Singing the No-More-Swappable-Smartphone-Batteries blues

With smartphones becoming lighter and slimmer, some features -- such as removable batteries -- are going the way of the hardware keypad. But is that necessarily a good thing?

smartphone and battery

Looking over the various reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S 6, which was just announced at Mobile World Congress, there is one aspect of the new phone that is causing a bit of a stir among users -- and which I'm embarrassed to say I didn't report on in my initial review of the phones. That is: Unlike the Galaxy S5, the S 6 does not include a removable battery. (I've since added a sentence noting it.)

One of the reasons I'm annoyed at myself for not catching that is because, once upon a time, a removable battery was high on my list of "must" features for a smartphone. My first Android smartphone, the Motorola Droid, offered an interchangeable battery, as did my second, the Galaxy Nexus. In fact, in the case of the latter, I bought a stand that would simultaneously charge the phone and the extra battery, so I always had two fully charged batteries when I left home in the morning.

In the summer of 2013, I was torn. My Nexus, while still in working condition, had started to strain a bit at what it needed to do; I needed a new phone. There were still some phones that offered interchangeable batteries; the Samsung Galaxy S4, for example -- however, the S4 also included a great deal of its own software, and I wanted as straightforward a version of Android as possible without having to spend the time replacing the OS myself. So finally, I went for the Motorola Moto X, which was nice-looking, comfortable to hold, had (for the time) a great display and a clean version of Android. But the battery was not replaceable.

Samsung Galaxy S 6 Samsung

With a profile this slim, the Samsung Galaxy S 6 couldn't allow for a swappable battery.

I've learned to live with that, although it means I've had to schlep around a mobile charger (which is invariably heavier and less convenient than an extra battery) for those long days away from home or office when the phone otherwise wouldn't make it. And while I like my Moto X, I would sometimes envy people who had phones like the Galaxy S4 or S5 that still allowed you to replace your batteries.

No more. It's become increasingly important (at least, as a marketing tool) that smartphones not only be lightweight, but as close to paper-thin as possible -- which makes it almost impossible to offer a swappable battery. In its introduction of the Galaxy S 6 and S 6 Edge, Samsung has brought its users a phone that doesn't offer access to either additional storage or an exchangeable battery. And some users -- and reviewers -- are not happy.

Now, I'm sure almost every smartphone vendor will tell you that better power-saving algorithms and battery technology means that their phones will last much longer and therefore users don't need swappable batteries any more. Perhaps. But phones are also coming with higher-end cameras and sharper displays, both of which demand more power -- and the apps that we are using are pulling power at much greater rates than those from even a year or two ago.

Maybe, if there is enough demand, vendors might come up with new ways that users can top up their power. Interestingly, the recently introduced Moto E, a much lower-end smartphone, offers access to its micro SD slot through a rather ingenious removable side-band, thus eliminating the problem of opening the back of the phone. Is it possible that a phone could be designed that would offer access to the battery that way?

Otherwise, if the current trend continues, I'm afraid that most users will have to resign themselves to carrying a charger (or charger case) with them, searching for an AC outlet every time they enter a room -- or hoping that vendor promises of a battery that will last all day are real.

The march toward exascale computers
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