Stop listing ereader battery life in months!

Another day, another new ereader on the market. Engadget ran a story today about Sony’s new ereader offering and how it has this and that feature. One of the features mentioned is the battery life, which is rated at 1 month….if you read for half an hour each day. That’s the way ereader manufacturers rate battery life these days: x months based on x minutes each day. The Kindle is rated to last 2 months if you read for half an hour each day, a number they adjusted up from 1 month after the Nook 2 was announced to last 2 months, and the same goes for the other ereaders out there. Excuse me for asking, but since when do we list battery life based on half hour usage intervals?

E-ink is known for good battery life, simply because the screen itself doesn’t consume power when it’s not changing what’s displayed. Wireless services, background processes, touchscreens and things like that do consume power, but that isn’t included in rated battery life for reading only. They also don’t say how often they expect you to turn the page (which uses power), so 1 month of battery life with 30 min use per day actually means “if you only use the device for reading an average of 30 minutes per day and turn the page at an average rate that we randomly decided on, you will have to charge it once a month”.

What I want to know is why this is different from every other device out there. If I use a Cowon D2 MP3 player for 1 hour per day, it will last roughly 50 days. Cowon doesn’t list the battery life as 50 days however, because people generally don’t ration out their gadget usage that way. All it does is mislead people and force them to do the math for how long the battery will actually last. If 30 minutes per day for a month is actually correct, it will actually just last for 15 hours of continuous use before needing a recharge. I’ve personally had reading sessions that long in a single day, and if you’re a fast reader who turns the page more often than others you might only see 10 hours of battery life from your ereader. I imagine people will be rather pissed if they load their ereader with books before going on a one week vacation, leave their charger at home because they think the battery will last a month, and then get a low battery warning before their initial 12 hour plane trip is over.

Of course this kind of “creative” specification tinkering is nothing new, which is likely why no one seems to care. Manufacturers always want to show off the best case scenario, even if it’s not the most likely one. MP3 player battery life based off playing 64kbps files at low volume, laptops used with minimum background lighting and no WiFi, flashlights that use lithium batteries that cost as much as the light itself, hard drives that have capacity based on 1000 bytes per kilobyte instead of 1024 – all truths with modifications. Still, claiming 1-2 months of battery life on something that actually lasts less than a day if you use it constantly is a new low in my book. You might as well advertise that the iPad has a 1 year battery life if you never use it, add a link to self drain data for lithium batteries, and call it a day. Listing battery life in months of minimal usage makes sense for remote controls, not gadgets that are designed to be used for the morning paper, documents at work, magazines on the train home and books by the fire at night – all while music is playing from the built in media player.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.