Why are millimeters more important than milliampere-hours?

June 20, 2013
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samsung galaxy s4 battery cover aa

My first cellphone was a Nokia 3310. It was, by today’s standards, a clunky piece of equipment with a tiny monochrome display, and, gasp, it was 22 millimeters thick. I wasn’t using it much back then, so I only had to recharge my trusty Nokia every four or five days.

Today, I need to be always on the lookout to make sure that my Galaxy S2 has enough juice to stay on when I need to go out for a few hours. Sure, the phone is old, and a new battery would probably last longer, but that’s not the point.

Millimeters trump milliampere-hours. Why?

The point is that, for years, manufacturers have been paying more attention to millimeters than to milliampere-hours, and I don’t understand why.

Two pieces of news this week made me think about this conflict between dimensions and battery life.

First, Huawei unveiled the Ascend P6, the newest “world’s slimmest phone”. At 6.18 millimeters, it’s a marvel of engineering and design, but, with its 2000 mAh battery, it probably wouldn’t take me through one day of usage.

Second, HTC unveiled the Butterfly s, a sleek, powerful device, that looks like a slightly improved HTC One, except for one department – the battery. While the One features a 2300 mAh battery, the new Butterfly s (10.6 millimeters thick) comes with a 3200 mAh unit, which is, compared to the average device, huge. For comparison, the larger Galaxy Note 2, which was praised for its extra-long battery life, features a 3100 mAh unit.

Then I remembered that, about a year ago, HTC was saying that, according to research it had conducted, customers consistently prefer svelteness over battery life. Back then, we did our own little poll,  and guess what, only five percent of our readers said they rather had shorter battery life than a thicker phone. Crazy. (Edit: I realize our poll is not representative for the average smartphone buyer, but it don’t think the discrepancy is that big )

So, what gives? Why is battery life the only area where the smartphone user experience is regressing? Why can’t we have more phones like the Butterfly s, and fewer phones like the Ascend P6?

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HTC, I really hope you’ll bring the Butterfly s to international markets, with the same great battery. I also hope consumers will open their eyes and realize that milliampere-hours are just as important as millimeters, pixels per inch, gigahertz, and gigabytes. I hope they will shower you with money and you realize you’ve been doing it wrong all along.

Motorola, please keep your promise to deliver a phone with long  battery life.

Samsung, why don’t you give us a Galaxy S4 Max?

Apple? This is a field that is ripe for innovation. Maybe you can jolt the industry with a new approach.

Anybody…

PS: I hope I don’t come off as a spoiled brat. I do realize that my two years old Galaxy S2 is a wonderful, wonderful piece of technology, and I am grateful for it. I just want to enjoy more of it.

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