4G LTE networks hit battery life on some smartphones, Metrico finds

Four different LTE phones get less than five hours of battery life for browsing, streaming

While battery capacities in smartphones has increased, 4G LTE networks are taking their toll on battery life for Web browsing and video streaming, according to a new analysis by Metrico Wireless.

Four new smartphones tested 20,000 times on live AT&T and Verizon Wireless LTE networks all delivered less than five hours of battery life for either streaming video or Web browsing, testing service Metrico said in a 10-page report released today.

Streaming video and Web browsing are seen as key selling points behind customer interest in LTE smartphones, making the test findings that much more important, Metrico noted.

"In a 16-hour day, these [four] devices would need to be charged at least three times if continuously streaming video or browsing the Web," Amit Malhotra, vice president of marketing for Metrico, said in an email. "Although that scenario might be more theoretical than practical for most subscribers, the value proposition of LTE compared to previous [3G and 2G] technology is geared more toward these applications, and so it would be logical to expect that usage of these applications on LTE would grow."

Metrico tested two Samsung smartphones on AT&T: the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and the Samsung Galaxy Note. On Verizon, Metrico tested two Motorola smartphones: the Droid Bionic and the Droid Razr Maxx.

The Maxx, with its relatively enormous 3300 mAh battery, still didn't last long for browsing and streaming video on Verizon, lasting just under five hours for either application, Metrico said.

Also, the Maxx got only 16% more battery life when streaming video and just 2% more when browsing than the Samsung Galaxy Note on AT&T. The Galaxy Note has a large, power-hungry 5.3-in. display and uses a 2,500 mAh battery.

Malhotra said the findings on the Maxx suggest that "focusing on battery capacity alone is not sufficient to improve the subscriber experience on battery life."

The Maxx did outperform the other three phones by far on battery life when making circuit-switched calls and when used for idle push email, Metrico noted.

Battery life results by application. (Chart: Metrico)

The Skyrocket and Bionic have batteries rated in the average realm for recent smartphones at 1850 mAh and 1735 mAh, respectively. Average battery capacity for all smartphones reached 1,510 mAh earlier this year, up 14% over 2011, Metrico said.

With the lowest battery capacity of the four phones tested, the Bionic also had the LEAST estimated battery life for streaming video and browsing. Metrico estimated battery life by noting watts of power consumed in its thousands of tests of applications and comparing those findings to each phone's total battery capacity.

For streaming video and browsing, respectively, AT&T's LTE Skyrocket got 212 and 179 minutes of estimated battery life; the Note got 252 and 286 minute, respectively; Verizon's Bionic got 161 and 185 minutes, respectively; and the Maxx got 294 and 293 minutes. (SEE CHART.....might want to delete this graf if the chart really runs, the one labeled "estimated battery life by app)

Metrico's report did offer some positive news for LTE phone users, noting that all four phones tested on both major LTE networks could load a Web page in an average of less than 1 second.

For data downloads and uploads, Metrico said a user's experience on both LTE networks was comparable. Average downloads on AT&T were as high as 17Mbps and on Verizon as high as 14Mbps, while average uploads were as high as 3.8Mbps on AT&T and 3.5Mbps on Verizon.

All four phones tested on both major LTE networks could load a Web page in less than 1 second. (Chart: Metrico)

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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