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Maxing my Mini’s battery

Or why the iPhone 12 Mini’s small battery is not a big deal

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

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Last month, I downsized from my iPhone 6S+ to the iPhone 12 Mini. Having used the Mini for a month, I’m impressed with this little wonder. Its compact, one-hand-use size is a refreshing change from today’s super-sized phones. What’s surprising is it doesn’t compromise in any way on performance, barring one notable exception: battery life. Apple did sort out this issue with the iPhone 13 Mini by giving it a larger battery. However, the 13 Mini cost almost twice what I paid for my 12 Mini so it wasn’t an option for me.

My iPhone 6S+ lasted for five years and is still functional. It helps that Apple provides software updates for five years, unlike Android which is usually limited to two years. The Mini should continue this iPhone longevity trend as long as I ensure it stays in top-notch condition, both externally and internally.

The rest of this post is about how I try to use my iPhone optimally so as to enable it to give me peak performance for as long as possible.

AppleCare VS iCare

AppleCare would seem a no-brainer, except that it adds 45% to the ₹37,500 ($227) cost of my Mini. That’s simply ridiculous and explains why I have never had AppleCare despite owning Apple devices for years.

Do I have any regrets? Not really. My iPhone 6S+ has a small crack in one corner of its screen and also has some water damage on the screen near the earphone. This means my 6S+ has no resale value. If it had been undamaged, I might have been able to get a max of ₹9,000 ($121) in the resale market. In contrast, AppleCare would have cost me 3–4 times as much over five years.

In a way, knowing I have no protection helps as I try to be more careful with my devices. So it’s back to good old iCare.

The Case for an Open Case

I usually put sturdy protective cases on my phones. But the appeal of the Mini is its compact size, and it would be a pity to hide that in one of my ugly armor cases. However, I don’t have my wife’s chutzpah of carrying around a naked iPhone (she dislikes the feel of phone cases on her SE).

I compromised by getting an open case: corners, base, and top are protected but sides are open. This way, I get to feel metal when I use it. But even this minimalist case does take away from the Mini’s looks, and I can now relate better to my wife’s distaste for cases. I did put a tempered glass screen guard, though, in hindsight, I should have chosen an edge-to-edge piece.

One good thing about these accessories is they are inexpensive which means I can afford to occasionally refresh the look of my phone if I get bored with it.

Battery Health

Though the Mini’s small battery is a deal-breaker for a lot of people, it’s not really an issue for me. That’s because I’m rarely away from an electrical point for over 2–3 hours, and the Mini easily lasts for four hours of intensive use.

However, battery health is a different matter as this is a measure of your phone’s battery capacity. This is 100% for a new phone and will degrade over time. Apple recommends you replace the battery at 80% as the performance suffers, and I have experienced how hard it is to manage with a phone whose battery lasts barely an hour or quits on you midway through a video shoot.

Good battery management can slow down this battery degradation process. Here’s how I go about it.

Heat is what kills batteries Overheating is poison to lithium batteries. It can happen in two ways, the first being usage. Like when you push the phone very hard, say while playing power-intensive games non-stop, or doing long hours of video shoots or video edits. However, the Mini’s A14 chip is extremely efficient and it usually won’t overheat during usage, unless you do something silly like leaving the phone out in the hot sun.

The second cause for overheating is the more common one and happens when you charge your phone. This is especially true when you use a high-power, fast-charger or have extended charging sessions.

Preventing overheating while charging One way I do this is by using my original 5W charger. This being low power, will take longer to heat up my battery. I also try to have short charging sessions which means charging when the power drops to say 40% and unplugging the charger when it touches 80%.

This isn’t really practical for those who are always on the move. But if you are like me, rarely away from an electric point for over three hours, then it’s possible. Just use the Shortcuts app to notify you when the power drops to 40%, and again when it reaches 80%.

Of course, when I am in a hurry, I charge it fast with my 10W iPad charger. That’s an exception. As a rule, I avoid fast charging and extended charging.

Slow and Steady beats Fast and Hot Using a 20W fast charger is convenient but that convenience comes at a price. I have a fast charger for my Android and I have observed that fast charging causes its battery to heat up every time I charge it. Battery health will suffer. That’s why I decided to make do without the 20W charger for my Mini.

Wireless Charging is inefficient There are rumors that Apple will eventually do away with all charging ports in future iPhones and force users to switch to wireless chargers, much like they abolished the audio jack.

Sure, wireless is more convenient than wired chargers, but I think Apple will take its time to go portless, simply because wireless charging is inefficient. Basically, wireless charging works on the principle of induction charging. By rapidly changing the magnetic field of the coil in the charger, it’s possible to induce an electric current in a similar coil inside the phone. This is what charges the phone. But it’s inefficient as there’s no direct physical connection during charging, and air doesn’t conduct electricity as well as metal wires. This inefficiency is what generates heat, and also makes wireless charging slower than wired charging.

What’s worse, the inefficiency also causes the charger to heat up. So when I put my phone on the wireless charger, it’s like I’m placing it on a frying pan. I have a Qi charger and can confirm it heats up while charging. Though Magsafe has reduced the inefficiency by magnetically aligning the coils, it still isn’t perfect. No way I’m going to torture my Mini with that thing.

MagSafe or frying pan?

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, wireless chargers are out till someone figures out how to improve their efficiency and stop them from frying my phone.

MagSafe Accessories Since I don’t intend to use MagSafe for wireless charging, I may probably get one of those magnetic wallets or stands if I can find an inexpensive one. Might as well use that feature if the phone has it.

Is Overnight Charging bad?

On the principle of ‘better safe than sorry,’ I go with the conventional thinking that overnight charging can degrade my battery. However, Apple claims its ‘Optimised Charging’ feature makes overnight charging safe. This YouTube reviewer swears by overnight charging and demonstrates how he’s been doing it for years without any adverse effect on four of his devices.

‘Optimised charging’ technology works by using a trickle charging function. I think this feature will work well for people who have a set routine. If you go to bed at a certain hour, get up at a certain hour, start working at a set hour, then your iPhone will note your routine. So when you put your iPhone for overnight charging, it will switch to trickle charging after 80% is reached thereby avoiding overheating the battery.

Unfortunately, overnight charging isn’t working for me. I think that’s because I don’t have a regular set routine. I was down with a fever the other day, and missed my ‘unplug the charger’ notification. The trickle charging function didn’t kick in, and my Mini charged all the way to 100% without a break.

Twice-a-day Charging

I don’t have hard and fast rules for charging except that I try to avoid charging over 80%. By default, I usually charge my phone to 80% just before I go to bed. By midday on the following day, the battery would have dropped to 40% and I charge it up again to 80%, which usually will carry me all the way to bedtime.

On days when I use my iPad or laptop more than my phone, the battery may last till evening, and I charge it just before I leave home for my evening run. If I’m at my desk during the day, I sometimes do sip-charging to top it up to 80%. On the other hand, if I’m going to be away from my desk for long periods, I use the semi-fast charger (iPad) to get me to as close to 80% before I leave. On the rare occasions when I’m out for over five hours, I carry my power bank along. That 10000mAH brick is as big as a phone, but it charges quickly and can top up my Mini several times before it runs out of juice.

Using Apple accessories My Mini’s battery health also depends a lot on the accessories I use it with. By default, I use Apple accessories as they are more compatible but there are issues.

My brother has an iPhone 12 Pro, and its battery is down to 92% in just one year of use. He charges once a day when he goes to bed, and leaves the charger on overnight. I just checked with him what charger he uses. To my surprise, he said he uses a Samsung charger that was lying around the house as his iPhone didn’t come with a charger. He says neither the charger nor the phone heat up. But 92% battery degradation in one year is bad in my book, and that Samsung charger may have something to do with it. My iPhone 6S+, which was my daily use phone is at 95% two years after I changed its battery. I wouldn’t use a Samsung charger on an iPhone as it’s never going to be as compatible as a charger made by Apple. Come to think of it, my Xiaomi’s fast charger doesn’t fast charge a fast-charge capable Samsung phone even though they are both Androids. It’s something to do with the proprietary quick-charging technologies used by different companies.

92% battery health in one year is bad

Apple no longer stands for quality The quality of Apple’s lightning cables has always been pathetic as they tend to break at the joints. So I usually use cables from other brands.

My concern is I have friends whose iPhones have suffered significant performance deterioration because they used cheap Chinese substitutes for their lightning cables. So though I use non-Apple accessories, I make sure they are certified by Apple.

The AmazonBasic lightning cables used to be my go-to cables for many years. In the image below, the cable on the left is Apple’s lightning cable.You can see the frayed connector ends. The only reason it hasn’t fallen apart is that I have used super glue to hold the bits and pieces together.

The cable on the right is my four-year-old Amazon Basics one. This nylon braided cable is tough, durable, and certified by Apple. It’s still almost as good as new and cost me just ₹549 ($7) on a sale. The Apple one costs ₹1800 ($24), which is three times as much. At that price, Apple can easily afford to reinforce the cable connector ends the same way. But Apple deliberately does not do this as broken cables mean more of Apple’s exorbitantly priced replacement cables sold. As always, it’s all about the money for Apple.

Unfortunately, Amazon has jacked up the price of their AmazonBasics lightning cable to ₹1500 ($20), and would seem to be trying to catch up with Apple’s exorbitant pricing. It’s revealing that Amazon kept their Android cables at the old price, which would indicate Amazon is indulging in price gouging after killing off the competition in lightning cables. It’s the proverbial ‘caught between the devil and the deep blue sea’ scenario.

One way out of this mess is to use inexpensive cable protectors (see image below) on those weak-ass Apple cables. I got a pack of ten for ₹150 ($2), and used two of them on my Apple lightning audio-jack dongle (on top). The second dongle is my Android’s USB-C to audio-jack. As you can see, its cable and connectors are just as flimsy as Apple’s. The industry is probably taking a cue from Apple on how to milk the accessories market.

Prevention is better than cure

To sum up, I believe the various steps I have outlined above will help me get at least two years of optimal performance from my Mini, and hopefully keep its battery capacity in the high 90s.

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Zero, Yoga, Chili... there’s a little bit of India in everyone

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