How Android Wear and Ambient Display can decrease your phone's battery drain

One of the most common explanations for why things like Android Wear and Always-On displays are useful is the way it decreases the number of times users wake their phones for something trivial. Research shows the average active user wakes their phone 150 times every day, frequently to do little more than check the time or glance at the notification they just heard or felt. This isn't a big deal for most, but every time you wake your phone this way you consume way more battery. If you can drive the number of wakes down even by 20-30 in a single day, there would be a noticeable difference in how long your phone lasted throughout the day.

At least, that's the theory. To test it, I installed the Checky app and measured a week of usage in different conditions.

Checky is a simple app. It counts how many times you wake your phone, and shows that information to you in a helpful little graph. To test my usage, I went two days with the Moto 360 (2015) on my wrist, two days with just Ambient Display enabled on my Nexus 6P, and two days with Android Wear disconnected and Ambient Display disabled. As it turns out, I'm exactly what these researchers consider an active user, and the difference between not having these features and actively using them is significant.

Checky Results

When I'm not using the watch or Ambient Display, I wake my phone anywhere between 130-160 times per day. It's for exactly what you'd think, checking the time and peeking at notifications. In this mode, I'm only getting around 12-13 hours of battery in a day. Ambient display adds another hour to that day on average, but because it's not 100 percent reliable on the Nexus 6P. On something like the Galaxy S7, I'd expect at least another hour in my total usage for a day. Ambient display drops on average 20 wakes from my daily usage.

The biggest difference is when using Android Wear. My average number of wakes dropped into the 100s consistently, and the battery on the Nexus 6P increased to 14-16 hours without a problem. I'm using the screen on the phone less throughout the day, and can interact with a lot of the notifications directly on my wrist, so it makes sense that the difference would be this significant for me.

Your mileage is obviously going to vary, but that's why apps like Checky exist. You can quickly check your own usage and make some decisions based on how you use your phone. For me, especially now that I see direct evidence of usage and utility, it makes a big difference when I'm deciding whether I need my watch for the day.

Download: Checky (Free with ads) (opens in new tab)

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • It'd be interesting to compare the math above to simply adding the battery capacity of your smartwatch to your phone to see which would be more helpful: Current phone with smartwatch vs. phone modified with watch's battery capacity but without smartwatch.
  • So do I need to worry about my new S7's battery life? I have Android wear connected and Always-on Display turned on.
    Always-on should drain more battery than Ambient right?
  • It's a smaller than 1% difference.
  • When I got my Moto 360 I was worried that having Bluetooth on all the while would decrease my phone's battery life. However I have noticed that because I am not constantly checking my phone the battery life has improved. Posted via the Android Central App
  • If you are awake an average of 16 hours a day and check your phone 150 times a day, that's every 6 minutes. You need to get a life and stop checking your damn phone so much. Posted via my LG G4
  • Or like me some of us use our phones for work and need to constantly get notifications... sometime waking the phone 2 to 3 times in a couple minute. I always use the power button to sleep the phone and do not let it time out. I can have 150 wakes and go a couple hours without using my phone. But there are some periods where I wake it twice a minute. This was all before my watch. Now I only wake it for important notifications during the work day. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Exactly what I was gonna say.
    Some use their phone a lot precisely because they have a life! Posted via the Android Central App
  • x100 Posted via the Android Central App
  • Well, my comment wasn't really directed to people who GET notifications every few minutes, It was directed to people who constantly check their phones for notifications. Obviously, if you are getting that many notifications, you are turning on and reading your phone instead of just waking it to check for something.
  • That was the basis of the article. Getting notifications and being able to view them without waking the phone and draining the battery faster. I do like being able to ignore or even respond to things with my smartwatch. Keeps me from having to dig out the phone ever time the blasted thing chirps.
  • I do have a life. It's called work. Part of my work requires me to answer my cell phone, check emails and text customers. Or look up products for our customers on our app when outside. What do you do with your life. Biiitch about it? Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's called having a job, which allows me to have a nice life, something Wizzy knows 0 about apparantly.
  • Yeah, retiring at 45 sucks.
  • 45, retired, and you're telling people on a message board to get a life... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Some people, yes, and I have a pretty great life, thanks. Posted via my LG G4
  • Apparently a boring life.
  • Nice informative article Russell. I've always wondered what kind of battery life would be like with the different combos in use. Since I dont have a device that has ambient display, I always wondered if it really made a difference or not.
  • Its funny how often times the obvious answer isn't the right one. Sometimes you need to use battery to save battery. This is a good example. Keeping your display on with your watch can increase the battery life of your phone. I used to keep my display off on my watch, but I discovered that I just didn't like wearing a watch that I had to actively wake, just to see what time it was. I have also removed the clock/weather widget from my main home screen, and the google play music controls from them also. Don't need them anymore with the watch handling most of that now.
  • I guess it's safe to assume this is the same case with the LG V10 though a teeny bit more battery drain as the second screen is also an IPS LCD. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I've got a V10 and whilst I can't prove it I'm 99% sure it's saving me a lot of battery life. I bought the phone for other reasons and fully expected the 2nd display to be a gimmick but I absolutely love it for functionality and saving battery life. Edit to add I think LG claimed 5% battery drain from a full charge? If so I'm easily saving that! Posted on LG V10 via the Android Central App
  • Good to know the effects... Thanks for the info! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Am I only the only one who read this title like a confusing double negative at first?
  • Good article. I have a zenwatch2 & an s7 edge coming from a moto x pure.My experience falls right in line with the findings of this article.Good to know beyond just personal perception. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Interesting article! I might give that app a go to see how many times I don't fully turn on my screen using the 2nd display, I suspect it's quite a lot but would be interesting to know a figure. Posted on LG V10 via the Android Central App
  • Since I have a 5x wouldn't see an improvement right due to it not being amoled? Posted via the Android Central App
  • "Learn mindfulness with" Errrrrr......
  • Cool now test moto x pure with active display and without. I've always wondered how much of a difference it makes. Of course even if it made a big difference don't think I could bare turning it off anyway lol. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I would just like to add to this mix my biggest Android Wear issue... Google Fit! It destroys my Moto360 (1st gen) in about 9 hours and takes about 30% of my Note 5's battery down in a day. Uninstalled it and have almost doubled my battery life.
  • Interesting article I am just seeing now. Thanks Russell. I wonder if any study has been done outside of phone wakes with Android Wear battery drain though. While using Android wear, obviously there is some battery drain from the BT connection, and depending on the user, some of that may be offset by specifics in this article - reducing the amount of time you have to wake your phone. Still, I wonder if a user had a given # of wakes in a day - say 50 or something. What is the phones battery life difference with 50 wakes WITH Android Wear vs WITHOUT Android Wear. That is more the question I had. I am trying to find research on this.