays and phone tech put a lot of strain on the battery pack inside your handset, you can follow these steps to eke out as much life as possible.

Find the worst offenders

Battery life is such a concern that Apple and Google have built monitoring tools right into iOS and Android, enabling you to check which apps are using up most of the power. From the Settings app in iOS or Android, tap Battery. You can then see which apps have used up most juice since your phone was last fully charged.

Once you've got a list of the worst offenders, then you have a few options. You can completely uninstall the troublesome apps and enjoy the subsequent battery savings, or you can dive into the settings for those apps and try to reduce their battery usage: maybe stop them checking for new updates as often, for example. Remember, you can still access sites like Facebook and Twitter through a mobile browser if you don't have the apps installed.

Android battery usage
Android battery usageDavid Nield/Popular Science

Location pinging can use up a lot of battery power, depending on how apps use it, and this may be an option you can turn off or at least limit in some of the apps on your phone. Go to Location in Settings on Android, or Privacy and Location Services in Settings on iOS, to adjust these options manually on an app-by-app basis.

There is an additional tweak you can make that stops apps running in the background. In other words, they're only allowed to make connections to the web when they're actually open on screen, which might save you some battery life. On iOS, the option is under General and Background App Refresh in Settings; on Android, head to Settings then Apps, tap on an individual app, and then choose Data usage.

Activate built-in battery features

iPhone Low Power Mode
iPhone Low Power ModeDavid Nield/Popular Science

As well as rooting out the bad actors for battery usage on Android and iOS, you can also enable integrated features for saving battery power.

On Apple devices, it's called Low Power Mode and you can find it under Battery in Settings. You can enable it manually, or choose to activate it when your phone reaches 20 percent battery (a pop-up automatically appears at that point). Essentially it cuts down on some of the background processes running on your phone, like email fetching and the "hey Siri" voice activation control.

On recent versions of Android, this feature is called Battery saver. Head to Battery in Settings to locate it. As on iOS, it turns off a few background services and limits what your apps can do when they're not currently active, and you can toggle it on or off manually as well as set the battery level at which it kicks in automatically.

These modes are similar to putting your laptop into a low-power sleep mode, but you can still use your devices more or less as normal. You might notice certain apps switch off some features (like automatic photo uploads) when the battery saver mode is enabled.

Adjust your phone's settings

Android brightness settings
Android brightness settingsDavid Nield/Popular Science

That large, bright display on your phone is one of the biggest draws on the device's battery, so turning down the brightness on it is one way of making sure you still have some battery life left at the end of the day.

Android and iOS both let you adjust how quickly the screen lock activates on your phone—dial this timer right down to ensure your display is on for as little time as possible. On iOS, go to Display & Brightness then Auto-Lock in Settings, and a similar option can be found by tapping Display and then Sleep in Android's Settings app.

Your phone might also have an ambient display or raise-to-wake feature where notifications are shown when your phone's screen is locked. Switch these features off—and anything else that uses the display—to get back a bit more battery life.

You might not realize it, but audio playback can also have an effect on battery life. Turn down the volume of your Netflix movies or your Spotify playlists, or just plug in some headphones, and your phone's battery will thank you.

Disconnect your phone

iPhone airplane mode
iPhone airplane modeDavid Nield/Popular Science

Nothing saves battery life like disconnecting your phone from the networks it relies on—Facebook can hardly ping the web for updates every five minutes if it doesn't have a cellular connection, for example.

If you really need that extra juice, put your phone in airplane mode and watch that battery level stay steady. The downside is, of course, you won't be able to use anything that connects to the web, make any calls, or send any texts. But if you really need to preserve your battery life it's an option—and it means your phone becomes much less of a distraction at the same time.

It's well worth using the airplane mode option when you're in areas with patchy signal: phones tend to amp up their efforts to get connected when they're struggling to get a signal, which will drain the battery faster.

While switching off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is often said to improve battery life, it doesn't actually make that much difference—certainly not as much as going full airplane mode. Streaming data over Bluetooth does use up power, but just having it active in the background isn't such a problem as far as battery life goes.