I’ve gotten a few requests to look at the improvement in battery life caused by Apple’s iPhone 2.1 firmware update, I had some spare time between articles so I ran a few tests.

There were issues on some 3G enabled iPhones that apparently caused a lot of dropped calls and general unpleasantness when trying to use your new phone. I never experienced any of them personally so I can’t really complain about them, other than to say that it made others unhappy.

The 2.0 and later firmwares apparently fixed many of the source issues behind these problems, and the most recent firmware update (2.1) supposedly increased battery life. I just happened to apply that update before heading out of the house for the entirety of the day and most of the evening, so I got a reasonable chance to try it out.

My phone was nearly dead by 11PM when I got back home, but the test was hardly scientific. I had no idea how much I used it nor did I really have a good comparison point, so I went back and reran two of my battery life tests from the original article.

"To test [talk time] I played music back on a notebook through some headphones placed right at the mic on the iPhone 3G. The phone was flipped over on a table to trigger its sensor and shut off the display, thus simulating a real call. I called my Vonage deskline from the iPhone and got to listen to 50 Cent play over and over again for hours, a homage to what I did last year with the first iPhone. "

WiFi was disabled and 3G was enabled for this test.

The talk time test hardly showed any improvement. While there’s a 5 minute increase in talk time, by percentage that’s not very good and is most likely due to normal variance between runs that I can’t really control.

"Our web browsing test is slightly different from what we ran in the iPhone review. We used a total of 7 web pages, but of much larger sizes than our first test. The first page was simply a counter page, the second was our review of the Core 2 Duo E6750, followed by our article on AMD's Phenom introduction, an excerpt from our Quad FX article, our entire iPhone review, an article on Intel's Turbo Memory and our entire AMD Radeon 2900 XT review.

Each page was loaded by the browser and was set to forward to the next page (in the above order) after 10 seconds; the iPhone’s brightness was set to approximately 50%. All backlight timers were disabled. Bluetooth was enabled but not paired to any devices."

The web test fared a bit better - over 3G I saw a 10% increase in battery life. Apple can’t really create any additional battery life through software magic, but it would seem that the improvements users are seeing in battery life are mostly due to data usage and not voice.

My 3G test happens to be reasonably stressful as it is constant web surfing, which I doubt anyone has the patience to do on something with such a small screen regardless of how great its UI may be. In the end, real world battery life may go up even more but I’d say 10% is a fair increase for a simple firmware update.

Final Words

Am I happy? Not really. It’s great that there’s a bit more battery life to play with, but the device still needed a real hardware upgrade - not the simple addition of GPS or 3G. It needs a faster processor, and we know there are faster things out there today. The firmware update did fix some of the performance issues, but just as I mentioned in the very first iPhone review - the device needs to be faster.

While the original iPhone was something I had no problems recommending, the new one (and even the old one with new firmware) just seems to come with more caveats. That last point is particularly interesting to me as the new iPhone firmware seems to have addressed some of the major issues (e.g. 3rd party apps) users had with the first generation product, yet in many ways it’s more problematic. It makes sense when you look at how Apple launched the original iPhone: it focused on a handful of things it wanted to make sure worked perfectly, and chose to ignore the rest until a later time.

The iPhone 3G and its associated firmware seemed like bad timing. Apple needed faster, more robust hardware but the demand for an app store and 3G were too high not to update the platform.

The situation we’re in honestly reminds me a lot of the 2nd iPod. It had all of the goodness of the first one, but just wasn’t terribly impressive anymore. It took a while for Apple to make that virgin impact again with its iPod line and I wonder if we’ll see it happen so soon with the 3rd iPhone?

Until then, the iPhone is still my phone of choice, but as I mentioned in my iPhone 3G article: Apple’s second step was in the wrong direction. It’s far easier to take a clumsy fall walking down stairs than going up.

Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • jcromano - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Checking the archives, I see this article and at least five others on the iPhone. I don't see a single article on the G1. Is it so far inferior to the iPhone that it doesn't even warrant coverage, or am I just not looking in the right place for the article?

  • Believer - Friday, October 3, 2008 - link

    If I recall correctly, the reason why the iPhone 3G caused cut-offs (even for others), was because there was an error in the communication to the transmission towers, where the iPhone subsequently declared it needed increasingly more transmission then it really did, causing the towers to drop calls in order to comply when they were at full capacity.

    I think it's these malfunctioning transmission demands that have been fixed, among other things, which would only affect battery life by very slight degree with the lessened intercommunication. The big winners are all the other subscribers who won't get frequently disconnected by the act of Apples bad software engineering.
  • marf8 - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 - link

    Surprisingly I have noticed a decrease in battery time in standby. I used to be able to get around 6+ days in mostly standby, with moderate SMS texting (10 per day), with maybe 10 minutes of phone talk for the 6 days. (Note that 3G is turned off, EDGE data is turned off, Bluetooth is turned off).

    Now I get about 4 days with the same usage.
  • Doormat - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 - link

    The third generation iPhone due late in 2009 will have the ARM chips fabbed at 45nm. The core ARM will probably be designed by the PASemi guys, and will have a lot more integrated in terms of controllers for the LCD, touchscreen, etc.

    The baseband chipset goes from 3 chips to 2 (X-GOLD 618), with the power controller chip integrated, and support for HSPA speeds (7.2/2.9). Power is reduced 30% in the baseband chip and 40% in the core ARM.

    I would expect the third gen iPhone to be able to be faster, with longer battery life (10 hrs 3G talk, 12 hours internet, etc). But you just have to wait...
  • Griswold - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 - link

    Well done, you just took all the rumours available on the net and threw it into one post *and* sold it as facts. I couldnt have done that...
  • Doormat - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 - link

    I should clarify, the ARM chip is fabbed at 45nm, and the baseband chip from Infineon is fabbed at 65nm.
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 - link

    Stop panhandling phone reviews.

    Just because you own it does not make it something people are interested in.

    I'm still awaiting that long due update to GE Toasters, and of course BIC trusty new Ball point pen. I hear the new pen is more comfortable on the fingers!

  • 37203 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Decent article, but as others said, the biggest change is standby time. Through the friggin roof compared to previous firmwares.
  • Wineohe - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I think the battery life is not as clear cut as just testing before and after. My personal experience is that the problem was with how the 3G functioned, and probably more the email application as I'll mention later. In my case the 3G worked poorly in some areas causing the phone to constantly search or hang while attempting connection. Also many dropped calls and my battery life was abysmal. I was barely making it home in the late afternoon, with little actual talk time. The solution that was offered by others was to turn off the 3G. This made some difference but seemed to defeat the purpose of me waiting a year for this phone.

    As for the email application? Again it seems to hang up and struggle to connect, as if it's in a loop trying to synchronize. This could occur while on the 3G network or Edge, but seemed worse when accessing 3G. The real problem was early on when I first got the phone. I would work with email and then watch it try to sync. I would stick it in my pocket thinking it would eventually go. NOT!! It was eating my battery. My solution eventually was to reboot the email app. I do this by holding down the menu button to force the email app to close entirely. Reselect the email app again and it should sync OK this time. With 2.0 I found myself doing this a lot. With 2.1 not so much.

    With the upgrade the battery life now seems more predictable, but still not great. I can get a few days now in some cases given that I am not a real talker when it comes to a phone. I'm convinced that all the 2.1 upgrade did was fix many bugs, one of which was the tendency to drain the battery while trying to connect to the 3G circuits, which really depends on where you live or work.

    3G is not the panacea that one might expect. The Edge network is slower but more reliable and more efficient. I would also agree that the Iphone needs a faster processor. I'm thinking that I should have waited for the 3rd gen or even 4th gen Iphone.
  • Mr Roboto - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    For a second there it looked like an iPhone cemented in a brick. When speaking of iPhone firmware updates that's the first thing that came to mind.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now