How long can your smartphone last as a portable hotspot?

Have you ever wondered how long your phone would last as a portable hotspot? I recently started wondering this for a very simple reason.

I bought a Nexus 7 and it doesn’t have 3G. (Sidenote: I had an ASUS Transformer without 3G before that, but that’s not important right now) It’s not the first tablet to claim that and it certainly won’t be the last, but it’s a big deal because there isn’t a 3G model and there are no plans to change that.

This means that I’m tethered to WiFi hotspots at home, work, or at coffee shops – with very few in South Africa that actually offer a decent length of free WiFi time.

Except, that’s not entirely true.

Android has had a portable hotspot feature since 2010 when 2.2 (FroYo) was launched, and iOS has had it since 2011 with iOS 4.3, which allows you to share your 3G connection on your phone over WiFi with other devices.

However, sharing your connection like this drains your battery. Supposedly, at least. A lot of people say it on forums and such, but there aren’t enough numbers. How long can your phone really last with that feature turned on? That’s what I’m going to try and answer, and hopefully I can get some sort of baseline.

Method

This isn’t going to be pure Science. Eliminating variables to see how much battery just this feature uses, while interesting, isn’t relevant to me as a consumer.

I’m going to take my phone(s) as is, apps and all, and I’m going to connect a second device to it. I’m going to use both the way I normally would and see how long the portable hotspot lasts.

The phones I’m going to test are the Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus S, and the iPhone 4, simply because that’s what I have easily available to me. To each one, I’ll be connecting the Nexus 7 tablet and using both as I normally would use my phone and tablet.

Galaxy Nexus

The Galaxy Nexus is running the latest and greatest version of Android – 4.1.1 a.k.a Jelly Bean. It’s been my main device for a few months now, so it does have a number of apps on it along with a few games.

It generally gets used for listening to audiobooks and music, staying updated on Google+ and Twitter, as well as to stay updated with my newsfeeds.

Turning on the portable hotspot and running both devices as I normally would resulted in the Galaxy Nexus lasting around 9 hours before crying for the charger. Extrapolating from this suggests that it could go as far as 10 hours before being out of juice entirely.

9 hours more or less covers a normal work day, though it is a massive departure from how long the Galaxy Nexus usually lasts me. On a normal day, I get home with the Galaxy Nexus having between 40% and 60% battery left. There are rare occasions where I have less than that, though it’s usually because of bad WiFi and/or 3G signal rather than actual use.

Tangent aside, 9 hours isn’t bad. That’s 9 hours if the portable hotspot is permanently on, so it’s probable that you can save battery if you only turn it on when needed.

Nexus S

The Nexus S is also running the latest Android (4.1.1). It’s been my standby device since I got the Galaxy Nexus, but it was my main device for over a year.

Sadly, it doesn’t fare as well as the Galaxy Nexus did. It only managed about 7 hours of being a portable hotspot with very minimal use otherwise. 7 Hours isn’t a full workday, but it’s still not a terrible amount and if managed well, you could probably get your full workday out of the phone.

iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 is running the latest beta version of iOS6. Beta versions aren’t necessarily the best version to test such a thing on, but I’ve found the battery life on the newest one to be very good.

It’s worth noting that the iPhone 4 has never been my main device. The 4S was during the time that I reviewed it, but otherwise I tend to only use it if I need to test something. I did, however, make an effort to use the iPhone 4 for this test instead of my preferred Galaxy Nexus.

In the end, the iPhone 4 managed to get somewhere between 8 and 9 hours, which is quite good.

The connection to the Nexus 7, however, wasn’t the best. I found that the Nexus would stay connected to the iPhone, but it seemed to lose its connection to Google when you kept the screen off for a while (which can be seen by the WiFi icon in the notification bar in Android – grey means it doesn’t have a connection, while blue means it does). This may be a battery-saving feature of the iPhone, though it didn’t seem to affect the 3G connection on the iPhone itself.

Conclusion

“But what does this mean?”, you ask me. It means that the portable hotspot feature does indeed eat your battery life like a kid noms candy.

However, it’s not nearly as bad as what I thought it would be. I went into this thinking that I’d be getting six hours or maybe less. This shows me that I don’t need to get a 3G tablet model and another data SIM for those rare occasions that I need a connection in a place without WiFi.

What’s also important to me here is that I now have some real-world data – something that I can use and compare other phones and dedicated portable hotspots against. If you have or come across more data, drop a comment below and I’ll be sure to check it out.

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About HawkiesZA

about.me/hawkiesza
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One Response to How long can your smartphone last as a portable hotspot?

  1. Vl33d says:

    Excellent review of a so-called “battery drainer” option ; thanks for sharing your experience. Now I now that 3G tablets aren’t worth the extra 50 – 150 USD you pay for.

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