My iPhone 5: Battery and Inexplicable Data Usage

This is the long form version of the many Twitter and ADN posts I’ve been making over the last few days, as I struggle (spoiler: struggled) to get my new iPhone 5 to present me with a reasonable battery life during the day. I will deal first with my phone’s battery life, and secondly with its ‘independence’. Independence here refers to its ability to commence random and excessive downloading on my very tiny 1GB/mth mobile data plan, even while (especially while) connected to WiFi.

Battery Life

For the purposes of this post my definition of ‘reasonable’ requires me to get through this standard week day:

  • Wake up around 7am with 100% battery (phone is on WiFi)
  • Use the phone as a music player while I drive my son to school (phone is on mobile data)
  • Use the phone during my working day
  • Listen to a few podcasts during the day
  • Browse the webs as I get links through my social media feeds
  • Come home around 5:30 (phone is back on WiFi)
  • Listen to podcasts or music over bluetooth while doing my regular evening duties, which may consist of domestic duties, exercising, playing games and/or ignoring my children.
  • Check social feeds intermittently while working on programming or writing projects.
  • Collapse in bed beside my long-suffering wife and fever-dream, writhing in my sleep, of Minecraft.

Note also that I won’t compromise on location services: these stay on at all times. Also bluetooth, which I use to listen to these awesome headphones my wife bought me for Fathers Day (note: that reviewer seems to have had terrible problems with keeping his headset connected. I have no such problems. Nor did I brutishly shred my headphones in an attempt to find the charger).

I also rarely receive or make voice calls. I don’t know if this matters. I don’t honestly care.

Given the above scenario I would find it acceptable for my phone battery to die between about 8pm and midnight.

As for mobile data use, I don’t stream data often (sometimes Spotify music while out), I don’t watch videos on my phone much at all, certainly not when out. I have iCloud all switched on for backups, etc.

My initial experience was terrible. Phone was charged fully in the morning, around 6:30am, and by 12:30pm it was dead. I’d taken a long lunch to have my car serviced, so sitting in a cafe for lunch by myself with a suddenly dead telephone filled me with that modern angst of being disconnected. Tens of people could be sending me pictures of cats, and I was totally unaware! The car service could have finished, but would I receive a text message saying it was ok to walk back to collect my keys? No sir, not I; I was reduced to the stone age, with nothing but a mechanical watch to ground me in time itself. I’d even left my iPad at home, so I couldn’t even read. I literally spent fifteen minutes or so having to sit in peace and eat my cheeseburger. I don’t recommend it to anyone with an overactive mind.

On my drive back to work around 2:30pm I detoured past home to collect the little lightning cable, and charged my phone at work over the next hour so. I completed my regular daily routine as usual and by 9pm the damned phone was pushing into the red again.

At this time I started sifting though the internet. I quickly found this, detailing the steps required to fix the battery calibration, as well as reading various confirming and contradicting anecdotes from folks on Twitter and ADN about their own battery experiences. This revolved around iOS6 battery experiences, on both the iPhone5 and 4s models.

And so my first steps to fix this problem were as follows (please read the article I linked to for exact steps; I won’t be held responsible if you follow my summary solution and lose your My Porn Photostream):

  1. Reset your settings on your iphone. This will only delete settings like ‘Siri = On’ and your ringtone settings (not the actual custom ringtones on the device) and stuff like your backgrounds, etc. Nothing critical, which is nice. I’m not a fan of resetting devices, generally. I think it deletes your keyboards, too (I had to re-add Emoji. That’s because communicating in stupid emoticons is how I roll, from time to time)
  2. Let your phone discharge to 0% and switch off. Surprisingly, this doesn’t take long, since battery life is the problem we’re having here. Even more surprisingly, and indicative of a calibration issue, was how my phone sat on 1% for 10 minutes, while I was on a rare phonecall. Only after I hung up did it die.
  3. Recharge your phone to 100%, then leave it on the charger for an hour or two afterwards.

I performed this twice, over two days. My battery life did not improve significantly.

To add to the complexity of working out whether any of these changes was making a difference, word on the street was that these batteries take a few days to get over themselves and toe the line, so to speak.

With this in mind, my next test was a full day away from home. A cousin’s 5yo birthday, followed by a trip to visit my parents in a neighbouring town. There would be messaging, social media, photographing, a bit of GPS navigation (I use the MetroView Australia app, which is great), and perhaps some music playing. In total, the phone operated from 100% at 9:30am until about 6pm, at which point it died, I’d switched of LTE around 4pm, when my phone was pushing 20% again, and I didn’t use it much in order to conserve battery. Not great, but still an improvement over my initial experiences. Again it sat on 1% for about 10 minutes before it decided to die.

On Sunday morning I had a full charge at 6:30am, listened to 4hrs of podcasts over bluetooth, and the phone was almost at 25%. I’d expect more like 8-10hrs of usage, especially with the screen off, not 5. I was pondering returning the unit to the nearby Apple store, since this was a seriously poor experience.

At this time I had been searching around and heard via Twitter that there was a bug in iOS6 where the device checked for network once a second instead of every minute. Thinking this might contribute to data drain, and having no need for LTE (which doesn’t cover my home or work), I disabled LTE. I also discovered that my settings reset had switched my mail retrieval back to Push (which I find utterly unnecessary for email). I set that to poll for new email every 30 minutes.

That afternoon at 5pm, prior to our pseudo-regular Dungeons & Dragons session (yes we are grown men), I fully charged the device again. I used it only to livetweet the event, and by 9pm I was back on the low 20%s.

tl;dr: Battery life was still shit.

On Monday I glanced at my data quota, and saw that somewhere in the last three days I’d downloaded 300MB of data.

Once I reseated my eyeballs and stapled my jaw back to my head, I started looking around and discovered there was a known bug where the phone continued to poll for cellular network even though it was running on WiFi. There were also mutterings of this being caused by an iCloud setting (specifically Safari syncing). Since I don’t really use that feature, I disabled that in the iCloud settings.

With this in mind I began my final approach.

On Monday I had a fully charged phone at 11:30am, and it lasted until the next day, hitting about 7% by the time I plugged it in at work on Tuesday.

On Tuesday I fully charged my phone, taking it off the charger at midday. From that point I used the phone normally, including listening to podcasts at work. The only difference was that when I arrived home I manually disabled the mobile data setting on my phone, since I had my domestic WiFi safety net. I reasoned this would kill any illicit additional cellular polling. I asked Siri to remind me to enable mobile data whenever I left home, and to remind me to disable mobile data access when I arrived home. I figured this would tide me over until the iOS6 bug was disabled.

Final Battery LifeAnd so today, Wednesday the 10th of October, I present you this screenshot. After 5 days of pissing about with settings, this is where I ended up. It’s entirely possible that this is just the battery finding its feet and calibrating correctly after a few days of use; I really have no idea, as it is all too esoteric for me. But this usage and standby is more than acceptable to me. To be honest, I consider this exceptional.

Have a good look at it. Enjoy.

…Now, a quick chat about that weird mobile data usage spike.

Mobile Data

Since mobile data is about the only use case for smartphone carrier plans (Phone calls? SMS? REALLY?), and since faster networks encourage us to use more data, Australia’s cellular data providers have kindly ensured that we all have tiny tiny data plans that are ridiculously expensive.

I operate on the smallest 1GB/mth plan on Telstra, the country’s largest provider, which costs me about $60/mth, excl handset costs. Its biggest plan at $120/mth is 3GB/mth. Frankly, this is a fucking disgrace, but there’s not much I can do about it. Note that going over this limit will cost me 10c/mb. That doesn’t sound like a lot at first, except that works out to about $100/GB. When I tell you, then, that my phone downloaded 300MB in 20mins over 3G while I was at home on WiFi, you can understand the potential wallet busting problem I have here.

[UPDATE! 12 Oct – As Nathan pointed out in the comments, these sessions are not measured in minutes, but rather hours. So I had a THIRTY-ONE hour mobile data connection on sunday. As you would have gathered from my previous battery life discussion, that somewhat exceeded the battery life of my phone. My only possible conclusion then is, YES, there is, somewhere, a cellular data connection trickle; and YES, Telstra’s data usage reporting is utterly unusable for anything other than charging me for arbitrary data use I can’t monitor effectively.]

Here is my usage table (sorted in most recent to oldest session), directly from my provider, Telstra. I have helpfully highlighted what I consider WTF moments in my mobile data usage. I’ve only shown the last two. There are two other big 50MB+ spikes. The two I highlighted below, however, definitely happened when I was at home, on WiFi:

Session

Size

Duration

Tue 09 Oct 2012 12:39 AM 5.38MB 17:02:49
Sun 07 Oct 2012 05:10 PM 9.33MB 31:10:40
Sat 06 Oct 2012 06:35 PM 309MB 19:29:58
Sat 06 Oct 2012 04:48 PM 443kB 01:07:52
Sat 06 Oct 2012 08:24 AM 6.01MB 08:23:32
Fri 05 Oct 2012 08:11 AM 67.2MB 23:23:56
Fri 05 Oct 2012 12:42 AM 46kB 05:02:45
Thu 04 Oct 2012 10:47 PM 7kB 01:19:55
Thu 04 Oct 2012 04:32 PM 148kB 05:08:46

Note the times, which are confusing. You see, at 6:35pm on Saturday night, when I downloaded a whopping 300MB in 20 minutes, my phone was dead, dead, dead. It died in my pocket while I was driving back to Brisbane, at 6:15. I didn’t get home (with pizza) until 7pm, which is when I plugged it into the charger at home.

So let’s firstly assume it is impossible for a powered off iPhone 5 with LTE disabled to download 300MB of data. Let’s assume Telstra’s systems updated their statistics on Sunday, when daylight savings kicked in, or something. Whatever. Somewhere something is reporting times wrong. The session data is correct, though: my phone’s mobile download usage statistics match with Telstra’s. So let’s just assume it was 7:30, for the purposes of the narrative.

Well, at 7:47pm on Saturday the 6th of October I posted this, from the comfort of my loungeroom, on WiFi:

Can’t imagine my 2nd viewing of #AvP will be much better than the first. But this time I have beer and my daughter to entertain me.

Now, firstly, AvP is still a terrible fucking movie. Secondly, from the moment my phone switched back on, until the moment I posted that, it was sitting on WiFi. Somewhere between switching on and my post,it downloaded 300MB over the cellular network. [UPDATE: Secondly, from the moment my phone switched back on, until 19.5 freakin’ hours later, it downloaded 300MB over the cellular network.]

I was directed to these articles: http://money.cnn.com/2012/10/01/technology/iphone-5-data-overage/index.html and http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=1985068&p=6#r113 which go into detail about this possible bug. I urge you to read them and to follow my steps in conditionally disabling your cellular data if you have noticed any data usage spikes.

Summary – All The Things I Did

  1. Reset your phone settings
  2. Discharge your phone
  3. Recharge your phone
  4. Disable email push
  5. Disable LTE
  6. Disable Safari iCloud sync
  7. Disable Mobile Data if you are in WiFi for an extended period
  8. Use your phone for 5 days or more for the calibration to ‘get into the groove’, as the kids say.

I now enjoy normal iPhone battery times again, and am confident I have my illicit data usage locked down enough to get me through until an OS or carrier fix becomes available.

Good luck, one and all.

PS: Plenty of friends of mine are on iOS 6 and have reported no problems, so if you are one of these lucky people, well done!

PPS: Feel free to have a chat in the comments, or catch me on Twitter or ADN as @cacotopos. I’m also happy to discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of Aliens vs Predators.

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8 thoughts on “My iPhone 5: Battery and Inexplicable Data Usage

  1. Ouch – that’s quite a struggle. I’ve upgraded my iPad and iPhone 4 to iOS 6 without any issue, but sounds like a few people are struggling. I was talking to a guy who had the apple Podcast app silently pull down hundreds of dollars worth of data. Something to do with once it starts downloading a podcast on your home wifi, it’ll happily continue doing so on 3G once you walk out the door, even if you’ve told it not to download over 3G.

    In other news, I’ve decided to give a Sony Xperia P a go, we had some free android mobiles come in at work. So far, it’s been a pretty nice experience, much better than my last run in with that HTC Desire. Battery life hasn’t been so great though, but maybe it’s finding it’s feel like the iPhone 5 battery – not sure.

    I have to say, having used a “tall” phone over these phones with larger screens, I think Apple was on to something when keeping mobiles narrow. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of mobile phones with larger screens.

    • I suspect my Podcasts app was responsible too – I no longer have it installed, but I do recall setting it up to d/l stuff. That might account for the handful of 50MB+ downloads, but not the killer 300MB one. Anyway, I’ve resolved it for now, but it’s a pain.

      I agree about phone screens; I have the Samsung S3 here at work (not using it, just monitoring while the boss is away) and although the screen looks pretty, I just hate the size. I was just blaming that on my Apple fanboi nature, though.

      Other than my (initial) battery problems, I am freaking loving the iPhone 5. It really is a fantastic piece of tech. Not sure how long iOS can keep on being good old boring iOS6 though. I quite like the Windows smart tiles approach, for example. Android’s approach, as always, is reminiscent of the malformed offspring of the internet-of-pop-ups and Linux. It is best set on fire and left to squeal and squirm in burning ash.

  2. Are you sure you’re interpreting the figures correctly? Looks like from the time stamps that the 300MB session was 19 hours, not 19 minutes. Similarly, the next one was 31 hours, unless you didn’t use ANY data on Monday at all (or have edited it out of the post for some reason).

    While 300MB in 19 hrs isn’t good in terms of a 1GB/mth plan, it could easily be explained by the podcasts app downloading something while you were out and about (I recommend PocketCasts as a replacement)

    • Ha! Nathan, you are absolutely right!

      The Telstra support guy said 20 minutes and I never even thought about it again. I never looked at 31 and thought it was in hrs; those kind of session lengths wouldn’t occur to me at all, but I checked the time stamps and there’s no overlap. Well spotted! I’m so used to seeing milliseconds in time stamps that I didn’t realise they were just plain old slow dirty seconds.

      I’ll amend the post to include this. It explains how the ‘start’ time stamp could be for a time when my phone was off, too, if it’s an aggregate over a long period.

  3. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is an issue that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I stumbled across this in my hunt for something relating to this.

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