Winter storm “Jonas” (why does the Weather Channel insist we name All. The. Storms.?) reminded me how increasingly dependent we have all become on batteries. “Sorry, I might lose my power, so I won’t be on Facebook,” people posted, knowing that their laptops, tablets and phones wouldn’t be able to be recharged should the electricity go out in the #snowzilla event.
Anyway, I totally missed the storm even though I live in New York City (which had 26 – 35 inches, depending). I was up in the Berkshires, which generally has lots of snow in the winter, but didn’t even feel a breeze from the monster weather-machine making its way up the east coast. But it’s exactly because I am in the Berkshires a lot, and usually experience knock-out-the-electricity storms summer and winter that I pay attention to all kinds of batteries, even low-tech ones. Every room in my house there has at least one flashlight or storm lantern and part of my Memorial Day weekend ritual involves checking that all batteries are A-OK.
These days, though, we tend to be concerned about high-tech battery life no matter the weather. After all, we can’t remain tethered to a charger while we’re out and about. And the more dependent we are on batteries, the more we pay attention to information that may turn out to be false. So here’s some myth busters that may help you get more life out of your high-tech gizmos and gadgets.
Myth #1: You should place your batteries in the freezer.
Truth: Oh, wow. This is so incredibly wrong. The Li-Ion batteries that power many of our phones and stuff are sensitive to hot and cold. Putting your phone battery in the freezer will actually cut its life. So will stowing it in a sealed plastic bag while you laze on the beach: the plastic will keep out the air as well as the damp and will make your battery run hotter.
Myth #2: You will “overcharge” your smart phone or computer battery if you keep your device plugged in after it is fully charged.
Truth: Most smart tech is smart enough to know when to stop charging itself. From what I can glean from my more techie friends, this might not always have been so. But anything you’ve bought in the past five or six years should cut off the charge to the battery whether or not you remember to unplug. Don’t be surprised, though, if the guy at the phone store “reminds” you to not keep it plugged in overnight. This misconception is taking a long time to die.
Myth #3: You need to charge a device fully before you use it.
Truth: Wrong, though it used to be true. In olden times, fully charging the batteries helped them calibrate, but now batteries do this on their own. Devices commonly ship with the battery at 40% to 80%. So you’re good to go right out of the box (though you will need to charge it soon enough). One thing to watch out for: If you buy a new phone or music player and its battery is below 40% when you fire it up, you should probably take it back to the store for immediate replacement. That low battery percentage indicates that the device may have been sitting on the shelf for quite a while, and batteries do have a limited life. They can only be charged a certain amount of times.
Myth #5: You need to let your phone, laptop or other device batteries drain completely before you charge them up.
Truth: Actually, just the opposite is true. If you continually use up your electronic device battery, you’ll lessen its effectiveness in the long run. Again, this has to do with the number of charges that a battery can do, a feature built into the battery.
Myth #6: You need always to charge your battery fully because otherwise it will lose the ability to charge to 100%
Truth: That’s like saying that a stone remembers how warm it got yesterday in the sun. Batteries don’t have memory. If your phone is at 60% in the morning and you plan to be on-the-go all day with no access to a charger, plug it in for as long as you can before you leave the house so that you have a better chance of not running out of power until you get home. (Also great to own: a charging “brick.” But more about that in a future column.
Myth #7: If you drop your phone in the toilet, you can dry it out in a sealed bag of rice.
Truth: Most likely, the bag of rice won’t do much. So, first, don’t immerse your phone in water. But should that happen, immediately dry all the parts. You can even shake your device to get out the moisture that might have seeped under the screen. Some experts recommend that you use a screwdriver to open the phone so you can dry the inside. (An iPhone will need a pentalobe screwdriver, which you can purchase online or a hardware store.) Yes, doing this will void your battery, but so will dropping the gadget in the toilet in the first place. As for the bag of rice, there’s some evidence that can work, but silica gel, cat litter, and even oatmeal will do a better job.
As I was writing this post on my iMac, the reminder that I need to change the batteries in my mouse came onscreen again. And that leads me to another myth: You don’t need to change mouse batteries as soon as the alerts begin. At my first alert a couple of weeks ago, the batteries were at 17%. Right now it’s at 7%. I think there are a few clicks left in it still.