Nothing lasts forever — especially not smartphone batteries. Those tiny lithium-ion powerhouses that run your iPhone or Android phone are all consumables, which means they have a limited life span. The longer you hang on to your device, the more your battery will degrade, and eventually it will have to be replaced.
Smartphone batteries don’t usually just conk out. There are telltale hints over time, mostly relating to your phone’s performance. You may notice that the device is slow to respond to taps and prompts, or that apps take longer to launch or respond to commands. Or perhaps your phone drains more rapidly than in the past, is slower to power up, never powers up to 100%, shuts down unexpectedly under normal conditions, or will not run unless it is plugged into the charger. Other more ominous signs include the phone heating up while charging or feeling thicker (perhaps the result of a ruptured battery), or perhaps there are no signs of life no matter what you do. Any of these circumstances can signal a failing, dead, or even hazardous battery. Other performance hits could be caused by a battery-intensive app or a flawed operating system update (like iOS 13 and its infamous battery drain) that can make diagnosing battery issues difficult.
Current iPhone and Android operating systems can provide some hints to warn you of the demise of your battery that may prepare you for the ultimate decision on what to do. Sadly, changing smartphone batteries isn’t as simple as swapping out a flashlight or remote control. Replacing smartphone batteries can be costly and time-consuming.
Apple provides a host of tools in its more recent operating systems that assist you in determining the health of your battery and give you solid intelligence on whether or not it needs replacing anytime soon. For Android phones, the OS is less helpful, but that doesn’t mean you are completely in the dark as to your battery’s condition. Here’s how to tell if your smartphone battery needs to be replaced.
How to tell if your iPhone battery needs replacing
In late 2017, Apple acknowledged to an outraged customer base that it had deliberately and secretly throttled some of its older phones to stabilize performance caused by aging batteries. Starting with iPhone 6 and iOS 11.3 you can go to Settings > Battery > Battery Health, a tool that reveals significant information about the current condition of your battery, and even recommends if a battery should be replaced. You can disable the performance management feature — though you would risk unexpected shutdowns if your battery is degraded.
When you tap on Battery Health, you can easily see the relevant statistics. Maximum Capacity is a percentage that measures current capacity versus 100% when your battery was new. A range of that percentage is normal, though a healthy battery should retain about 80% of its original capacity at 500 charge cycles. If capacity falls below 80%, Apple recommends replacing the iPhone battery.
You can observe whether the performance management feature, which manages the iPhone’s maximum performance and prevents shutdowns, is enabled and you can switch it off on any iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, SE, 7, and 7 Plus. This feature is enabled only after an unexpected shutdown on a device whose battery peak power is diminished. If you disable performance management, you can’t turn it back on, but it will automatically start up again in the event of another unexpected shutdown. The feature is included with iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X with iOS 12.1, and in iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR with iOS 13.1.
The iPhone’s Battery Health feature can deliver several messages that give you a good idea of the current condition of your battery. Below are the messages verbatim. Message number four is the only one that specifies that your battery is severely degraded and should be replaced.
- Your battery is currently supporting normal peak performance.
- This iPhone has experienced an unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary peak power. Performance management has been applied to help prevent this from happening again. Disable…
- This iPhone has experienced an unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary peak power. You have manually disabled performance management protections.
- Your battery’s health is significantly degraded. An Apple Authorized Service Provider can replace the battery to restore full performance and capacity. More about service options…
- Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple battery. Health information not available for this battery. Learn more…
- This iPhone is unable to determine battery health. An Apple Authorized Service Provider can service the battery. More about service options…
Replacing your iPhone battery is not cheap: It costs $49 for older iPhones or $69 for the iPhone X and later, if you buy directly from Apple. An Apple Authorized Service Provider like Best Buy could also do the job, or if you’re brave and handy, you could order a battery replacement from iFixit, which sells iPhone Battery Kits for models from the 4s to the 8 Plus for between $15 and $45.
How to tell if your Android phone’s battery needs replacing
Android phones do provide some controls over how you can conserve battery life and offer some information on how to control battery intensive apps. But they have fewer native resources to directly analyze and salvage battery health. Older phones and Android operating systems would let you check by opening the dialer app and dialing *#*#4636#*#* and tapping Battery information to view the status of your Android device’s battery. However, I was unable to access that information on a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge running Android 6 or on an LG V40 ThinQ running Android 9.
Some third-party apps available on the Google Play Store could help.
AccuBattery — This app is designed to measure actual battery usage with data derived from the battery charge controller. Android calculates battery usage from device manufacturers, but this app takes it further to measure battery capacity. It uses the charge alarm to enhance lifespan, determines the wear sustained by the battery with each charge, calculates discharge speed and battery consumption per app, and quantifies how long it takes before your battery will charge, and more.
dfndr battery — Get an overview of your battery’s overall health and status, with data that includes the percentage of battery power, temperature, and capacity. A battery cooler feature keeps your phone cool by lowering the temperature of your battery and slowing power consumption. It also lets you choose personalized battery saver profiles to customize settings specifically for the way you use your phone.
Battery Tools & Widget for Android – This app specializes in monitoring and optimizing your battery, recording information, and controlling power consumption. It estimates time left for charging based on power consumption and displays battery status, temperature, health, voltage, power profile graph, customizable power saving mode, battery saver with optimization, and more.
If you notice your phone bulging in the middle or feeling very hot on or off the charger, that’s a sign of a bad battery that you need to immediately stop using and get serviced. The Samsung Note 7 exploding battery episode, in which device batteries overheated and exploded, likely won’t fade from memory anytime soon.
If you start out with a brand new smartphone, you should expect your battery to be at optimal functionality for at least two or three years under normal use conditions. You can preserve your smartphone battery by not letting it overheat or sustain abuse and by charging with care. But if you keep your phone longer than that, encountering battery issues should not come as a shock. At that point, given the price tag of batteries for handsets out of warranty, you may decide to replace the battery or even consider buying a new phone.