Android: Does leaving GPS enabled affect my battery?

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I often help out and regularly read forums and articles about Tasker for Android. One of the things I come across often is people using Tasker profiles to enable/disable GPS when opening specific apps such as Maps, Navigation etc. Or when creating a task set in Tasker with the ‘Get Location’ action to get a fix on the current position.

So what are the negatives about leaving GPS disabled?

  1. If you leave it off, then you have to enable it before loading up any app which will use it such as Google Maps. If you don’t you’ll get a prompt asking you to enable it
  2. If you use Tasker to enable it when opening an app, GPS is not initialized before opening the app. So you’ll still get that annoying prompt
  3. Most location based services from Google such as Now cards etc use the new api which uses cell tower & WiFi locations to determine your location with good accuracy. So it’s only really third party apps which will use the GPS service in the background
  4. The phone will record the last GPS fix and will use this to make getting a new fix on satellites faster the next time the service is started. If you disable GPS you’re starting from a cold start and it may take longer to get a positive satellite fix.

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Don’t be fooled. The GPS service on your Android device is only being used when you see the icon in your notification bar, it’s not always running and draining your battery.

Whilst I can’t comment pre-Gingerbread (it’s been so long since I ran a <=Froyo I just can’t remember). However, Gingerbread and JellyBean have all been pretty good at only initializing the GPS process when requested by an app or the system. In effect, what this means is if you keep control of your applications that you know will ask for GPS and limit these then you shouldn’t see much GPS usage at all.

I have left GPS enabled for years, and I just maintain within each app whether I want it to have access to my location. So for Facebook & Twitter I have disabled the location services from within the apps themselves. I have 34 apps on my phone which utilise the ‘Precise location (GPS and network-based)’ permission, of which most are weather updates or Google Services which i know do not use GPS but instead the cell based api. Other apps like Endomondo I know uses GPS and I’m happy with that as it only uses it when the app is opened.

 
Tip: You can find apps permissions in ‘Settings-Applications’ and then clicking on the app and scrolling down on the app details page. You can also install an app from the Play Store called Permission Friendly Apps. This app scores your installed apps based on their permissions, it can even filter apps with a particular permission such as the ‘Precise location (GPS and network-based)’ permission.

So can you leave GPS enabled? Sure, as long as you are aware of what apps will utilise GPS and keep on top of their settings there is no harm in it. There may be the occasional usage that runs in the background. But in my experience it’s infrequent and only for a short period that it’s more hassle to disable and enable the setting than to just leave it open for use as required. I’ve not noticed a significant drain on battery so I always recommend just leaving it enabled.

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What is Tasker for Android?

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I remember when I first started using Android, there was all this talk of automating what you can do on your phone using an app called Tasker. I was new to all this so it really intrigued me as previously I’d used Symbian and had time contexts to establish a silent mode at work… But that was about it automation wise. So what else did Tasker offer? Well I read a few reviews and decided I’d give it a shot.

For those of you who are not familiar with the app, here’s the header description from the Play Store:

“Total Automation, from settings to SMS. ADC2 finalist!

* Triggers: App, Time, Day, Location, Hard/Soft State, Event, Shortcut, Widget, Timer, Plugins
* Actions: 200+ built-in, plugin support
* Tasks: loops, variables, conditions
* Scenes: design your own screen overlays
* App Creation: create your own standalone apps to share or sell! (Android 2.3+)”

Basically speaking, you can act on any type of single or multiple contexts (triggers) such as your location, connection to WiFi or Bluetooth device, opening an app, time/day, email or text received etc… There are too many to list. Based on these triggers you can then create a task list of what you want your phone to do when this profile becomes active. A simple and popular example would be something like when at work (triggered by connection to a particular WiFi AP or using Tasker’s own location map service) then turn silent mode on and Bluetooth off. When exiting the work location re-enable sounds and turn BT on for connection to a car handsfree.

You can organise your profiles into projects, so I keep my main Home, Work Car etc on the first tab and have split things like notifiers, Alarm creators, Home Automation etc into their own projects. Here you can see my main project page:

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As you can see in green my ‘Work’ profile is enabled and I have expanded this view so you can see the contexts used (%Car is a user variable which will be covered in a later post, but is basically saying if I’m not in my car. The AutoLocation context is a plugin from the AutoApps range of plugins for Tasker from a developer called Joao. However Tasker has a built in function to create locations).

I then have enter tasks in a Task list titled “Work Mode” and exit tasks with the aptly named “Work Mode Off”. Here’s is my Work Mode task list:

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In effect what I’m saying is when I’m not in the car and I’m in the region of my work I want Silent Mode to be enabled, a user variable of %Work to be set to 1 (I can then use this to ensure tasks or profiles do not get triggered whilst at work i.e. a time based profile which would override my work profile) and finally the screen to remain on when charging (I put my phone in a dock).

This is quite a basic setup, but one that is very useful to have.

Tasker can be found from the Play Store. There is also a 7 day free trial version available direct from the Tasker website.

Further Reading:

Review: HTC One (M7)

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“Inspirational, conceptual, beautiful. The #HTCOne is THE phone of 2013”

HTC really have done a superb job with this phone, I have been running the silver variant for 2 months now and have to say this is one of the finest phones I have used to date. Not only in design, but the Sense UI has been trimmed to give a more fluid feel and less power hungry which shows in the battery usage.

So let’s start with the design; Overall from the front it looks like a sandwich of clear black in between the two silver speaker grills. And while the actual digital screen isn’t edge to edge I quite like having that 5mm black edge framing the visible screen. The top speaker grill also houses the 2.1MP front facing camera and the ambient light sensor, proximity sensor and within the left side of the actual speaker grill is where you’ll find the LED (although you won’t know this until you get a notification or put it on charge). Round the side you’ll find the volume rocker which is an almost flush ridged flat metal bar which works to keep the sleekness of the phone whilst still having that tactile feel so you can find it without looking. On the bottom is the USB port and pinhole for the mic while the top just has the headphones jack and power button. Again, the power button is made flush to the phone, so it can be slightly tricky to find/press, and I can imagine might be tricky if you have larger fingers. The other thing with the power button is it’s clear black, why is this? Well it’s also an IR blaster, this is used to transmit Infra-Red signals to a TV, Sky Box, Hi-Fi etc as the phone can also act as your remote control. On the back is where you’ll find the much talked about Ultra-Pixel camera and accompanying flash, as well as another pinhole for the rear facing mic for use when capturing video’s (in full 1080p HD).

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The phone in it’s entirety is surprisingly slim, and another surprise is the weight. 143g, which is just the right weight in my opinion. Not too heavy, but not light enough that you don’t know you have it. It’s a sleek design and the back is set on a slight convex so that it sits nicely in the palm and just feels natural to hold. The only downside to this is when you are lying the phone on a flat surface such as a table and typing a text or using the phone as it makes a slight wobble. The finish overall is of a high quality which would be expected of a flagship device from HTC, as with all HTC devices I’ve used I’ve found their build quality to be unsurpassable.

So on to the bread and butter, usage and UI; The first thing you’ll notice once you’ve booted the phone up and gone through the standard setup process is the responsiveness of the phone. Sometimes I’m wondering if I even pressed the screen at times as I’ve gone to press an icon or shortcut and it’s opened before I’ve felt anything. It’s just so quick to respond to every gesture and press which is a far cry from anything I’ve used before… even AOSP/AOKP. You’ll also start to grasp how much the Sense UI has been trimmed down. This time you have a maximum of 5 panes to add widgets/shortcuts to and these are aligned in a row with Blinkfeed (HTC’s update to Friend Stream) taking the first pane, so really just 4 left to play about with. This time HTC have decided not to add loads of random widgets that you may or may not want to various panels, you just get Blinkfeed and the standard clock…. It’s now up to you to customise which in my opinion is better as I hated having to remove loads of widgets I didn’t want or use.

This time the app drawer is made to feel like an access panel rather than an additional window to be opened and closed. So rather than the button to open, and back button taking you out and back to the home screen. You just use the menu to open, and then menu again to reduce. This can be a little confusing to start with, but you get used to not being able to use the back button to close it and it does start to feel like a better way of operating.

All in all, Sense has had quite a revamp. So if you’ve used previous iterations of this skin it will certainly feel different, but in a good way! It’s cleaner, more polished and HTC have taken out a lot of the unneeded widgets, stock apps etc that just added to the drain on processor and battery. To me it’s starting to get to be more like pure android with some additional enhancements, whereas before it was a complete overlay which didn’t allow you to truly appreciate the Android OS for what it is.

So what else is new? Well, HTC have added an IR Blaster into the power button. So by using the TV app pre-installed on the phone you can run a setup process to determine your, country, channels and hardware setup. Once done you can easily open the TV app, see recommended programs or all programs, press the image of the program you want to watch and it will select the channel for you. No more fighting over the remote! With the Sense TV app you can add remotes by room, so for example you could have a setup for your living room, and another for the bedroom etc. The only thing missing is I would have liked another app to be on the phone to allow you to just use the remote feature by itself. For example I have a wireless speaker which I take on holiday or outside if we’re in the garden etc and I would like to have an app which could download or learn the remote codes for this without having to worry about the TV channels etc.

Have I mentioned the dual facing front speakers? This really is an impressive move. Stereo sound with a dedicated amplifier and Beats by Dre… all in a phone! It really does make a difference, and trust me you’ll know when you get a message or your alarm goes off for the first time in the morning, you may want to turn the volumes down a little. And I never thought I’d hear myself saying that about a phone speaker. Playing music through it is just a joy, no tinny poor quality sound. And if you put the volume on max, the bass doesn’t distort or feel un-natural. You really do need to hear it to believe it!

Blinkfeed – In a slightly controversial move HTC have made Blinkfeed a static non-removable home screen panel taking up the first of the 5 available to you. So what is it? Blinkfeed is like a mesh of tweets, Facebook status updates/wall posts, information such as news, reviews etc from various online sources as well as upcoming calendar appointments or TV shows (if you have the TV app configured). The aim is to provide a hub for the activity which it feels would be of interest to you all on one screen. I’m not a huge fan of seeing everything my Facebook friends are doing, so I’ve set mine to just show my calendar entries and TV recommendations. But I can see this would be good for people who do like to keep on top of it all.

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Why no megapixels? If you haven’t already understood ultrapixels then there are some great guides as to the benefits of ultrapixels over megapixels on the HTC blog. But in essence, megapixels are great if supersizing your pictures to put on a billboard or a very large screen. But for daily usage ultrapixels offer a better clarity and image processing. This leads to far clearer images and pictures I’ve taken on my phone are in such high quality I’ve actually converted from using my Canon compact to just using the phone now as the images are actually better. The colours and clarity offered is amazing to see, especially on the HD screen you get with the One. Just another feature I urge anyone to see for themselves as you won’t get the full experience until you actually try it. One great feature, and one I use a lot is the movie highlight feature which using some clever algorithms creates a short film of an event in your gallery and combines stills & moving images to create a kind of trailer for your event. Everyone I have shown this to is massively impressed, and it’s yet another feature I’d suggest looking at for yourself to really see how good this is.

Overall there are many other features and technical detail I haven’t gone into, but I’ve tried to cover off the parts which I think most people will relate to or use regularly. I can’t emphasise enough how good this phone really is. If you are due an upgrade a would urge that you seriously consider the HTC One as your next phone as it is a fantastic all-round device which offers something for everyone.