EVO 4G Battery Life Sags Under Weight of High-Speed Network

Being on the bleeding edge of technology sometimes leaves you bleeding. In the case of Sprint customers who quickly snapped up the HTC EVO 4G phone, it's their phone that's bleeding. Bleeding power.

Rather quickly, users found out the EVO 4G drains power so fast it makes the iPhone look durable. This was confirmed by Wall Street Journal gadget guru Walter Mossberg, who noted that within a week of the EVO's release, with 4G on, his EVO couldn't last a day without running out of power.

Other problems have emerged as well. Engadget has noticed that the front glass is coming off the device, and that the screen has problems responding to touch.

A spokesperson for HTC did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The screen problems can likely be fixed by HTC with some tweaking of designs and quality control checks. But the battery problem, say some analysts, will remain.

"The battery thing doesn't surprise me all that much," said Jack Gold, president of J.Gold Associates. "One of the things people ignore is the fact that [with] some of these newer technologies, these newer networks, and even some 3G networks, the battery life went down substantially. People think the rate of data transferred is higher, so the phone isn't on longer and radio shuts down. The problem is it doesn't work that way."

Unlike semiconductors in PCs, where the clock speed has increased as the power draw declined, the RF chips used in a smartphone need to transmit and receive a high-speed data stream, and the more data users send or receive, the power is needed to do the transmission.

"There is a minimal level of radio frequency you can generate. That's like saying you can dim your lights at night and read a book. At some point you can't dim it anymore and still see," Gold said.

Will Stofega, program manager for mobile device technology and trends at IDC, said he has been testing an EVO 4G for a few weeks and has not encountered the problems cited by Engadget, but the battery life is another issue.

"Everyone knew that would be an issue -- especially if it's on 4G -- there's definite issues," he told InternetNews.com. "We all knew that would be the case. If you look at the specs on any of the phones you can see under 2G, talk time is much higher than 3G."

Similar problems occurred when 3G came out, Stofega noted. "It had all the same sort of growing pains as 4G will have. You can wait until some of these technologies are mature enough, but if you are a network operator you have to draw a line in the sand and get something out there and see how it works," he said.

But Gold said that it's unlikely vendors will be able to significantly reduce the power consumption of 4G devices.

"It's just physics. 2G was pretty efficient. As we moved up to 2.5G and 3G, it got less and less efficient. The old 2G BlackBerries would last a week. Not anymore, and RIM [is] really good at battery efficiency," he said.

Gold suspects the problem resides with the WiMAX radio chips used in the phone. Up to the launch of the EVO, Sprint's 4G service was for laptop users with a dongle attached to the computer, where a much larger battery was in use.

"It's not yet clear which WiMAX chips [HTC is] using, but I would suggest they are probably not optimized for cell phones, they are optimized for dongles and notebooks. It's a different issue because the radio is an overall smaller issue for a laptop. With the cell phone, it's the largest power draw. So this isn't all that surprising," said Gold.

Stofega disagrees and thinks it's just the nature of the technology. "WiMAX has been out a while. It's just a problem in terms of the capability of the technology that's available. LTE (another fourth-generation wireless technology) will be the same way until they get everything squared away in power management," he said.

Until then, both analysts agree that there will be continued fine tuning of 4G chips and drivers and tweaking of batteries. But users will have to accept the fact that just because Netflix is on their cell phone doesn't mean that downloading a whole movie is a good idea, at least if they aren't plugged into a wall outlet.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Wimax, Sprint, mobile computing, HTC, EVO 4G