The WiFi chip is the second-biggest energy hog. A Qualcomm app called BatteryGuru limits this drain on my Nexus, turning the WiFi finder off when not in active use. But this means you have to turn WiFi back on each time you want to use a hotspot, even at home. My daughter's iPhone can run all day on WiFi.
None of this is discussed much in the mainstream media, because battery life is measured in terms of "talk hours," a phone's use as a phone, rather than in how it does with data communications. But how these applications drain a phone, and how a phone handles applications, makes a big difference in its usefulness as a computer which is what a smartphone is.
Apple's iOS came to multi-tasking later than Android, but does it more elegantly. When a task isn't in active use, iOS will back off it, reducing its drain on the battery.
Android finally added a command that looks like interlocking boxes to its Jelly Bean version, which runs my Nexus 4. You have to use it to turn off applications manually that aren't in active use. If you don't do this those applications will be draining your battery while the phone is in your pocket.
Speaking of pockets, a repairman came by yesterday with his iPhone 5, which he loves. He says he can talk and text all day, recharging it at night. He has installed a USB port into his car radio that can recharge his phone while it's in GPS mode, leading him to calls. He has a mount to keep the unit in front of him, hands-free, while he's driving.
We quickly got into a discussion about what is best called "butt-computing," the propensity of both phones to open applications and do things when inside a pocket, especially if facing in toward the pants.
The repairman said his iPhone will open an application or two when it's in his back pocket. My Nexus can open five apps a minute when I'm walking down the road. A plastic case that creates space between the screen and the skin can reduce that load, but it won't eliminate it.
Or you could buy a purse, I suggested. (Nervous laughter ensued.)
Another big problem involves recharging. Keeping a phone plugged-in when it's fully charged can reduce the number of recharges the battery is capable of. This drives down the useful life of the phone. Most phone batteries, like that of the Nexus, are factory-sealed and can't be replaced. (The iPhone 5s battery can theoretically be replaced it even has a plug on it but as iFixit notes it's a delicate operation.)
Laptops finally added a circuit that toggles your wall connection on-and-off while it's plugged in, letting the battery drain to 90%, then recharging. There's nothing like that in the phone world that I've found, although the iPhone will tell you, visually, if it's fully charged before you unplug it. (With the Android the battery icon is tiny and in a corner.)
The folks at TechRadar offer a host of "hints" for extending an Android's battery life, but some reduce the phone's usefulness.
Haptic feedback, which causes the phone to shake as it rings or gets used, is a great feature, but a big battery hog. So, TechRadar admits, is GPS.
It's easy to find user forums discussing this issue, and most users seem to agree the iPhone is better at holding its charge while in use.
But this can change, and it should be a bigger issue when new phones or software are released. A recent Ars Technica review showed the iPhone 5s with iOS 7 running for a lot less time on WiFi than the iPhone 5 reviewed here, but I can drain my Nexus 4 in two hours running WiFi already, and it's a half-year newer.
Which brings up one final point. For every phone, for every battery, repeated charges and discharges reduces the power available to you. Just as a Tesla car will have less range as you use it, the same is true for any phone, and for any rechargeable battery.
So these issues of application drain, of recharge rates (and proper recharge), of a phone's useful life while doing the work of a computer, matter a lot to ordinary users. And the conclusion of most of us is that Apple cares more about this than Google does.
My next phone is going to be an iPhone.
At the time of publication, the author owned 20 shares of GOOG and 81 shares of AAPL.
--Written by Dana Blankenhorn for MainStreet