Tests Show T-Mobile Smartphones Offer Most Battery Life

carrier battery chart2

In the course of testing smartphones, we’ve come across a curious consistency. On our battery life test, T-Mobile phones tend to outlast the same devices from other carriers, sometimes by more than two hours. For instance, the T-Mobile Galaxy S5 lasted 10 hours and 57 minutes on our test, versus 7:30 for the Verizon version. We’ve seen this pattern repeat again and again across multiple handsets — which is something shoppers might want to keep in mind when choosing a provider.

The Laptop Mag Battery Test is an Android app that surfs 50 popular Web sites, pausing for 60 seconds on each page, until the phone’s battery runs out. For smartphones, we turn off Bluetooth and NFC and set the brightness to 150 nits. We also turn off Wi-Fi, so that the phone uses only the carrier’s network, and make sure that it’s receiving at least 3 bars of service. 

Results on Four Popular Phones

MORE: 10 Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life 

s5_battery_comparison

The T-Mobile version of the Samsung Galaxy S5 lasted 10:57, almost an hour and a half longer than the AT&T Galaxy S5, and more than three hours longer than the Verizon Galaxy S5.

htc_m8_battery_comparison

The T-Mobile HTC One M8 endured for 10 hours and 50 minutes, nearly an hour longer than the Verizon HTC One M8,  and two hours longer than the AT&T version (8:42) of the same handset.

galaxy_s4_battery_compariso

We started noticing an endurance delta between T-Mobile and other carriers months ago. Even the T-Mobile S4 lasted 6 hours and 42 minutes, more than an hour longer than the next closest device on Sprint (5:17).

htc_m7_battery_comparison

T-Mobile enjoyed a similar battery life advantage with the HTC One M7. The Uncarrier’s version lasted 8 hours and 17 minutes, which is more than two hours longer than the AT&T HTC One M7 (5:55). 

Historical Trend

past_months_12

The results we saw on the HTC One M7, HTC One M8, Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 were consistent with a trend we’ve been seeing for at least 3 years. In the past 12 months, T-Mobile phones have averaged 8 hours and 11 minutes on our battery tests while Sprint averaged 7:34, AT&T averaged 7:26 and Verizon phones lasted for 7:12.

Combining the past 36 months of Laptop Mag smartphone reviews, T-Mobile averaged 7:26, nearly an hour longer than its nearest competitor, Sprint (6:35). Verizon and AT&T bring up the rear over 36 months, with times of 6:31 and 6:26 respectively. However, many Sprint phones we reviewed over the past 3 years were not LTE-capable, making that carriers numbers look a little better than they should.

Testing Another Location

After compiling these results, we wondered whether the delta in battery life was limited to the New York / New Jersey area where we had run all of our prior tests. So we sent all four carrier versions of the Galaxy S5 to a tester in Chicago who also ran our test, with similar results. The T-Mobile Galaxy S5 lasted 11 hours and 16 minutes on our battery test, 40 minutes longer than the next-highest, AT&T (10:36), and over two hours longer than Verizon (9:08) and Sprint (8:32).

What’s the Reason? 

While we don’t know for certain why T-Mobile phones last longer on a charge, there are some strong possibilities. T-Mobile’s network could be more efficient at sending and receiving data because of the bands it uses, or maybe there are far fewer customers on its LTE network, easing the strain. Another possibility is that T-Mobile tends to pre-load less bloatware on its flagship devices relative to the other carriers.

When reached for comment, T-Mobile supplied this somewhat vague response:

T-Mobile’s innovative lineup of devices must meet a high standard of requirements to ensure optimal battery performance. These are defined by common usage profiles for the device that require optimized performance standards. We work with our OEM partners to identify the data transfer, screen enablement and other functions that have an impact on the battery life in order to reduce the background process that impacts overall performance. We also limit the number of preloads on devices and we work closely with developers of these applications to ensure they have optimal performance and minimal impact on battery life.
 
We are proud of what we have been able to achieve in terms of providing customers with the latest and greatest 4G LTE devices and will maintain our strict device testing procedures to ensure optimal performance.
 
It’s certainly true that T-Mobile limits the preloaded software on its devices. In our Galaxy S5 bloatware removal guide, we identified just two apps that we suggested users remove: T-Mobile Name ID and T-Mobile TV. Compare that list to seven unwanted apps on the Verizon S5, as well as eight other options we said users should only consider keeping.
 
However, a cleaner software load likely doesn’t account for such a big difference in battery life from one carrier to the next. There’s something else at play here. Whatever the reasons, we’re certainly not complaining.
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  1. Alvin B. Says:

    While the article isn’t about third-party Roms at all, that would solve the conundrum.

    To determine if it is bloat related or not, take one model that runs on all carriers and install a clean AOSP Rom on each. Then run the test.

    If there remains a clear and measurable difference, then we know it has to do with network technology.

  2. John McDonald Says:

    Veerrry Interesting! I just bought a non-branded M8 and am amazed at how much better the battery life is than my previous HTC One X, ( at least a factor of 2) both used on AT&T. I would love to see a test of a branded M8 vs. a Unlocked/developer edition. My guess has been bloatware or spyware, your tests may support that hypothesis.

  3. RO Says:

    I have found that strong signal can be a huge factor in battery life. Since I cannot get a good HSPA signal a lot of times from T-Mobile on my Dell Streak, it runs the battery down quickly, unless I lock it to GSM/Edge only. When I do get a good HSPA signal, it is about as fast as my Verizon phone, Moto Razr HD, on LTE, but I just do not get that good a signal from T-Mo at home or work, and around the Raleigh-Durham, NC area in general, as well as on our travels through central Va until we get up to the DC area (family visits). I can depend on Verizon to cover most of those areas much more consistently, and as a result, the battery lasts longer.

  4. Tearfang Says:

    “make sure that it’s receiving at least 3 bars of service” The words “at least” worry me here. That seems to imply some had 3 bars and some had 5. Since signal strength is often tied to network speed and how much power the radio needs to communicate with the towers this alone makes the results suspect. A carrier with 5 bars is going to have a huge advantage over one with 3. Did you also perform a speed test for each network-phone at the locations? Better battery life is highly correlated with better signal.

  5. Pablo Says:

    You should run your tests also on a couple of third party, unlocked phones such as Nexus purchased from Google or iPhone from Apple. That way you would be able to account for the bloatware factor, since those would be identical in hardware as well as software. Except for GSM vs CDMA maybe.

  6. mark Says:

    What a ridiculous test! Andriod comes with an app that tells you what is using up the battery. You need to just run the battery down to 2% and then see what the app reports on each phone for battery consumption. Also, a much more statistically valid test would be to chart how each battery drains in increments of 5%. And as others have said, “at least 3 bars” is a horribly vague standard and the difference between 3 and 5 could verry well account for most of what you saw.

  7. Daniel Says:

    Perhaps T-Mobile doesn’t upload as much data to NSA/CIA/FBI as the other carriers, leading to reduced battery usage. Just a thought.

  8. Alex Says:

    Have you considered testing the differences in airplane mode on all the phones to distinguish how much comes from the software being used and how much from carrier overhead?

  9. Steve Says:

    wifi calling is the reason. the cellular radios can be turned off when wifi calling is enabled.

  10. dcdttu Says:

    Honestly, this test is probably about which carrier had the closest tower to the test than anything else, especially if all test were conducted with LTE.

    Sprint and Verizon, however, will take a hit with CDMA on board rather than GSM.

  11. Jim N Says:

    I believe what you have made here is a chart of average LTE speeds on various devices on various networks.

    Faster LTE means less time spent actually downloading, which drains battery faster. In this area, T-Mobile is likely the fastest, and devices probably have varying speeds based on antenna strength etc.

    I would suspect with the exact same phones, in the exact same spot, at the exact same hours in the day, you would get a similar spread of data speeds. T-Mobile being the fastest.

    This would obviously not be perfect, given that the speeds vary on signal and congestion which aren’t something you can really control in this experiment.

  12. Cory Says:

    I have found on my Sprint S4 phone setting a static WIFI IP when I can, and setting mobile data to be disabled when connected to WIFI has greatly expanded my battery life. I have no idea what it is doing on WIFI with the IP and mobile data but it drained my battery heavily.

  13. Wayne Says:

    If you want better battery performance, ROOT your device!

  14. Walt Says:

    A well-engineered smartphone will make tradeoffs between how often it pings the network, how the CPU juggles the (relatively slow) download of a webpage versus our impatience to see something instantly, how much radio energy is used under different signal levels, etc.

    You are measuring a mishmash of some of these considerations, while not noting any tradeoffs.

    Very likely, the tradeoff a phone makes between signal power, frequency of pinging, relative quality of LTE/4G/3G are most of the issues related to radio; how well the CPU is able to nap between bursts of data would also matter. (CPU is perhaps #3 in the power budget for browser tests, with screen brightness, especially for AMOLEDs, being the biggest, the radio perhaps #2 or #3.)

    You could at least report how many times a given phone/network combo cranked through your cycle of webpages. If slower downloads were the reason the phone lasted longer, the extra battery life would all be useless.

  15. Adric Says:

    id be interested in seeing these same tests with phones with the same version of cyanogen-mod or some other non carrier molested roms.

  16. George Says:

    Please, where I can download the Laptop Mag Battery Test app? I can’t find it on Google Play. Can someone please send me an apk file? Thanks :)

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