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5 Ways to Optimize Battery Life For Your Mobile Computer

. . . and extend the life of your investment

We all dislike dead batteries. Whether it be a laptop, phone, or car, it’s an unwelcome disruption of our day. Fortunately, a charge is usually not that far away. For field computers, the challenge can be a bit more complex. Sometimes being connected to a vehicle charger is not possible while conducting a citation or parking control. Other times, the weather itself is an obstacle to maintaining a charged device.

Here, we will examine ten ways in which we can maximize battery life, both over individual shifts and over the lifetime of the devices.

  1. Device Settings. Know what works for your use cases and environment.
    Modern mobile computers use state-of-the-art Lithium Ion battery technology and software for power management and are built for a variety of power environments.

    Data settings can sometimes be set lower from 5G down to 4G. 4G Enhanced can mean considerable savings when you don’t need ultra-fast bandwidth for sending text data. If vehicles are equipped with Wifi hotspots, the cellular radio can be turned off entirely.

    Screens on mobile computers are designed for the best possible display of information in the worst conditions. Their brightness settings are designed to defeat direct sunlight, but the brightest screens also take the most battery power. In conditions without direct sunlight, users should lower their screen brightness accordingly.

    The goal should be to operate a computer for an entire shift on a battery whether or not there is power available. If this can’t be accomplished, minimal disruption for charging purposes should occur. This can be accomplished by hot-swapping an auxiliary battery or by plugging it into a power source (usually a vehicle). The term hot-swapping means that you will change a battery, and the device will retain all settings and connections during the time it takes to remove the depleted battery and insert the fresh one. This usually is a period of seconds, and devices have capacitors on board that maintain power for this event.

    Sleep mode is an important setting for battery life that suspends power consuming functions on the device, and while it may be tempting to disable sleep mode so that the user does not have to wait a few seconds for the device to wake and connect, allowing for that time will save a lot of battery life. Allow your devices to sleep between uses.

  2. Plan your charging practices.
    Often devices are used for more than one shift per day and need to be ready and charged for the next shift. This can involve swapping out batteries or time on chargers or charging cradles. Occasionally, software updates need to be performed during these interim times, so the connection to the network and charging will be done simultaneously.

    When devices are not used for back-to-back shifts, they should be in a cradle or charger until their battery is completely charged. The environment should not be too warm or too cold (more on temperature later).

    Finally, do not store your units on chargers for long periods of time. No, they are not going to overcharge and burn up, modern battery technology has protection for this, but it will help the life of the equipment by not continually charging or “exercising” the battery and its circuitry.

  3. Purchase auxiliary batteries and charging equipment that support your plan.
    In general, Cardinal recommends that you purchase at least one auxiliary battery for each device purchased. Batteries should be replaced when they fail in their ability to be charged to full and maintain that charge for significant periods of time.

    Chargers and cradles can be purchased for the office environment and vehicle chargers for “topping off” batteries while the unit is in the field. Depending on the size of your device deployment and the mission-critical nature of the work, backup chargers, cradles, and batteries can be scaled upward. This will guarantee no downtime for the system.

    Use only accessories designed to charge your unit. This includes even USB cables. We’ve all heard horror stories of seemingly compatible products being purchased for technology that either damaged the device or caused a fire. Always check the voltage and amperage required for your device to ensure proper charging.

  4. Have a plan for extreme temperatures. Whether you are in Phoenix in the middle of summer or Minneapolis in the middle of winter, fieldwork has to contend with temperature extremes. Devices are already protected from being dropped, and exposure to water, but field devices with batteries require additional consideration for these extremes.

    In hot conditions, Lithium Ion batteries tend to degrade more quickly. This is due to chemical reactions inside the battery being accelerated by the higher temperatures. As a result, devices with Lithium Ion batteries may not perform as well in hot conditions as they would in cooler temperatures.

    If your vehicle is enclosed, A/C can cool a unit down and should be used for this purpose. Units should not be left in hot vehicles for long periods of time as this will shorten battery life overall.

    Lithium Ion batteries can also be affected in cold conditions (below about 40F or so). The lower temperatures can cause the battery chemistry to slow down, which can lead to reduced performance.

    Additionally, cold weather can make it more difficult for the battery to charge, as the charging process is also affected by the colder temperatures. Again, vehicle climate control should be used to warm the device, and they should not be left in cold vehicles for extended periods of time. Batteries also charge slower in colder conditions.

    Sometimes ingenious but low-tech solutions like chemical-portable heating pads for officers without access to a warm space are employed. In general, the preferred temperature range for batteries is from about 45F to no more than 110F, temperatures outside this range should generate strategies to at least periodically warm or cool the equipment.

    Overall, Lithium Ion batteries perform best in moderate conditions, neither too hot nor too cold. However, they are still generally quite reliable even in extremes of temperature. Continual use in extreme temperatures may require that an auxiliary battery be carried and treated similarly to the device. It is important to be aware of the potential for reduced performance because of the environment and applicable trade-offs and strategies.

    Signs that you have a stressed or failing battery. The most obvious signs of a failing or stressed battery are failure to hold a charge/rapid depletion, failure to charge to completely full, and warning signs from the device operating system, but there are others to be aware of as well.

    Lithium Ion batteries that appear to be bulging or where the case enclosing the cells is cracking or opening at the seam need to be retired and recycled immediately and can actually present a fire/safety issue or cause damage to the equipment. If the device or the battery pack appears to be unnaturally warm while either charging or using, this is another sign that something is amiss.

    Occasionally there will be an odor, hissing or crackling sound, or even smoke as a telltale sign of major battery failure. Your users and support organization should understand these signs and dispose of them appropriately.

  5. Purchase the right equipment and have real-life expectations of battery life.
    In general, as stated above, the idea is that the battery should last an entire shift. In the cases of high power consumption due to a high volume of printing, spotty cellular connections (Where essentially the device is constantly pinging cellular towers asking, “Is this thing on?”), or in extremes of temperature, even the best battery technology is challenged.

    This may mean only 4-6  hours of continual use. Understand the age of your batteries and plan accordingly. Sometimes ingenious but low-tech solutions like chemical-portable heating pads for officers without access to a warm space are employed.

    Usage models vary and depend on technologies deployed, printing or no printing, scanning or no scanning, photography and video usage, connections to the network, and software performance, to name just some of the factors.

    One-piece designs that integrate the printer with the mobile device eliminate the need for Bluetooth communication.  One less wireless communication reduces battery consumption. Two Technologies, for instance, has planned for all the use cases in their XFR product with a 5,000 mAh battery internal to the handheld and a 10,000 mAh battery that is auxiliary and swappable. 

Cardinal Tracking has a long history of helping customers optimize their technology use for public safety, parking, and municipal markets. Experience with thousands of users across universities, schools, airports, and cities has given our sales, development, and support staff the expertise to help you figure this all out. We offer a range of hardware, software,  batteries, and accessories to fit every use model.

With the application of these five strategies, you can maximize the return on your investment in technology and better maintain it for years to come.  Contact your sales or support professional from Cardinal Tracking, and we’d be happy to help plan your next technology project or upgrade. 


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