Android Phones

Is AMOLED bad for battery life? Not necessarily.

August 26, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

Android Phones, HTC, Motorola, Samsung

Android's battery use screen

LAPTOP Magazine recently conducted a battery test to determine which Android handsets perform the best. The company created a tool that would repeatedly launch the browser and look at the same group of websites on loop until the battery expired. LAPTOP then concluded that the Droid X is best on battery life and AMOLED screens “trail” LCD models.

That’s an interesting conclusion to draw, but it’s not necessarily the right one. LAPTOP’s tests are good if you simply want to compare the performance of the phones in question; however, drawing conclusions from these tests about AMOLED vs. LCD may be a mistake.

LAPTOP is correct in pointing out that users shouldn’t avoid AMOLED screens because the reason it faded faster in testing was because AMOLED consumes more power when displaying white, the favored background of most websites. But AMOLED performs better in other areas and these tests overlook several other factors that affect battery life.

Battery Capacity

The phones involved in these tests don’t share a battery. Some have as little as 1300 mAh (Droid Incredible) and some have as much as 1530 (Dell Streak). I’d argue that the Incredible performing the worst has more to do with its weaker battery than the effect that AMOLED has on it.

Operating System

Looking at the results, you’ll notice that the Droid 2 has 1390 mAh but still ranks above average. So that means mAh means nothing, right? Not really. All of the phones used in this test run an altered version of Android. The ROM’s have added functionality and changes to appearance, so there may be other factors that affect each phone. For instance, Samsung has altered the browser’s brightness settings, and HTC’s Sense UI may be more taxing on Android than Motorola’s custom layer.

The superior performance of the Droid 2 and Droid X may have more to do with Motorola better implementing its changes to Android than HTC and Samsung did with its devices.

Network Coverage

Searching for a network signal can be a big drag on battery performance. LAPTOP said it put the phones in places that displayed four bars of coverage, but we’ve learned that bars are not necessarily accurate reads of coverage and network stability is not constant. It’s less likely, but possible that network performance affected results.

Conclusion

This all points out that it’s difficult to determine the validity of battery life based on the set-up of this test. There are plenty of variables and no control other than the fact that each phone runs Android. However, each phone also runs a different version of Android, has a different screen size, carrier, battery, and maker, so that’s not much help. Throw in the presence of a task killer being used and the limited scope of web browsing being the determining factor of battery life, you can’t really accept this as gospel.

It would be more interesting to run these same tests with a control factor. Compare an original AMOLED Droid Incredible or EVO to an Incredible/EVO released after component shortages forced HTC to switch components. Those results could prove that AMOLED actually does negatively impact battery performance, but at least then you’ll have a test less prone to outside influences.