The Dirty Android Secret No One's Talking About

Last Updated Apr 29, 2011 10:30 AM EDT

Google's Android OS is all anybody can talk about these days. Android phones, Android tablets, Android market share -- it reminds me of the days before Android, when all anybody could talk about was iPhone.

I think it's great that Apple is finally seeing some real competition in the mobile space. What I can't understand is why everyone's ignoring a major and debilitating fly in the ointment:

Android battery life sucks.

I mean really, really sucks. I base this not only on my experiences with numerous Android-powered devices, including the Samsung Intercept, LG Optimus V, Next3 tablet, and, most recently, Samsung Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi, but also on widespread anecdotal evidence.

It's gotten to the point where I'd really have to think twice before buying any Android-powered hardware. But surely I can't be alone in my thinking. Why, then, has there been almost total media silence on this issue, especially when the slightest dip in iPhone battery life causes mass hysteria?

No Charge
The Intercept was the first device to raise my suspicions. I could start the day with a full charge, and by late afternoon it would be dead. Not "low battery," mind you, but dead. And this after very minimal use. It was aggravating, but I chalked it up to the Intercept being a cheap, low-end phone.

Cut to this week; I just got my hands on Samsung's new Wi-Fi-only version of the Galaxy Tab -- and quickly fell in love with the thing. It's 7 inches of tablet goodness. When I went to bed the other night, the Tab showed a remaining charge of about 50 percent. When I woke up, it was dead. This is a Wi-Fi-only device, people, so it's not like it was pinging cell towers all night.

Curious, I conducted an informal survey of my Android-owning Facebook friends. Save for one Droid X owner, every person used words like "terrible" and "sucks" to describe their device's battery life. Most said they had to recharge once per day, if not twice. That's atrocious.

Reality Check
I'm well aware that battery life varies greatly from one device to another and one user to another. It varies depending on where you carry your phone (keeping it in your pocket, for example, creates extra heat, which drains the battery faster), how you use it, and what kind of apps you run.

What's more, there are countless ways to improve Android battery life, as evidenced by the recent Lifehacker and PC Magazine stories on the subject. Indeed, I just wrote a related post myself for Android Atlas, focusing on a fairly amazing free app called JuiceDefender.

One simple solution is to turn off e-mail syncing. That step alone helped the Galaxy Tab make it through the night.

But, seriously, these are modern-day, bleeding-edge devices. Why are we forced to turn off features, install special apps, and jump through hoops just to raise battery life from "unacceptable" to "crummy"? If you ask me, something is amiss in the Android universe.

iThink iOS Devices Last Longer
Imagine the outcry if iPhones had to be recharged twice a day. (Some do, I'm sure, but only after a year or two, at which point all batteries start to lose some capacity.) My iPhone 4, which I've had for about nine months, can easily last two days before giving me low-battery warnings--and I'm a pretty heavy user. (Note: I don't use push e-mail.)

And my iPad, well, that thing's a power camel. It so rarely needs recharging that I don't even think about it. It probably gets on the charger once a week, if that. For what it's worth, iPod Touches have pretty stellar battery life as well.

So, yeah, I'm a bit spoiled by my iDevices, and subsequently quite disappointed by every piece of Android-powered hardware I've tried. It's really vexing to wake up and find that your brand new phone or tablet couldn't last the night. (If you've had a different experience, please let me know about it in the comments -- and be sure to name the model you're using.)

Of course, maybe this is just the nature of modern mobile devices. They work hard all day and need to hit the charger at night. Perhaps I'm being too hard on Android; maybe it's the device manufacturers who are to blame. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue, and whether you think it's as big a deal as I do.

More on BNET:

  • Rick Broida On Twitter»

    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.