Do live wallpapers cause noticeable battery drain on Android?

The answer: yes, but only if you let them

Live wallpapers on Android phones and tablets can be quite nice. They’re not a reason to buy a phone, but they can give you typographic clocks, light grids, and other informative or attractive things to look at. But are they worth it?

Live wallpapers could potentially kill your battery in two ways: by causing your display to have to light up bright images, or by demanding constant action from your phone’s processor. On the display side, it may not matter much: your phone requires the same amount of light to display a dark color as a light color. Unless, that is, your phone has an OLED display, sometimes described as an AMOLED or Super AMOLED. As the How-To Geek’s Chris Hoffman explains:

OLED screens don’t have a solid backlight. Each pixel on an OLED screen is an “organic light emitting diode” that produces its own light. When the pixel is black, it isn’t producing any light. When the pixel is white, it’s producing light.

So switching to a black, or very dark, wallpaper can save you battery life on certain phones (mostly Android models). There may be a few live wallpapers that involve moving very dark objects across a very dark background, but let us assume they are exceedingly rare.

The other live wallpaper drain, then, is CPU usage. The nature of the generally free-to-experiment Android market makes it hard to judge all live wallpapers together. Some are studiously, seriously efficient with system resources, and some were absolutely thrown together over a weekend and ride the graphics and processor chips like a vengeful cowboy.

But it’s worth noting that even Google’s own default live wallpapers can slow things down. In his uncommonly positive review of the Nexus 7, MG Siegler noted the lag in navigating the home screen with a live wallpaper running. You can find complaints of live wallpaper battery theft on Hacker News, on Quora, on Tested, and many other places.

Find out for yourself. In your Android device’s Settings, choose Battery, then scan the list of applications that have been using your battery since your last charge. If you have a particular live wallpaper installed, it may show up by name in that list, or you may see your live wallpaper’s impact in Display. You could install an app like System Tuner to see exactly where your system is spending its resources, but a casual perusal of your phone’s Battery list should show if there’s a notable disparity between your wallpaper or Display and everything else.

Live wallpapers don’t draw a lot of power if they are well crafted, if you don’t spend a lot of time on your home screen, and if you set your screen to shut off fairly soon after you stop interacting with it. All that noted, however, live wallpapers are a good place to start if you want to cut back on potential energy drains.

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