How to Monitor Power Usage on an Android Handset

We smartphone addicts are constantly bandying around battery specifications in millamps and Volts, but the power pack itself is only part of the run-time equation. Just as important is how much power all of the smartphone guts need to run, but it’s a challenge to see that information in detail. Or at least it was a challenge.

This morning I was reading up on the IEEE’s website and found a free Android application for this very situation. It’s called PowerTutor and comes by way of the University of Michigan. I installed the software on my Nexus One and while not exactly the most intuitive application to use, it does provide insight as to what’s using the most juice — radios, the display and even how much power is consumed by particular applications.

After just a few minutes of use, I’m finding that PowerTutor easily surpasses the native power consumption offering that’s native to Android. To see what Google currently includes, just tap Settings, About Phone, Battery Use in a recent version of Android. The native feature simply shows the percentage of battery use by component or application.

PowerTutor gets down to the nitty-gritty and can graph the actual power consumption over time at the component, software or radio level. And all things being equal, I’d rather use a less power intensive application over a similar one that eats up my handset battery at a faster rate. The differences in power usage might be small at a given point in time, but over time, they can add up.

Although consumers might find occasional use for PowerTutor, it’s likely to present a bigger benefit to developers. With a tool like this, they can monitor the power requirements needed for their software — and potentially optimize the code to reduce those requirements. If they can make the software run on less juice, it could be a compelling feature to tout.

PowerTutor was created for and “works best” on a G1 handset, but the U of M creators estimate that it’s still reliable on other Android devices. The application itself uses about 5% of a handset’s CPU, so running it all the time is likely to be counter-productive. Why run down the battery with software that measures the run down of the battery, right?

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