Con­sumers sleep­walk into buy­ing de­ci­sions that ben­e­fit the mak­ers – it’s time to vote with your wal­let

PC Pro - - News - darien@pcpro.co.uk

The only feed­back man­u­fac­tur­ers care about is dol­lar-shaped.

Ev­ery time a new smart­phone comes along, I im­me­di­ately in­quire about the bat­tery. Then, al­most inevitably, I start tear­ing my hair out. As the pic­ture to the left il­lus­trates, this is be­com­ing a prob­lem.

The source of my ex­as­per­a­tion is this: phone man­u­fac­tur­ers seem to think that a bat­tery only needs to get you through a sin­gle day’s moder­ate use – a judge­ment that most cer­tainly does not square with my own. That’s partly be­cause the idea of “moder­ate use” is some­what alien to me, but also be­cause I re­sent hav­ing to put my phone on charge ev­ery sin­gle night of my life. If I’m pay­ing hun­dreds of pounds for a smart­phone, it can darn well run to my sched­ule, rather than vice versa.

In­deed, as long-term PC Pro pod­cast lis­ten­ers will know, I’ve more than once de­clared that if any­one had the sense to put to­gether an An­droid phone with a multi-day bat­tery, I’d buy it in a flash, more or less re­gard­less of other con­sid­er­a­tions. And so last month, when the Len­ovo P2 came along with its ex­cep­tional 5,100mAh cell – dou­ble the ca­pac­ity of my old Sam­sung Galaxy S6 – I had lit­tle choice but to put up and buy the thing. And frankly I think you should all do the same.

Be­fore I get into why, let’s ac­knowl­edge that, all things be­ing equal, a brand-new phone will al­ways yield bet­ter bat­tery life than a two-year-old one. Lithium ion cells don’t suf­fer from the “mem­ory ef­fect” that used to plague old nickel-based cells, but they do lose ca­pac­ity each time they’re recharged. One study saw com­mer­cially-avail­able lithium ion cells lose as much as 17% of their ca­pac­ity over the course of 250 cy­cles. I hardly need to point out that if you charge your phone ev­ery night, you’ll get to that stage within nine months. Af­ter two years, your bat­tery may well have less than half the ca­pac­ity it did when it was new.

This is why it drives me mad that you can no longer buy a smart­phone with a user-re­place­able bat­tery. Too many times I’ve heard friends declare that it’s time to up­grade, not be­cause the new gen­er­a­tion of phones of­fers any par­tic­u­lar ben­e­fit over their old hand­set, but sim­ply be­cause their bat­tery’s shot. They end up pay­ing £700 for a new phone when all they need is a £35 bat­tery. The cynic in me sus­pects that this is the very rea­son why man­u­fac­tur­ers pre­fer to seal the bat­tery in.

And there’s a corol­lary to this. A big­ger bat­tery doesn’t just take longer to run down: since it can go much longer be­tween charges, its ca­pac­ity erodes more slowly. It’s a dou­ble win – and one we should all be de­mand­ing.

This is why I’d love to see the Len­ovo P2 be­come a huge suc­cess. To be clear, I’m not claim­ing it’s the most beau­ti­ful An­droid smart­phone on the mar­ket. Ac­tu­ally it’s a rather boxy thing – though, in fair­ness, it’s barely any big­ger than a Sam­sung Galaxy S8. The cam­era is also a dis­ap­point­ment: I didn’t ex­pect to care about that, but once you’re used to a Sam­sung cam­era, it’s hard to go back to soft and grainy snaps.

Even so, if the smart­phone in­dus­try sees that a sen­si­bly-sized bat­tery trumps the mil­lions they spend mar­ket­ing their flashy flag­ship de­vices, it sends a mes­sage. Per­haps it will in­spire them to up­grade the bat­tery in their next wave of high-end phones. Frankly, if it doesn’t, I don’t know what will.

I mean that, in­ci­den­tally, in the most pes­simistic sense. It feels like a very long time since the big tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies paid much at­ten­tion to what their cus­tomers re­ally wanted. They must know on some level that con­sumers are cry­ing out for cer­tain fea­tures, but it seems those are no longer im­per­a­tives; just mi­nor in­puts into the over­all money-mak­ing process.

Tiny, non-re­place­able smart­phone bat­ter­ies are one ex­pres­sion of this sad sit­u­a­tion, but it’s re­peated across the whole in­dus­try. Ap­ple is an ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple of a com­pany that likes to tell users what they’re get­ting, rather than ask­ing them what they want. Mi­crosoft has a his­tory of rail­road­ing users in its pre­ferred di­rec­tions, as sev­eral court cases at­test. And don’t get me started on Google, which launches, re­vamps and closes ser­vices seem­ingly with­out the slight­est ref­er­ence to what works for users.

With all the tech­nol­ogy giants seem­ingly stick­ing their fin­gers in their ears, the idea of chang­ing any­thing might seem for­lorn. In truth, we per­pet­u­ate the sit­u­a­tion our­selves, be­cause it’s a lot eas­ier to ac­cept what we’re given than to switch to ri­val plat­forms and ser­vices – which are prob­a­bly just as un­re­spon­sive any­way.

But, as it hap­pens, smart­phone hard­ware is the one area where that in­er­tia can’t be taken for granted. Most of us switch phones ev­ery few years as a mat­ter of course, and while I’d hes­i­tate to call the process pain­less, it’s re­al­is­tic in a way that mi­grat­ing away from Win­dows or Gmail prob­a­bly isn’t. Best of all, this is a rel­a­tively cheap stand to make. While the Sam­sung Galaxy S8 sells for £690 SIM-free, the Len­ovo P2 can be had for just £200. All right, that’s not pocket money, but to an ide­al­ist like me it’s a small price to pay for the pos­si­bil­ity of chang­ing the world. Plus, you know, you get a phone out of it too.

Per­haps you think I’m mak­ing a fuss over noth­ing. But in­creas­ingly, on evenings out, I see friends and col­leagues in the pub with flashy high-end smart­phones sit­ting out on the ta­ble – hooked up to bulky ex­ter­nal bat­ter­ies. Is that re­ally what we’re as­pir­ing to in 2017? By con­trast, when I take my own phone out and see I still have 70% charge re­main­ing, it feels like a tri­umph for san­ity. And heaven knows, th­ese days we need as many of those as we can get.

It feels like a very long time since the big tech com­pa­nies paid much at­ten­tion to what their cus­tomers re­ally wanted

Darien Graham-Smith is PC Pro’s as­so­ci­ate ed­i­tor. Tweet him day or night: his phone will be on. @dariengs

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