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Sunday, December 2, 2012

[Op-Ed]Why can't anyone but Motorola put a big battery in a smartphone?

With the recent release of both the LG Nexus 4 and the HTC Droid DNA, one thing jumped out at me right away with these devices:  whats the deal with the small batteries?  I think that most people would agree the #1 complaint about modern smartphones is the battery life, especially now that 4G LTE is on board most devices.  One company has managed to solve this problem quite well (and has begun to advertise as such on TV lately).  So why can't any of the other hardware manufacturers put some thought behind answering this consumer gripe as well?  Perhaps it's because it would make the phone too bulky or heavy to the point of being undesirable?  Perhaps it's simply not possible with current battery tech?  Maybe another reason entirely?  Let's take a closer look at the new phones and one of Motorola's flagship devices and see if we can find out what's really going on. 

Submitted for your consideration...the specs on the HTC Droid DNA, the LG Nexus 4, and the Motorola Razr Maxx HD:

Length/Width/Height (mm)141 x 70.5 x 9.73

Weight (grams)138g

Screen size (inches)5in Super LCD 3

Battery capacity (mAh)2020mAh

LG Nexus 4
LG Nexus 4
Length/Width/Height (mm) 133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1
Weight (grams) 139g
Screen size (inches) 4.7in WXGA IPS
Battery capacity (mAh) 2100mAh

Motorola Razr Maxx HD
Moto Razr Maxx HD
Length/Width/Height (mm) 132 x 68 x 9.3
Weight (grams) 157g
Screen size (inches) 4.7 Super AMOLED
Battery capacity (mAh) 3300mAh

As you can see from both the renders of the devices and the physical specs, each of these phones is very similar in overall size, as well as form factor.  The Razr Maxx HD weighs in at a hefty 18 grams more than the Nexus 4, the next heaviest of the three.  However, I think what's significant is that weight often translates to a feeling of solidity, with respect to build quality (unless you're the iPhone of course, but I digress).  Since 18 grams of weight is roughly the equivalent of 4 nickels, I highly doubt anyone is going around complaining that the Razr Maxx HD is a heavy brick of a phone.

The Razr Maxx HD is the shortest of the bunch (and sports a smaller screen than the Droid DNA, so no surprise there) and is thinner in width than both the Nexus and Droid DNA.  It also comes in at a svelte 9.3mm thick, which is only 0.2mm thicker the Nexus 4 and a whopping 0.43mm thinner than the DNA.  And yet it sports a 3300mAh battery, the largest (by far) of either of the other two smartphones - 1200mAh more than the Nexus and 1280mAh more than the Droid DNA.  Regardless of the processor powering each of these devices, more battery juice translates to longer battery life, plain and simple.  The S4 Pro in the Droid DNA might sip at the battery, but replace that 2020mAh with the 3300mAh in the Razr Maxx HD, and you'll go longer and do more on a single charge, period.

So let's revisit my earlier questions - does the bigger capacity battery in the Razr Maxx HD make it more bulky than other devices?  I think the specs clearly show the Razr is very competitive in terms of size to both of these newer phones (the Razr Maxx HD was available on Verizon on October 18th) and is even thinner than the Droid DNA.  Is it heavy to the point of making it undesirable?  I can't imagine anyone would genuinely notice the difference that four nickels weight might make to a phone, especially when distributed over the whole of the phone.  And as I mentioned earlier...more heft in a phone isn't necessarily a bad thing.  So I am confident in saying the answer to both these questions is a "no."

Is it simply not possible with current battery tech to put a larger capacity battery in a modern smartphone?  Motorola has obviously blown this theory out of the water, and then some.  We're not talking about a small difference: the Razr Maxx HD's battery represents more than a 60% increase in power - that's significant.  Add back in the potential for reduced power consumption of the newer processors and I think you'd have a consumer who is seriously happy with their battery life.  So what we are really left with is the fact that it must be something else entirely that prevents manufacturers like LG and HTC from putting larger capacity batteries in their devices, because it's clearly possible.  I just can't for the life of me think of what that reason is.           

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