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5 shady battery tricks smartphone brands got caught doing
Smartphone brands can be very tricky when it comes to how they communicate certain features and market their wares. Pumped-up numbers look good, after all. It must be said, though, that manufacturers often step up their shady tactics when it comes to the battery.
Yes, there are several examples of mobile brands making questionable marketing claims regarding their phone batteries and charging practices. That’s not good when you’re trying to find the best phone to buy for all-day battery life or fast charging. Today we’re taking a look at some of these cases.
1. Charging speeds you don’t/barely get
One of the shadier tactics smartphone manufacturers use when it comes to batteries is to advertise a charging speed that you seldom or never reach. A company might claim that a phone has 65W of charging power, but it turns out that the phone only hits 65W for a minute or two — or not at all.
One of the most notable examples of this tactic was the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra, the first phone with 120W charging. Our testing showed that the phone never saw more than 80W charging speeds. That’s a whole 40W that’s missing. Sure, the phone is still charging incredibly quickly, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to say the device tops out at 80W? Similarly, Android Authority testing found that the OnePlus 9 Pro’s 65W Warpcharge runs at max power for less than five minutes before falling back to a lower wattage.
2. Power at the plug versus power at the phone
Another tactic, similar to the one above, is to promise a specific wattage that applies to the charger rather than the phone. In other words, a phone might claim to charge at 30W and the charger pulls that wattage from the wall, but the device itself charges at a slower speed.
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Anandtech tested the Xiaomi 11T Pro and found that the phone’s 120W charger pulled 115W from the wall. Unfortunately, the phone only received a maximum of 97W from the charger in turn. Again, it seems like a massive stretch to say the phone supports 120W charging. Similarly, we’ve seen the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra receive far less power at the phone than its 65W charger advertises.
Google has also engaged in similar shenanigans when it comes to charging. The company isn’t pulling a vastly different wattage at the wall versus at the phone, but it implied that the Pixel 6 family charges at 30W and that you’d need the official 30W charger to do so. Well, Android Authority testing showed that the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro top out at 21W and 23W respectively when charging via the official 30W charger.
This might be the most famous example on the list. It’s not unheard of for a smartphone’s processor to throttle performance once the battery degrades past a certain point. Apple is the most high-profile deployer of this trick — it throttled older iPhones once their batteries started aging.
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The iPhone maker’s reasoning was sound, as it wanted to prevent iPhones from shutting down at high load. But the initial lack of transparency around this practice was a major misstep and only fueled claims of planned obsolescence. Apple would subsequently offer cheaper battery replacements while also clarifying the setting in iOS itself to better communicate the reason for its existence.
4. When 100% doesn’t mean full
One of the more recent practices we’ve seen is the so-called “fuzzy logic” around 100% charging. That is, some prominent smartphone brands will display “100%” on their phones to suggest that the device is fully charged. The truth is that the phone will continue to charge for a short time, actually hitting its full capacity thereafter.
On the one hand, this can help users with battery health. By not fully charging the phone, the battery will take a little longer to complete a charging cycle and isn’t put under as much stress. On the other hand, these muddy waters enable brands to advertise shady zero to 100% charging times.
For example, OnePlus advertises a zero to 100% charging time of just 29 minutes for the OnePlus 9 Pro. But our testing shows that it charges for a further 20 minutes. The Mi 11 Ultra is also marketed as having a zero to 100% charging time of 36 minutes, but we found that it charged for a further 12 minutes. The likes of Apple and Samsung are also guilty of charging for a long time after hitting 100%, but neither company is actually advertising a zero to 100% time.
5. Charging cycles that are actually bad
One of the most important metrics for smartphone battery health is how many charging cycles a battery can withstand before dropping significant capacity. A charging cycle consists of using 100% of your battery’s capacity and 800 charging cycles, a popular metric today, equals just over two years of daily charging.
One example of a phone with impressively minor battery degradation is the Galaxy Note 8, as the company reported that the phone’s battery only degraded to 95% after two years of usage. In other words, the phone’s 3,300mAh battery will be roughly equivalent to a 3,135mAh battery after roughly two years of daily charging.
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At the other end of the spectrum, both Xiaomi and Oppo said their 200W and 125W charging speeds, respectively, will degrade a battery to 80% capacity after 800 cycles. That means a phone with a 4,000mAh battery will be equivalent to 3,200mAh after a couple of years. It doesn’t sound too bad, but that’s a significant 800mAh loss which could easily knock half a day off your battery life. Furthermore, people keep their phones for more than two years these days, which means this degradation will be keenly felt well before you plan to retire your phone.
Apple might be the most disappointing in this regard, though. Its iPhone battery health support page says a “normal battery” will retain up to 80% capacity after just 500 charging cycles (not even a year and a half). That’s much lower than even Xiaomi and Oppo’s figures, meaning you could effectively lose 20% of your battery capacity before a two-year contract expires.
Is there any other battery or charging-related tricks or practices that smartphone brands are guilty of doing? Let us know below. And don’t forget to vote in our poll for the worst offender.