Why are millimeters more important than milliampere-hours?

by: Bogdan PetrovanJune 20, 2013

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?


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.


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.

  • MasterMuffin

    Motorola Nexus 5 Maxx!! Or X phone Maxx!

    • harrold

      In the first place the Nexus 5 isnt even out!!!

    • Any phone Maxx!

      • MasterMuffin

        Yup, Maxxxx! :D

  • Deo Reyes

    My Galaxy S4 has a 2600mAh battery, but my usage gives me around 8-10hours only. More juice is more important than thinness >.<

    • Victor V.

      damn, you truly must be a power user lol. Have you bought a spare battery yet?

      • On a Clear Day

        If you are paying nearly $700.00 for a phone – not a desktop computer! Just a little phone – I think it behooves the manufacturers to anticipate OUR needs rather than us having to waste our time and money on solving the problems they would have solved had they really cared enough to think through the design and functionality of their units.

        At least Samsung – unlike Nokia, Sony, Apple and HTC – at least uses a replaceable battery arrangement, which allow one to use an over sized battery.

        How nice it will be to one day finally read a review that has the headline – NEW TOP OF THE LINE PHONE FROM ________
        that has everything anyone ever could have ever thought they wanted in a phone and a battery that could power New York City’s power grid for an hour if it had to! Get yours today!

        Well, maybe that’s more than can be expected but at least enough so we don’t have to read hear people complaining about the battery anymore.

        • Victor V.

          ugh I own an s4 and love it. I also love that the s4’s battery can be replaced. I actually have a spare battery. I was just curious to know if he had one since my s4 lasts me all day and into the night. I usually only need to pop in the battery when i go on my nightly runs or on Friday night.thanks for the info though….i think lol

      • Deo Reyes

        I haven’t bought one yet, its still not available in our country. but I bought a powerbank instead, its cheaper than the spare battery kit and fully charges my phone 3 times

    • Mohd Danial

      lols.. u must have all ur settings set at max lvl, have u tried downloading a battery saver app from google play store? its free and no extra hardware required.

  • zamir yusof

    I really hope for the manufacturer and software developer to focus on improving the battery life, instead of keep bringing new features but then we need to turn them off most of the time just to keep the phone running for a few hours more. And stop competing for thinnest or lightest phone; what good will they do when the user need to worry about bring extra weight of power bank or charger whenever they go out.

  • Adam Koueider

    I simply think that manufacturers should give us a mid-range device by 2013 standards. So that’s a 4.5-inch 720P screen, Snapdragon 400, 2 GB RAM, 8 Megapixel camera, 1.9 MP front facing camera, stock Android and a 3000mah battery . Those specs are more than adequate for 90% of users and would offer killer battery life.

    The problem isn’t always that manufacturers favor milimetres over mAh (Samsung’s been making the batteries on the Galaxy S line larger over the years), it’s that we keep pushing forwards in technology (quad cores, Full HD screens) that the batteries don’t get improved by as much as they could (every year it gets better by an hour or so).

    • I agree with your points. The problem with mid-range is it doesn’t offer much stuff for the marketing department to work on. Hence the cores, the MP, and the pixels per inch races.

      I just want manufacturers to stop worrying about keeping devices under 8mm thin at the expense of batteries.

      • Adam Koueider

        These marketing departments shall be the death of us.

        P.S. Wow that was the biggest 21st century self-pity I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

      • Daniel

        All of this at only…

    • Ivan Budiutama

      agree with 2 more additions:

      1. Power-friendly screen/display technology, with Mobile device becomes more dominant, people will be on screen more, rendering some power saving feature less… useful.

      2. Power-efficient Chipset: enough with 30k++ Antutu benchmark race, 8-cores, 72-cores!!! It is ridiculous to have super snappy device but only last 5 hours on heavy usage. Intel’s attempt on Silvermont with power efficient vs performance balance is a good start.

      Battery improvement! YES please!
      fast charging! SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

    • samuelcaddick
  • sammy

    I agree it doesnt matter anymore that the phone is really thin when it only lasts a couple hours. Like you, i also had a 3310 and currently using gs2. And more battery is really a very big plus.

  • Spaine Carinan

    Wish they could make a 5000mAh on a battery without increasing the actual physical size..

    • Jasserbabes

      Indeed :)

  • Paul Allen

    At least give people the option to choose for themselves. I have both a spare OEM battery with standalone charger as well as a big ass Anker 2x battery with a modified backplate that makes it look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. My only options with my iPhone were either stay close to a charger or buy a $100 battery pack case that doubled the weight and thickness while not even doubling the runtime.

    I’d like to see more options like maybe a thin phone that might last only 6 hours but could be fully charged in say, 5-10 minutes. Or a phone with some sort of manually-operated charger that could bump the battery level up a few percentage points via a squeezing or shaking motion. It seems like everyone is focused on getting the most runtime from the smallest battery when we could be looking at other possibilities that might not be ideal for most users but completely doable for others.

  • Ahmad Mysterios Chmail

    Galaxy S4 max would be a Galaxy Note 3 :)

  • Tamadrummer94

    I think the discrepancy between the samples is probably very big. Power users like us are also heavy users so getting through a day without charging requires a larger battery, and geeks aren’t exactly mindful of thinness or looks. I know that many people would likely prefer a thinner phone over a longer-lasting phone if it can still get them through the day, as most everybody charges their phone at night anyways.

    • Victor V.

      well you have people purchasing an htc one or iphone based on looks and feel? so we will continue to have think phones instead of slighty thicker phones but bigger battery. One of the biggest selling points of the HTC ONE was the aluminum chassi. the feel of the phone. thinness is also an asthetic quality after a certain point.

  • AleksandarT

    very good thread. you got a point there. my galaxy s2 with 4.1.2 and 3g on all the time is draining the battery in like 6-7 hours heavy usage.thats why i have external battery case 2800 mAh to get me through whole day usage.Although the case makes my phone 18mm thick ( it adds 9.5mm thickness) that is not issue for me.battery matters a lot more

  • melci

    I think the problem is that other manufacturers are trying to get their phones as slim as Apple’s iPhone but are unable to match it in the battery life department – certainly according to Anandtech’s battery life benchmarks where the iPhone 5 comes in at number 1 against all other phones tested.

    Here is a sampling of stats against some of the more popular phones:

    Web Browsing Battery Life (WiFi)
    iPhone 5 = 10.27 hrs
    HTC One X = 9.93 hrs
    Galaxy Note 2 = 8.417 hrs

    Web Browsing Battery Life (3G/4G LTE)
    iPhone 5 (LTE) = 8.19 hrs
    HTC One X (LTE) = 6.95 hrs
    Galaxy Note 2 (3G) = 5.78 hrs

    As you can see, I’m not sure why the Galaxy Note 2 was “praised for its extra-long battery life” considering the iPhone 5 with 4G LTE no less thrashed it in the battery life stakes.

    I certainly have no complaints against my iPhone 5 with it lasting 1.5 – 2 days on a single charge.

    Looks like Apple has done some innovating after all but the competition is not listening.

    • It’s a bit misleading to compare the iPhone with the Note 2 in web browsing. The Note 2 has a much larger display that the iPhone, which takes its toll on the battery.

      Apple does optimize the iPhone’s power consumption, and it’s something they deserve to be commended for, but the big difference we see in the tests is only partially due to that optimization.

      • melci

        Why is web browsing a misleading benchmark? Aren’t you going to actually use the phone or are you just after standby times or something?

        Yes, the Note II has a bigger screen but it also has a much bigger battery.

        Even against Android phones of smaller sizes, the iPhone 5 still came out with the longest battery life.

        • Charles Chambers

          Compare a 4 inch android phone. Plus the iPhone doesn’t do as much as android. (Widgets and live wallpapers suck down the battery).

          • melci

            All of those extras were turned off on the Android phones in these benchmarks, so they’d give even worse battery life with them enabled.

            iOS 7 however will give the option of animated backgrounds so will no doubt also be worse with those turned on.

        • Adam Koueider

          Problem there is that you showed web browsing, which is the achiles heel of OLED displays. This is because the peak white battery consumption of OLEDs is higher than LCD’s. Check out its video playing battery life, it should be much better.

          • melci

            Trouble is that users spend less than 7% of their time playing movies compared to over 50% of their time reading news and magazines, face booking, photo sharing, email, etc according to Flurry so this white screen battery usage isn’t something you can dismiss.

  • Ameen Alaa

    But The Galaxy S4 Has A Good 2600mhA Battery , it Always There When I Need It . :)

    • melci

      The Galaxy S4 has dreadful battery life according to Anandtech – what are you talking about?

      Web Browsing Battery Life (WiFi)
      iPhone 5 = 10.27 hrs
      HTC One X = 9.93 hrs
      Galaxy Note 2 = 8.417 hrs
      Galaxy S4 = 6.58 hrs

      Web Browsing Battery Life (3G/4G LTE)
      iPhone 5 (LTE) = 8.19 hrs
      HTC One X (LTE) = 6.95 hrs
      Galaxy Note 2 (3G) = 5.78 hrs
      Galaxy S4 (EVDO) = 5.68 hrs

      • Chris

        You said it, according to Anandtech.. My S4’s Battery is pretty damn good no problems here…

      • Adam Koueider

        Problem there is that you showed web browsing, which is the achiles heel of OLED displays. This is because the peak white battery consumption of OLEDs is higher than LCD’s. Check out its video playing battery it should be much better.

        • melci

          On video playing, the S4 equals the iPhone 5 with 10.16 hrs vs 10.12 hrs respectively.

          Trouble is that users spend less than 7% of their time playing movies compared to over 50% of their time reading news and magazines, face booking, photo sharing, email, etc according to Flurry so this white screen battery usage isn’t something you can dismiss.

          • Mohd Danial

            i could take tons of pic with auto flash at 80% charge on my s4. its a good battery if u know how to optimise it.

      • Ameen Alaa

        U Mean The Battery Life Of The iphone 5 Is Better Than The Note2 .. Loool Such An Apple Fan Boy .. !!!

        • melci

          I’ve posted real world battery life benchmarks from Anadtech that incontrovertibly demonstrate the iPhone 5’s battery life is significantly better than the Note 2.

          Care to present some actual evidence that supports your position or are you just gong to fling insults?

          • Ameen Alaa

            Well , I’m Really Sorry Didn’t Mean To Insult You I Thought That You Were A Boy … And No Don’t Care About Benchmarks I Care About Actual Use .. Sorry Again ..

  • Infinite7154

    Motorola showed that it can be done with the Razr Maxx and Maxx HD. Both were thin AND had great battery life. Other OEM’s need to get on board with the technology.

    • melci

      The Razor Maxx actually has much worse 4G LTE battery life than the iPhone 5 according to Anandtech:

      Web Browsing Battery Life (3G/4G LTE)
      iPhone 5 (LTE) = 8.19 hrs
      Razor Maxx (3G) = 8.13 hrs
      Razor Maxx (LTE) = 5.63 hrs
      HTC One X (LTE) = 6.95 hrs
      Galaxy Note 2 (3G) = 5.78 hrs

      • Charles Chambers

        It’s because the iPhone isn’t doing near as much… Plus the screen is smaller. Those make a huge difference.

        • melci

          Actually, the iPhone was doing just as much as the Android phones in these tests – browsing the web.

          You are right though that with a much more optimized multi-tasking model that aggressively aims for better batty life, as soon as those Adroid phones are loaded up with all sorts of background tasks the battery life of the Android phones drops even further.

          Sure, the iPhone has a smaller screen than many of these phones, it it also has a smaller battery.

          • Charles Chambers

            The screen and battery aren’t directly proportional though. Put simply, if you make the screen 2x bigger, you have to make the battery 3x bigger. But I like your reply. Well said. The iPhone is optimized for better battery life. Now the Samsung and HTC Phones have battery saver mode you can enable or disable.

  • Tim H.

    I put a Zero Lemon 9300!!!mah in my galaxy note 2, and battery life is the last of my worries. It goes 3 days on HEAVY use. A ton of 3d gaming, watching youtube and movies, browsing and bluetooth always connected, music, the works. I highly recommend to everyone.

    • ManVSfood

      I have large (almost Michael Jordan-sized) hands, and even I don’t want a phone the size of the Note 2. That’s awesome that it comes with a 3100 mAh battery stock, but I’d like something like that in the size of my GSIII, and I’d definitely sacrifice some thickness for battery life.

      • Tim H.

        I absolutely love my note 2, and after using it for the last 5 months I couldn’t even imagine going back to a phone with any smaller screen then this! It just makes everything easier for me and being able to text on one half of the screen while watching a video on the other half at the same time, is ridiculously rad. multitasking!!! And this battery seriously I cannot kill it, even if I leave my screen on for 8+hours at work at full brightness I still have over 60% battery when I get home

  • Allen Themba

    I just cannot agree with you more!! Thank you for this write up. I was beginning to doubt myself whether am i the only one noticing the downgrade in useability of phones today. Nokia has been our home run phone for years, and emerging markets still believe in its battery longevity. Smart phones ( & watches) that need to be charged every day just get me dumpfounded. I know have to charge my galaxy s3 everyday even without heavy use! It looks like form takes precedence ahead of function with oem’s & i’m not convinced by this so called research. Legitimate co. like Nokia & Apple do have the capacity and make research and make long lasting phones as opposed to the eastern phones who are now running out of ideas with hardware, hence software bloating of phones, ala’S4.

  • VicMatson

    On the eve of wireless charging, bigger is no longer the hindrance it was!

  • gommer strike

    For phones which support replaceable battery, you can always buy MUGEN batteries. There’s a 6400mAH beast available…

    • jerfy

      I just looked up what they had available for my phone : 3600mAH – $88
      I think I’ll stick with my Qcell 4100mAH for $30

      • danny_loves_S3

        Qcell suck, they are scammers, they say it’s 4100 but they are lying. i have experienced them before and the battery broke after 2 weeks. STAY AWAY FROM QCELL

  • Cao Meo

    I disagree, there should be a balance

    a 5″ phone 10mm thick and 3000mAh is fine to me.

    • Sammy ju332


    • melci

      It’s not how big your battery is, it’s how you use it that matters. ;-)

  • burlow

    I use my phone a lot, and I can make it through a day on a charge. I think this is the range apple etc are going for – ie, if phones were only getting 3-4 hours of battery, they would increase the thickness until they could get 7-8 hours. Likewise, if they are getting 10+ hours, they will cut the battery to make the phone thinner.

  • Hoggles

    The real question Bogdon… You’re still using a GS2?? And you’re a Senior Editor for a tech site? Ummm…welcome to 2013 my friend!

    Also…you have a battery that is over 2 years old. I would hope for the sake of quality journalism, you replaced your battery with a new one before even considering writing this article? Because, although you say “that’s not the point”…It is indeed a HUGE point.

    Guess AA doesn’t pay you guys much eh?? I have a GS3 you can have if will help you at your job.

    My S4 has AWESOME battery life. I’m a heavy power user from 7am to 11pm and I’ve never run out of juice during a work day.

    Time to upgrade my friend. This article was a bit of sloppy “journalism”.

    • Steve

      Your phone lasts from 7am to 11pm? And you’re a heavy user?

      I unplug my phone at 7am, and by 9am it’s below 60%. And that’s with only bluetooth and 3G on. All the othe whistles are off. And it’s just reading an ebook and doing a big of ingress.

      What do you do (or rather don’t do) to make it last 16 hours?

      • someguy

        greenify. use it. live it. love it.

      • Hoggles

        Hi Steve. I do many things to ensure I can be a true power user and still have PLENTY of juice.
        1st…root, install a bloatless ROM from XDA (I’m on Tmo & running the international Wanamlite MF2 with Faux’s v5m kernel…incredible!).

        2nd…turn off auto brightness (mines at about 30%, dynamic mode..still VERY bright & rich).

        3rd… Turn off all the stuff you don’t need to use every minute of the day….ex, BT, SYNC, Tethering (which i use often) etc etc etc.. Doing those manually when you need them, is well worth the 2 seconds it takes to turn them on & off.

        4th…Use common sense…hard I guess to explain…but anyone who calls themselves a power user & doesn’t know about places like XDA, taking an hour or two of their lives to truly learn about the device they work & play with, while using common sense to save juice…might not be as smart as they think ;)

        There are many users on XDA getting better batt life than me even.

        The S4 has GREAT battery life….just gotta be smart like the device & not afraid to have fun with tinkering & adjusting things :)


        • Steve

          I have heard of this thing XDA that you speak of. Right about when I got diagnosed with ORD, way back with my HD2.

          With the S4, I have been surprised how fast it charges…and how fast it discharges.

          The only change in usage, compared to previous phones I’ve had, is Ingress. Which means GPS is always on.

          I would have just hoped/wishfully thought that Google would release an app that doesn’t totally kill the battery.

        • Alan Shearer

          Galaxy nexus, stoxk battery, non stock rom )paranoid android), battery runs all day no problem, and I am a hardcore gamer.

  • wonshikee

    I think it mostly comes down to short term vs long term gain. Sure you can make fans out of people who do need long battery life by providing it, but most people just need it to get through the day on moderate usage. Therefore giving everyone a giant battery will.

    1) make the phone thicker
    2) cost more
    3) make the phone heavier

    Now if I wanted to target a phone at the mass, who will probably look at the phone in store w/o having done any real research besides, the most important things are superficial ones.

    • Daniel

      It may cost more per phone but it would cost less in R&D. They spend a lot of money to design these super small phones.

  • Jhrapsky

    I pretty much agree with you across the board. Phone thickness and weight specs have become a limbo dance — “How low can you go?”
    Aside from the extra battery life, a slightly thicker phone often has a more solid “feel”. And if a few extra grams of battery weight makes it “too heavy”, then it might be time to hit the gym.
    Me, I’ll take the extra battery life and “suffer” through the extra millmillimeters and grams.

  • nishantsirohi123

    my note 2 lasts for ever (as in the the entire working time)

    and yes there is no replacement for displacement

    no matter how much “juice defenders” you use

    still a few things you can use

    autokill certain apps

    in my phone it is the “google play music” app , sadly not able to uninstall it

    also avoid google goggles it is the biggest battery hog i have ever seen

    and the “stamina mode” on the Xperia Z is awesome, it allows only a selected few apps to use net access(whatsapp only is so cool)

  • APai

    the only explanation possible for this – most users love to carry their phones to show off and also use it a bit.

    while the geeks/ nerds love to show off AND use it all day long.

    the difference is huge!

  • The best phone I ever had was an ancient black and white LG clamshell. It had an LCD screen and some retro helicopter games, and a battery life of close to a month if I didn’t use it much.

  • Myrddin Emrys

    Customers choose a phone on the spot, when signing up for a contract, on appearance. Most users do no research on the phone. You can’t tell how long that batterly will last based on holding in your hand for a minute, but you can see how it feels and how it fits in your pocket. This is why manufacturers emphasize appearance and dimensions over battery life.

  • William Worlde

    Quite the contrary to coming off as “a spoiled brat”, this was a well-balanced, rather mature article from an AA writer. Final-frigging-ly! Thank you!

  • crhylove

    I have a galaxy nexus, my wife has the s2. The galaxy nexus is much better, and battery life is just ONE area. The CM compatibility is even better!

  • E. Tasche

    If battery life was something that is evident when in a store purchasing a device, then that would probably win out over thickness, but it is not. People can feel how slim a device is, and tactile wins over a couple of (almost always incorrect) numbers on a piece of cardstock showing incomplete specs next to the price tag in a store. Keeping in mind that the majority (or close to it) still purchase their devices based on their in-store experience with it.

  • guest

    The Huawei Ascend P6 easily lasts 2 days with moderate use..