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LTE: The Great Compromise

by Sage Lane | November 15, 2011November 15, 2011 7:00 pm PDT

Verizon 4G LTE4G has been one of this year’s hottest buzzwords, and with the availability of LTE becoming more and more common, consumers are beginning to wonder why they haven’t upgraded to  a phone capable of such download speeds. Faster is better, right? If it were a case of simple addition, then that might be the case. However, consumers may not realize the compromises that are being made in order to fit LTE into their handset. If they were aware of the sacrifices, would they so willing to make that upgrade?

As most of us in the tech world are aware, LTE is a big, fat, smelly battery hog. Early adopters hoping to reap the benefits of being the first to experience those blazing speeds were plagued with atrocious battery life. Lost in the excitement of 100Mbps/down was the conversation concerning how much a battery drain the new technology would be.  The pressure to alleviate battery life issues with LTE has proven difficult, and the the industry has reacted by sacrificing several key features.

The most obvious answer to the battery problem is simple: make the battery larger. As in most cases, the simple solution isn’t the best one. You once had a nice little compact cellphone, now you’ve got an anchor that causes your belt to cling tightly to your hips every time you pocket it. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. But it is almost ironic to look at the direction the industry is taking in this regard. Thinness was, and still is, a desirable feature, and out of the gate it was being eaten alive by LTE radios. We have already seen progress on that front, but it’s not because the batteries are getting smaller. Along with the trend of LTE, we’ve witnessed the rapid progression of screen sizes. Phones are getting bigger and bigger, and the greater dimensions allow for batteries to expand along the length and width of the phone without increasing in depth.

Another feature being nerfed is the display. As a primary battery consumer, it makes sense to attack it, at least from a top-down perspective. The Droid Razr is perfect example. The super-thin body intimates a more conservative approach with the battery, but where does that leave us, and how is Motorola working to tone-down consumption? To the more discerning pixel-enthusiast, the answer is clear. The display, as far as I can tell, is absolutely despicable. Pentile AMOLED displays are known for being poor, and the Razr is noDroid Razr launch exception. AMOLED technology has several properties that merit inclusion in the Razr for some very power-conscious reasons: First, organic LEDs consume less power, leading to better battery life; and secondly, AMOLED displays are thinner, which would theoretically allow for more room inside the housing that the battery could take advantage of without adding to the overall thickness of the phone.

I do hold out hope for LTE phones, however, because two things will almost certainly change. We’ll learn how to implement LTE more efficiently, and more importantly, we’ll make strides in battery technology as well. But for the present, its important to consider the practical application of LTE. The speeds are fantastic, but are they necessary? Admittedly, the tasks I put my phone through mostly involve reading or streaming audio, and for that, 3G speeds are quite adequate. My greatest use for LTE on a smartphone would be the ability to use it as a mobile hotspot. However, the thought of carrying around a useless, drained device precludes my desire to take advantage of such speeds. Yes, there are workarounds. You could carry an extra battery or three, or you could be one of the select few to have the ability to toggle the 4G radio on and off. However, I think that the average consumer, pursuing average mobile activity, would be greater served by not purchasing an LTE device until substantial strides are made. Unfortunately, many will make that purchase without realizing the compromises that they are submitting to.


Sage Lane

Sage is a wandering vagabond currently based out of Seoul. When he's not busy scouring the web for the latest tech news and gossip, he does his best...

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