Push or poll? How email setup can save your battery life

by Doug Sillars

One of the biggest issues facing smartphone users today is battery life.

We all have chargers in our house, at our office, in our car. We may even have a portable battery pack in our pocket to “top off” the battery through the day. It is clear that battery technology is improving, but not at a fast enough pace to satiate the power needs of today’s smartphones.

What can you do to save your battery? Can you believe that changing the way your email is downloaded can make a big difference? Can this same tip actually help you become more productive?

The popularity of Blackberry devices in the beginning of the smartphone era led us all to believe that push-based email – the ability to get emails on our smartphone in real time – was the best way to get messages.

When setting up your email on your phone, you probably set up your email this way. But, could push-based email be one of your battery-killing apps?

Battery Drain

In 2012, AT&T Research discovered that 60 percent of battery drain comes when the phone is off. If your email is turning on the radio for every message you receive, you might be adding to the battery drain of your device.

How can you find out?

If you get 20 emails an hour, a push-based system turns on the phone’s radio 20 times an hour. But if you poll for messages every 15 minutes, you’ll only connect four times, which is a 500 percent improvement in battery usage.

In fact, even if you get just 5 emails an hour, checking every 15 minutes will reduce the battery drain by 20 percent (4 connections instead of 5 per hour).

There is an additional bonus to slowing down the delivery of your email. There is a growing body of evidence that constant distractions actually reduce productivity.

It turns out that instant message delivery does not improve productivity, but decreases it, as you are constantly distracted from your tasks.

Nights and Weekends

What about at night or on the weekends?

If your e-mail box is like mine, you get substantially fewer messages in off hours, well under 4 per hour. If I continue checking every 15 minutes, I increase the battery drain of my device. In situations where email is infrequent, push email will actually save battery life.

Luckily, some devices have the ability to automatically change the way email is delivered by a schedule. For example, my current Android device allows me to set a “peak schedule” of polling every 15 minutes, and an “off-peak” schedule where I have messages delivered by push.

While at first, this seems to be a bit counter intuitive (“Don’t I want the messages delivered quickly when I am working? And delivered slowly when I am not working?”), the battery savings speak for themselves.

Try it out. Estimate how many emails you get an hour during work hours, and set your phone to sync messages at a lower frequency.