Media, Technology, and Education

Running on Battery

I have had my laptop for about two and a half years.  When I first got it, it could run for three and a half to four hours on battery power.  Now, two and half years later, fifteen minutes on battery power is pushing it.  I know that rechargeable batteries have a limited life span.  But I’m still surprised at how short the life of this battery has been, especially since I’ve diligently tried to avoid all of the behaviors that are known to reduce the life of a battery.

But I’m not really someone who rails against the injustices of life over which I have no control.  So I decided to accept the reality of the situation and by purchasing a new battery.  My laptop is a Dell, which in times past would have been a good thing.  But Dell has kind of been on a downhill slide for a while when it comes to quality of their products.  In fact, I have had a couple of problems with this laptop but I haven’t complained about any of them because they were all fixed under the two-year warranty that I had on the machine.  The battery, however, is not under warranty.  So I recognize that I will have to pay whatever the cost for a new one.  I was completely unprepared to discover that a new 6-cell battery from Dell for my model of laptop costs $135.  I currently have a 9-cell battery and if I want to get an equivalent one, it will cost $155.  In the meantime, I got an email from Dell today telling me about a 72-hour sale they are currently running.  I can buy a new laptop, very similar to the one I currently own, for $450 (only a 6-cell battery, though).  I paid about $1800 for mine two and a half years ago.  Is Dell telling me that nearly one third of the cost of a laptop ($135 dollars out of a $450 pricetag) comes from the cost of the battery?  This makes absolutely no sense to me.  I’m going to buy a new battery rather than a new laptop but I’m not happy about it.

This experience with my laptop battery got me thinking about the batteries in my other electronic devices.  I use my iPod Touch all the time.  I often listen to NPR or music via my docking station for the device.  When the iPod is plugged into the docking station, the battery recharges.  One of the ways you can shorten the life of a battery is by over-charging (and by not letting it discharge).  It makes me wonder if there’s some sort of safeguard on the iPod that prevents it from over-charging.  A number of sites claim that you can not “over-charge” the iPod battery but it isn’t clear to me what those sites mean by that.  What I mean is: will battery life be reduced if you always keep the iPod battery “topped off,” that is, near 100% charged, rather than letting it run down to 0% (or close to 0%)?  I can’t seem to find any information about that.  In any case, I unplug the docking station when I’m not using it, both because that will stop definitely stop charging the attached iPod and because it saves energy to do so.

The other device whose battery I’ve been thinking about is my phone.  I currently have a loaner phone from US Cellular (long story but let’s just say that US Cellular has the best local customer service EVER).  It makes a noise when the battery is completely recharged, which is a nice feature.  Several other devices that I own have a light which changes from red or orange to green when they are completely recharged.  Again, nice feature.  But none of these features really give you an indication about whether your charging behavior is reducing the overall life of the battery.

It would be nice to have battery technology that allows recharging indefinitely with no need to run the battery down in order to maintain the maximum life span of the battery.  Given the fact that so many of us carry so many electronic devices, such technology would be hugely beneficial.

Article written by:

I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.

1 Comment

  1. Betsy

    Kathy, I just ordered a battery for my 2+ year old MacBookPro at Otherworld Computing online. It’s aftermarket, but with good reputation. $99 plus shipping. MacStore for Education was $129. It’s annoying to be limited to my tether — even if it is pretty long.

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