10 breakthroughs that will greatly improve phone batteries

There’s nothing worse than seeing your phone’s battery percentage meter drop below 20 percent, and it usually only happens when you need it most. Batteries haven’t seen much love in the last couple decades, especially compared to the tech they power, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing new on the horizon. We’ve been talking about cool ways the battery and charging methods are gradually improving for a while. Here’s a rundown of all the most exciting new developments, which may make that low battery warning less of an annoyance in the future.

Ultra-rapid chargers make standby time irrelevant

StoreDot-charger-30-seconds-2StoreDot gained plenty of attention when it released details about its clever, and very fast, charging system recently. How fast? A Galaxy S4 can go from zero percent to capacity in just 30 seconds, when powered by this impressive tech. Like you’d expect, it uses lots of complicated science (and probably some magic) to make this possible, and thus isn’t ready for mainstream release just yet.

While the 30-second charge time grabbed the headlines, there’s an additional benefit. The charger and battery combination will take more charge/discharge cycles than current battery packs, prolonging its life and lessing the impact on the environment, our wallet, and our sanity. It’s possible StoreDot’s tech will be on sale sometime in 2016.

Using one gadget to charge another

ZTE Projector HotspotBatteries require an energy source to recharge, so why not use another battery? External, portable battery packs are nothing new, but some companies are beginning to put big, fat cells inside other gadgets we actually use, ready to charge up a different device buried in our pockets. Asus started this trend in mobile with the PadFone, where the tablet section kept the phone’s battery topped up while docked.

More recently, ZTE demonstrated the cool Projector Hotspot, which stuffs in a 5,000mAh battery which can recharge a connected device while it’s in use. Huawei’s Ascend Mate 2 has a feature called Reverse Charging, where the giant houses a 4,050mAh battery can give other, more feebly equipped hardware a boost in times of need.

A massive battery pack, to charge all your gadgets

Trontium Reactor woodsA 5,000mAh battery pack can recharge your iPhone 5 battery a little over two times before it needs a trip to the power socket itself. Not bad, but compared to the Trontium Reactor, it’s a bit pathetic. This massive, $300 metallic cylinder, which would look more at home powering a flying saucer than your iPhone, uses a technology called USB Power Delivery, where the humble USB 3.0 connection is boosted to provide 100 watts of power to compatible devices.

The 290 watt-hour battery pack has three such ports on its shell, and can recharge an iPhone 50 times over before it needs a top up itself. It even has enough juice to recharge a MacBook Air five times. The Trontium Reactor is the first of its type, but we can expect other, similar products using USB Power Delivery to follow in the future.

Is it a battery? Is it a capacitor? No, it’s a supercapacitor!

You can charge a Blueshift speaker to capacity in the time it takes to prepare a bowl of Ramen noodles.Supercapacitors are batteries that fit somewhere in-between regular batteries and rechargeable cells. They can be charged very quickly, store plenty of energy, then send it out over a sensible amount of time. Despite this fast-paced, hard-living lifestyle, the cells aren’t fragile, and can see tens of thousands of charge cycles before they give up.

We’ve recently seen a supercapacitor battery used in the Blueshift Bamboo speaker, which charges up in minutes, and is then able to provide music for six hours before running out.

In mid-2013, an 18 year-old student showed a supercapacitor battery off at Intel’s Science and Engineering Fair. Once properly developed, it was estimated the capacitor would take just 30 seconds to charge a smartphone battery.

Batteries in all shapes and sizes

LG G2 knockcodeLG’s battery division, LG Chem, talked about its battery tech advancements at the end of 2013, specifically discussing cells that move away from the established shapes and sizes we’re used to seeing. Referred to as Curved, Stepped, and Cable, the batteries are designed to make the most of the available space inside our phones, and to power hardware which requires a more creative approach to fitting one inside, like smartwatches and other wearable gadgets.

An early example of a Stepped battery was used inside the LG G2 smartphone, and its unusual design made it possible to squeeze an additional 16 percent capacity into the cell, resulting in three hours more standby time than a standard battery design.

Using heat from our bodies to power our gadgets

kaist 2A recent development has pushed the idea of using heat from our bodies for power back into the limelight. Specifically, a research team in Korea has come up with a thermoelectric generator, which is so thin and light taht it can be built into a piece of wearable electronics. It collects heat and turns it into energy, giving whatever gadget it’s attached to a never-ending stream of power.

Cleverly optimized software

Quick Charge 2 QualcommQualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology doesn’t extended the life of your battery, but it can make charging one a faster process. Built into its Snapdragon processors, and into specially made wall chargers, Quick Charge 2.0 promises to charge a smartphone battery 75 percent quicker than before. For example, a 3300mAh cell should take just 96 minutes to fully charge, compared to 270 minutes using a conventional charger. The downside is, both your phone and the charger need to have Quick Charge technology as standard, and there’s no backwards compatibility either. 

Smartphone screens with solar charging panels

Merediist Infinite Front RearBy adding a special layer of solar charging cells to a touchscreen, it is possible to add 15 percent to your battery just by showing it some light, either natural or artificial. We took a good look at the technology during CES 2014, and learned that in the future, the cells will get much stronger, and connecting a low-energy device to a charger may no longer even be necessary. Since then, the tech has made its debut in a luxury smartphone made by Tag Heuer, and more examples could follow over the coming year.

Li-imide and silicon anode batteries

leyden-energy-li-imide-pouch-battery-650x0 (1)The vast majority of modern battery powered devices, from smartphones to electric cars, are powered by Lithium-ion batteries. However, Li-ion cells are reaching their limits, and new types of batteries are waiting in the wings ready to take over. These most intriguing is the Lithium-imide cell, which can work with silicon anodes instead of the current graphite anodes. The benefits are considerable, including a drastic increase in capacity, more consistent performance, and an even longer lifespan. Silicon-anode batteries may start to be used in consumer electronics by the end of 2014.

True wireless charging from across the room

smartphone battery improvements dcrs 650x0

We’ve dreamed of wireless charging for years. There are already products that let us technically charge without wires, but who wants to set their phone on a charging station or put a special charging case on their device? Researchers in South Korea have developed a new “Dipole Coil Resonant System (DCRS)” that can charge up to 40 smartphones from 5 meters away. It will be a good while before this technology makes its way into a mainstream product we can buy (or building plans), but imagine being able to walk into your house and set your phone anywhere, comfortable knowing that it will charge itself from power in the air. This kind of technology will do for charging what Wi-Fi has done for the Internet.

We’ll be updating this article as more new and exciting developments are made in the world of battery technology.

Product Review

Samsung's Galaxy Fold proves folding phones are the future

Samsung's Galaxy Fold is finally here -- it's the company's first foldable smartphone, with three screens, six cameras, and a dual-cell battery. What's it like to use? We spent some time with it to find out.
Gaming

Get the most life out of your Xbox One controller with these tips

The Xbox One controller has fantastic battery life, but eventually your batteries will still die. To make it even better and ensure you never have to stop gaming, follow these tips.
Health & Fitness

From the office to the gym, these are the best smartwatches for fitness

The line between smartwatch and fitness tracker continues to blur. To help narrow the field of the best fitness watches, we sifted through what's available and curated a list of devices worthy of a spot on your wrist.
Outdoors

Stay connected to your crew in the backcountry with our favorite walkie-talkies

Two-way radios remain one of the best methods for communicating in the backcountry, offering solid battery life, good range, and reliable technology built for use in the outdoors. Here are the best walkie-talkies available today.
Mobile

Leaker claims we'll be saying hello to the new OnePlus 7 range on May 14

The OnePlus 6T may still be new, but we're already looking ahead to the upcoming OnePlus 7. It will use the Snapdragon 855, and may have a new pop-up front camera, too. Here's everything we know about the OnePlus 7.
Deals

Decluttr is offering a refurbished iPhone 6 for as little as $120

Decluttr announced a deal on its "good" condition iPhone 6. Through Decluttr, you can get the device for as little as $120, which is an excellent deal on the phone. The iPhone 6 may be a few generations old, but it's still a great device.
Photography

Family feud: Huawei P30 Pro vs. P20 Pro vs. Mate 20 Pro camera shootout

The Huawei P30 Pro's camera has an amazing zoom mode and low light capabilities. But take these away, and how does it compare when facing its sibling phones, the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, taking regular photos?
Mobile

You've spent a grand, now don't skimp on a screen protector for your iPhone X

Wondering how to protect your new iPhone X against scratches and drops? Look no further than our list of the best iPhone X screen protectors, which includes screen protectors designed to reinforce your phone's front panel.
Mobile

Apple and Qualcomm settle all disputes, reach six-year agreement on chips

Apple and Qualcomm have announced that they have settled all disputes between them around the world -- and not only that, but have also agreed to a six-year agreement for Qualcomm to supply Apple with chips.
Mobile

The Department of Justice may prevent the T-Mobile-Sprint merger

T-Mobile and Sprint are getting closer to merging. After a few failed attempts, the two companies announced their merger at the start of 2018. The new T-Mobile could be better positioned to take on the likes of Verizon and AT&T.
Mobile

Spruce up your Lenovo smartphone with the best Moto Mods for the Moto Z-series

Moto Mods, the snap-on accessories compatible with Lenovo's Moto Z-series smartphones add a lot of value without adding a lot of bulk. Looking to try one out? Here are a few of our favorite Moto Mods.
Mobile

The Pixel 3 range will soon be coming to T-Mobile's network

Google's latest flagships, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, are now official and we have all the details from the October 9 event in New York City and Paris. Here's everything we know about the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Mobile

The Pixel 3a and 3a XL will be coming to the U.S. with T-Mobile

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a midrange line. Say hello to the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.
Mobile

Keep your new iPad (2018) sparkling with the best screen protectors

Your iPad sports a stunning 9.7-inch screen and you'll want it to stay that way. The best iPad (2018) screen protectors guard against cracks, scratches, and even smudging from your fingers. Check out our top picks here.