Sunday, June 20, 2010

VoIP and Video Calling on the EVO

Several weeks ago, I was settling down for bed when my phone rang.  It was a number I didn't recognize.


"Hey, there!"

"Who is this?"

"Cullen" ... a former employee of mine.  "I got my Incredible today."

"Oh?  You didn't keep your old number?"

"You noticed that?!  Yeah, that's why I'm calling.  I'm trying out my Google Voice number on VoIP."

My ears perked up.  You mean I can make calls without using my minutes?  You see, with Verizon I had friends and family. I could add any 10 numbers and call them anytime without using my minutes. With Sprint, I can call any mobile without using minutes, but I can't get free land line minutes. Unfortunately, I spend most of my minutes on work conference calls and these are all land line numbers.  Ten minutes later I was ready to setup Google Voice with VoIP on my EVO when it came.  Did I really need it?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Even if I didn't, the idea was cool enough that I knew I'd spend a several hours trying to get it to work.

After about 5 hours of setting up a Google Voice number, registering with various services, and testing, I now have VoIP on my PC using the X-Lite SIP phone and Fring on my EVO.  I can now send and receive VoIP calls on my EVO over Wi-Fi and 3g.  And the voice quality sounds very good to me, although there is a bit of lag.  I've found that I can run Fring in the background without a huge impact to my battery.  This needs a bit more testing, but so far I'm pleased with the results.  Now, if I run low on minutes, I have an alternative to get me through the remainder of the month.

I also setup Fring with Skype.  I can use it to make Skype calls including video calls.  I like this option much better than Qik, the default video calling application that comes with the EVO.  With Qik, you really only have the option to place a video call with another EVO owner.  With Skype, you can video call to any Skype user, whether they're on a mobile phone or PC.  I placed a Skype video call to my daughter on her PC.  It was extremely easy and the quality was more than acceptable.  I can really see video calling catching on in the next 2-3 years.  I know I'll be using it with my daughter starting now.

If you're interested in VoIP on your EVO, check out this document.  It's a great step-by-step process to get you started.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Guide to Managing Your EVO Battery: Summary and Next Steps


The following are conclusions from the testing I performed:
  • If you have a weak cellular signal, your battery will drain significantly faster (go to airplane mode if you need to conserve your battery in these conditions)
  • Wireless data transfer is more efficient than 3G data transfer.  Use wireless connections when available.
  • Bluetooth and GPS can always be on with minimal impact to your battery
  • A properly configured phone should easily achieve 6 hours of talk time
  • You can expect simple gaming and apps to consume approximately 20% of battery life per hour (more data should be and will be collected on this)
  • Live Wallpapers have minimal impact on battery life
  • Download apps and web browsing can and will burn battery in hurry.  Perform these activities with discretion or while plugged-in.
  • Task killers are not needed.  I don't have one and I have excellent battery life without it.  Those that see benefits from a task manager probably have a misconfigured or rogue app.
Next Steps

I have a few more tests I plan to run.  As I get to them, I will post the results here.  Specifically, I plan to test using a manual brightness setting of about 33% using the simple gaming test.  I also plan to add Good for Enterprise.  I suspect this was a major source of my battery woes to begin with.  I now have a good baseline for comparison.  Finally, I will download apps a few at a time and monitor my phone's battery for adverse effects.  Rogue apps will be quickly put to pasture.


The techniques in this article have helped me restore my excitement about my EVO.  I've gone from burning 15% of my battery in one hour without using it to 58% battery remaining after 18 hours of what I would consider moderate/low use.
I hope many of you will find this article useful.  If you struggled as I did with battery life, these principles can help.  Your excitement can be restored.  You CAN stop worrying about your battery.  You CAN once again enjoy your new Android phone.

Guide to Managing Your EVO Battery: The Approach and Control Tests

In order to truly understand my device and my unique situation, I needed to control the variables. By systematically changing the variables, I can determine the impact of each on battery life. When I first received my EVO, I setup my gmail, added all the widgets I could, personalized my screens, and started downloading apps (63 to be exact).  And my battery life was horrible.  The problem was, I introduced too many variables and after three days of stuggling and trying every tip and trick I could find on the web, I was no closer to solving my battery life issues then when I started.  It was time to start with a clean slate so I wiped my EVO.

Baseline the Battery

To baseline the battery, I started with a simple configuration and a somewhat controlled environment to limit the variables.  I assumed Google designed Android with a couple of basic functions in mind, using your phone as a phone (go figure, right?) and integration with your email/gmail account.  My first configuration consisted of setting up my gmail account, turning off all radios except my 3G radio and my cellular radio, downloading an app called "Battery Indicator" to better monitor actual battery usage, and configuring a few basic settings.  Specifically, I disabled syncing to news and stocks, limited weather syncing to once every three hours, disabled auto sign-on of Google Talk (EVO automatically configures Google Talk when you setup your gmail account), set the screen to auto brightness, and removed all widgets except the HTC time and weather widget.

Test 1 - Minimal Usage, Minimal Syncing, Cellular Standby

I ran a 4 hour control test, only turning the screen on every 30 minutes to check the battery status.  I used the power button to lock the phone when I was done using it.  A few emails came in, weather updated, and not much else.  Over that time period, my phone battery decreased an average of 3.5% per hour.  That translates into about 30 hours of battery life.  Not horrible, not great. 

Given my configuration and usage pattern, I knew there were two primary variables that were impacting battery life, network usage for gmail and weather syncing and the 3G and cellular radios.  Given the number of emails I received, I didn't think network usage was a major battery drain.  That left the radios.  I only had 1 or 2 bars of signal so I did some investigating.  Using the "Battery Use" screen, I was able to see that my "time without service" (TWS) was about 80%.  That meant my cellular radio was working overtime, so 3.5% per hour didn't seem as bad.  Actually, I was feeling pretty good at this point since just that morning I lost 15% of my battery in the first hour.

Test 2 - Wireless

It was time to introduce a new variable to see if it had a significant impact on battery life.  For this test, I enabled the wirless radio, connected to my local network, and ran a two hour control test using the same usage pattern as the first test.  To my surprise, I actually saw better results.  My battery decreased only 2% per hour.  I suspect this was the result of a stronger wireless signal and/or more efficient transfer of data over the wireless radio than the 3G radio.  At 2% per hour, this translates into 50 hours of battery life.  Needless to say, I was pleased and maybe even a little excited with these results.

Test 3 - Bluetooth without Pairing

I wanted to test the impact of turning on the Bluetooth radio without connecting to a Bluetooth device.  When I get into my car I don't want to have to fiddle with my phone to get it connect to "hands free".  With my Blackberry Storm, I found that I could leave Bluetooth on even when I wasn't using it and it didn't have a perceivable impact on battery life.  During the next two hour control test, I confirmed these results.  Once again, my battery decreased approximately 2% per hour.

As a side note, I found the "Battery Use" screens to be inaccurate when determining Bluetooth power usage.  My test indicated no impact while the "Battery Use" screen indicated it had the second largest power consumption behind "Cell Standby".

Test 4 - GPS

Similar to the Bluetooth test, I wanted to test the impact of turning on the GPS radio when not in use.  Once  again I found minimal impact to battery life as the battery decreased approximately 2% per hour.

Test 5 - Call Time

Most of us still use our phones to place/receive calls.  I wanted to see if my EVO was going to get anywhere near the 6 hours of talk time the spec sheet said it would.  This test was straight forward.  I placed a 30 minute call and measured the decrease in battery.  Once again, I was pleasantly surprised.  The battery decreased 8% which translates into 6 hours of talk time.  Subsequent measurements have confirmed these results.

Test 6 - Simple Gaming

I like to play Soduko on my smartphone.  My next test was to install "Daily Soduko" and measure the resulting battery usage.  This introduced a couple of variables, CPU usage and screen brightness.  For these tests I used auto brightness.  I ran two short tests, approximately 15 minutes each.  The battery decreased 5% during each tests or 20% per hour.  Several subsequent tests have further confirmed these results.

At some point, I intend to rerun these tests with the screen set manually to 33%.

Test 7 - Live Wallpapers

This is the one you've all been waiting for, right?  I couldn't wait to get to this one because I absolutely love the Live Wallpaper feature and I didn't want to have to live without it.  However, if it was a major battery drain, I'd have to shut it down.  I ran two tests, another 2 hour control test with little to no usage to see if the Live Wallpaper would run in the background and drain battery.  This does not appear to be the case as my battery once again decreased 2% per hour. 

Next I ran additional gaming tests to see if Live Wallpapers impacted battery life while using other apps.  My results were the same as those in Test 6.

Conclusion, Live Wallpapers have minimal impact to battery life.  The only time they increase power consumption appears to be when you're on the launcher screens and the time I spend there is minimal.  If you're usage patterns are different, you may want to run some addittion tests to check impact.  As for me, I'm keeping my Live Wallpaper and I'm excited about it! 

By the way, these results do no apply to the Google Maps Live Wallpaper as this Wallpaper will access GPS and network resources to update the map and I suspect it will do this in the background even when you're not using your phone.

Test 8 - Minimal Usage, Strong Cell Reception

I have full bars at work, so I repeated Test 4 over a 4 hour period to verify my theory that weak cellular signal was the primary cause of my somewhat high battery usage in Test 1.  For this test, Bluetooth, GPS, and 3G were enabled, wireless was off, Live Wallpapers were on, gmail sync was on, and weather updates were set for every 3 hours.  The results were astonishing!  Less than 1% decrease in battery per hour!

Test 9 - Downloading Apps and Web Browsing

These were probably the most unscientific tests I performed.  It's difficult to measure exactly how much data is transferred and the impact of signal strength.  Suffice it to say, both activities burn battery fast!  I did find that a good wireless connection can reduce battery usage considerably compared to performing the same tasks over 3G.  However, I could easily burn 10-15% of the battery in as little as 10 minutes.  If these are activities you need to perform frequently, you might consider plugging in or purchasing an extended battery.

Next: Summary and Next Steps ...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Guide to Managing Your EVO Battery: Things You Should Know

Before we get start talking about the techniques I used to solve my battery life issues, there are a few things I think you should know.

I've done a ton of research on this issue. This is not just a problem with the EVO, or for that matter, the Android OS. I've seen these same issues on numerous websites and forums relating to the the Hero, the Incredible, the Palm Pre, Blackberry Storm, and many others. While these instructions are specific to Android and the EVO, similar techniques can be applied to any smart phone.

Tips and tricks are great, and you might get lucky and find one that works for you, but chances are you'll cripple your phone (i.e., not get the most out of the features you could) or simply eliminate a symptom and not address the cause. I prefer to address the cause and get the most out of my phone.

There is a lot of bad advice out there. Two of my favorites, turn off bluetooth when you're not using it and don't use live wallpapers. Bluetooth does not significantly drain your battery when it is not connected. And live wallpapers have an insignificant impact on overall battery usage. How many of you have them turned off because you've been told they suck too much power? I'll explain more later.

The Primary Sources of Battery Usage

I categorize the primary sources of battery usage into four categories:
  1. Usage Patterns
  2. Communications (Bluetooth, Wireless, GPS, 3G/4G, and the Cellular Radio)
  3. Network Usage
  4. Rogue Apps
Usage patterns have to do with how you use your phone. How much time do you spend checking and sending emails or texts, downloading apps, browsing the web, playing games, or placing and receiving calls? All of these affect battery life. Most of them significantly. With a powerful phone like and EVO, its easy to drain your battery quickly. Compared with my Blackberry, web browsing on the EVO is lightning fast. Thirty minutes of browsing on the Blackberry can be accomplished in a fraction of the time on the EVO. As a result, your battery will drain faster.

Communications are everything related to the various radios on your device including Bluetooth, Wireless, 3G/4G, and the cellular radio. When these radios are on and in use, they can use a significant amount of power. When receiving a weak signal and continually searching for a connection, they can consume even more power. Understanding how to manage these services is crucial to achieve optimum battery life.

I limit network usage to the activities your phone performs to sync various information services, such as email, facebook, news, or weather, to name a few. If your phone is syncing too frequently, it could be sending/receiving a significant amount of data. As a result, your battery drains even when you aren't using it.

The final category are rogue apps. Rogue apps can take a couple of different forms. The first is an app that performs frequent syncing without you knowing or having the ability to configure. The second is an app that doesn't allow your phone to properly sleep when the screen is off. Both can have disasterous results and both can be difficult to troubleshoot.

Next: The Approach and Control Test ...

Guide to Managing Your EVO Battery: Intro

When I purchased my first Blackberry (technically my second, but it was an 8 year hiatus) I was appalled by the horrible battery life.  The first week with the device, the Blackberry Storm, I couldn't get through an entire day.  After a few tweaks and settling into my usual usage habits, I found I would often have half to two-thirds of my battery remaining at the end of a 16 hour day.

Now, I've moved on to Sprint's HTC EVO.  The first week has been both exciting and frustrating.  The speed, capability, and configuration options are incredible.  The battery life, however, had me seriously considering my long term relationship with this phone.  I spent many hours scouring the web for battery saving tips.  None of them really worked, at least not as well as I hoped they would.  Next I tried using Android's "Battery Use" and Spare Parts "Battery History" statistics to troubleshoot.  The results?  Not good.  I was still losing 15% of my battery meter within an hour of taking my phone off the charger.  And I wasn't even using it!!!  Sound familiar to some of you?

I was ready to send my EVO packing.  Drastic times call for drastic measures.  It was time to wipe my phone and start from scratch.

Next:  Things You Should Know ...