September 13, 2012, 4:02 PM —
Apple's iPhone 5 battery claims. Image via Reuters.
It started as a joke about an iPhone 5 released in the thick of a national election: ”Are you better off now than you were 4 iPhones ago?“. But it got me thinking about how almost every iPhone (and laptop, and tablet) promises better battery life than the last version. At the same time, the features and hardware those batteries are powering increase with every release. So are we actually any better off than we were 4 iPhones ago, in terms of battery life?
Let’s start at the beginning. The original iPhone, first available in June 2007, had a built-in lithium-ion battery that drew 3.7 volts from a pack with 1400 Milliamp hours. Every iPhone battery, up until the as-yet unopened iPhone 5, has operated at the 3.7 volts. As explained around the web, milliamps hours (mAh) are something like a gas tank, and voltage (V) is the amount of fuel the device is drawing. That's why it's notable that the iPhone 3G, released one year later, dropped to 1150 mAh, despite being a slightly thicker device overall. Apple needed to make space for what was then a newer 3G radio.
How much difference did that smaller battery and a newer radio make? Quite a bit. Apple claimed the original iPhone could power 8 hours of talk time and 250 hours of standby, using an older Edge (”3G”) network connection. The iPhone 3G, according to Apple, would run a bit further: 10 hours of talk time on 2G, and 300 hours of standby.
Apple's technical specifications for the iPhone 3GS