Smartphone battery life over the years: A surprising study

The smartphone of today can take great daylight shots, and even handle night photography if it was produced relatively recently. It can hook up to a multitude of smart gadgets that range from speakers and smart set-top boxes, down to home automation gizmos. Its screen has so many pixels on it, providing an image so sharp, that it puts even your living room TV to shame. And processing power? A flagship today has the computational power of your old laptop, if not more.

And yet, its battery life just blows. And this is increasingly becoming a priority for buyers, who are starting to understand that even older hardware in other areas has long crossed the sanitary minimum line and offers more than 'just okay' performance. The longer this continues to be the case, the more the battery life of any given smartphone will be a differentiating factor and a pronounced competitive advantage. Manufacturers know that, which is why we're all bombarded with marketing messages relating to resilience.

Unfortunately, as is the case a little too often, cold hard data and what the marketing team at this or that company will have you believe, are at odds. Battery life is as tough a nut to crack today as it was a few years prior. And we have proof.

Historic battery life data

When we first conceived of a custom battery life test of our own in 2012, the PhoneArena team was focused on providing a solution that was both cross-platform and indicative of real life usage. So we set brightness to 200 nits to mimic the realities of a typical day, and designed the script in a way as to imitate the average person's kind of usage. Does it work? Yes. Is it perfect? Absolutely not.

Then again, no single battery life test you can find anywhere is even close to perfect. Put simply, there are just way too many variables, way too many activities, and too many individual idiosyncrasies. Unless there's an objective flaw in the methodology, however, most of these tests that you can get access to on the web, are valid—but to a point. In these past four or so years of using our methodology, we've become convinced that our test is a very valid predictor of battery life. So it makes sense that we make use of our database and see if we can identify trends and draw conclusions.

And we did.

Who built your smartphone matters. That's our definitive first key finding.

To give you insight into how the data was plotted, every year has been split into two halves, all of them corresponding to a major flagship release from the companies' respective line. For Apple, the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus have not been taken into account.

As you can see from the chart here, makers like Samsung and Sony have, historically, offered the best battery life. The latter, however—partly owing to its 6-month release cycle—provides more data points, and those paint a picture of extremes. A pretty awful start in the first half of 2013, to the rise at the end of 2014 owing to the excellent Xperia Z3, through the downfall of the Xperia Z3+ and Xperia Z5, and back up again with the Xperia X. Despite this variance, Sony has consistently outdone its South Korean rival in the past two and a half years.

The most troubling data on our list comes from our testing done with LG devices. These just seem to be unable to repeat the success of the LG G2 (which was an incredibly resilient phone for its time), and continue offering underwhelming longevity. The Moto X and Galaxy S lines are also looking a bit concerning at this point in time, while Apple's success with the iPhone 6s remains to be tested for consistency.

Perhaps more importantly, however, the industry as a whole has moved forward. But probably by not as much as you would've hoped for. 

As the data in this chart clearly shows, the industry average is now trailing achievements set in the distant first half of 2014. Since we're only in the first half of 2016, however, we may witness a resurgence towards the end. After all, after the disastrous first half of 2015, the second half was record-setting, mostly owing to the successful Galaxy Note 5 and iPhone 6s.

Battery life aside, charging times have dropped significantly

That's right, compared to the first half of 2014, when battery life was at its peak according to our data set, the time needed to charge your smartphone from zero all the way to full has been nearly halved. For example, early 2014 meant the average flagship needed about 165 minutes to charge, whereas early 2016 figures are close to the 100 minute mark.

That's a great trend, and partially an answer by phone makers to our continuing battery life woes. After all, if you can recover 50% or so of the capacity in a 15-minute charge, then uninspiring longevity is somewhat less of a concern. That, at least, seems to be the rationale, and we can't disagree completely. Still, that doesn't mean we want long-lasting smartphones any less.

Apple is falling behind.

Indeed, when it comes to recharge times, the iPhone maker may want to think about a quick charging technology of some kind. Historically, the iPhone has been rather well-positioned in this regard due to its consistently smaller batteries, but we're now at a point where even Sony's devices are outdoing Cupertino's flagship. Compared with the LG G5, for example, the iPhone 6s charges almost twice as slowly.

Drawing conclusions

Software, battery size, processor, and screen type, all these seem to be correlated with battery life—to varying degrees. If you were to delve even deeper into the data set and identify generational changes that contributed to a spike or a slump, you'd find the same. The iPhone 6s is a great example of this, with iOS 9 seemingly behind the massive jump in endurance. In Sony's case, the move to Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 crippled its flagships' showing for two generations. And then, from the Xperia Z5 to the Xperia X, we witness quite the revival with the transition to the Snapdragon 650 processor and move to Android Marshmallow.

For the time being, however, and while some makers are improving on historic scoring, the industry trend is for disappointing battery life, barely managing early 2014 achievements. Battery life, in other words, remains a tough nut to crack, and we should all ask more out of phone makers going forward. Perhaps less time invested in gimmicks and more attention paid to core detriments of user experience?



1. Jimrod

Posts: 1605; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

Agreed on the iPhone... The Samsung people will be along shortly to disagree with everything though...

19. NexusPhan

Posts: 632; Member since: Jul 11, 2013

I disagree. Apple was way, way behind for a couple years. Embarrassingly behind with the 5, 5S and 6 actually. The 6S was a massive improvement that is more in line with the flagship android competition. Hopefully they keep pushing for better battery life, not that I would own an iPhone anytime soon.

42. nctx77

Posts: 2540; Member since: Sep 03, 2013

Considering the size of those phones and the battery capacity, they all did amazing jobs. As for the 6, I wasn't that great, but the 6 plus was decent which is what I'm still using till this day.

51. cryptonx

Posts: 60; Member since: Jan 05, 2016

The 6 plus battery wise is decent. However having to carry arround a brick (~200gm) phone that other manufacturers have put on larger screens and much lighter overall package is still not that much of an achievement. I used a huawei mate 7 for a year. It lasted 3 days with regular use thanks to a 4000mah battery but then again it was very very heavy and tyring for one hand.

27. TerryTerius unregistered

Insofar as S7 battery life, pretty much every site on the entirety of the Internet disagreed with PA's claims that it was worse than the S6. Call it what you want.

62. 10033859

Posts: 31; Member since: Jun 29, 2016

PhoneArena honestly has some pretty bad reviewers and battery tests, benchmarks, etc.. I know first hand the S7 lasts damn near twice as long as the S6. My dad has a S6 thats always on the charger and ever actually charged and a friend from school has a s7 which goes down 1-2% a hour... if hes watching a video its 3-5%. The battery tests they do are almost always wrong, either biased by apple or android fans that take it too far and work at phonearena, or just flat out a bad test. As a database for any phone over week old, its great... But for reviews on phone, go to youtube... But i will say this.. BLU, a fairly large manufacture, has released a phone today, and its all over the news, even made its mark in my google now cards, but its no where to be found on phonearena...

47. Firestorm

Posts: 44; Member since: Jun 27, 2015

Hilarious study... s6 has better battery life than s7 ??? This article for toddlers may be...

58. fyah_king unregistered

Ikr? I have the s6 and s7. The battery life is a lot better with the s7.

2. flavius22

Posts: 218; Member since: Aug 23, 2015

Apple is the only one that doesn't want to improve. And iphone arena is the only one that finds a good side in this

21. Iodine

Posts: 1504; Member since: Jun 19, 2014

Why they don't want to improve ? For example the terraced battery cells are a great invention and there are definitely more exciting battery technologies coming down the pipeline.

22. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

What he mean is basically its taking more and more time to charge iphone. So its not an improvement. On battery life great improvement since 6S.

63. 10033859

Posts: 31; Member since: Jun 29, 2016

The ONLY good thing about apple is IOS... And really it isnt that good...

3. TheNeighbor

Posts: 370; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

Simple solution: extended battery of about 10000mAh= all day long heavy usage. That's why I don't see the logic of thin phones with small sealed batteries. Totally impractical with today's demand. Fast charging is not the answer. It degrades the sealed battery faster.

12. TheGranter

Posts: 63; Member since: Jan 28, 2016

i'd rather have a slime device and a powerbank attatched to it when needed. Or even better, just stop f**king around with cables and build powerless chargers large enough to cover a continent, issue solved.

29. TheNeighbor

Posts: 370; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

"Slime" device with "powerless" charger... right. You do know that wireless charging is inefficient, only giving 55% from a wireless powerbank? Like Samsung's latest battery pack that only gives 1700 put of the 3100mAh. Wired chargers can only transfer 65% of the indicated battery capacity. While an extended battery gives 100% of its stored value to power the smartphone. I'm glad Zerolemon makes 10000mAh extended batteries - I don't have to charge or change batteries before going home. I heavily use my unlimited LTE data as hotspot, downloading, and that same energy to get it running is the same for any phone. Smaller battery means shorter life, more the need to charge, which means more charging cycles spent, which means degrading the battery faster. This is what Samsung has figured out from Apple to make you buy a new device every year. Why do we want to inherit the charging issues of iOS users by carrying power banks/chargers to to up our devices?

4. sachouba

Posts: 267; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

Hum. From the moment I noticed that Samsung's S line in 2016 (S7, S7 Edge) was behind the iPhone 6s, I understood that this whole study was trash.

13. kenaldinho4444

Posts: 66; Member since: Jun 05, 2015

You have all three devices?

23. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

We do here as we are a cellphone shop. With identical usage S7 outlast 6S by about 20% S7 edge outlast 6S + by only 10-15% Identical usages is the key word here. as you can do much more on the S7 phone features wise its might have lower battery life. but identical usage its beat the iphones.

14. minhajmsd

Posts: 24; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

It's actually true, 6/6s plus battery life would outlast my s7 edge. You really have to try both phones to see it.

32. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

You cant compare the plusses. Then you compare to the Note.....

41. minhajmsd

Posts: 24; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

You can compare it directly to the s7 edge, Apple doesn't make anything that compares to the Note.

59. fyah_king unregistered

Your 6s gets 6hrs of sot? Gtfoh!

15. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

Study is from phonearena battery benchmarks and we all know how great they are.

44. dimas

Posts: 3420; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Rollercoaster ride for xperia graph like their sales. Lg getting poorer on battery every year.

65. 10033859

Posts: 31; Member since: Jun 29, 2016

LG is bad anyways thier phones are remarkably unreliable...

64. 10033859

Posts: 31; Member since: Jun 29, 2016

Indeed it is.. Most on phonearena are... Especially the battery tests...

5. sukrith2194 unregistered

dont see why "Historically, the iPhone has been rather well-positioned in this regard due to its consistently smaller batteries, but we're now at a point where even Sony's devices are outdoing Cupertino's flagship" is needed? Sony makes way better devices than Apple! yes the sony x is a disappointment but the x premium will make it all better!

10. TBomb

Posts: 1669; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

article is talking about battery life and recharge times... not who makes "better"

6. libra89

Posts: 2316; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

This is very interesting. Not surprised about Sony having good battery life though. That is why I have trust in them. Something about their phones doesn't have as shameful battery life. Hoping for the XA to be everything I want it to be. :(

7. Charlie2k

Posts: 161; Member since: Jan 11, 2016

Where is Nokia/Microsoft?

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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