Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Batteries I track.

Here's a list of devices I use regularly that have rechargeable batteries.
  1. Dell laptop for my job.
  2. Mac laptop for myself.
  3. Wireless mouse
  4. Portable music player to listen to in the car
  5. Palm
  6. Cell phone
  7. Digital camera
For each of these, I have an idea in my head about how charged the battery is and how long before I need to charge it. They have a variety of their own indicators that I can use to help.
  • The Mac does the best. Its menu meter shows me an icon of how much battery there is, and an estimate of how long it will last. When it's charging, it tells me how long until it's fully charged.
  • The Dell has an icon, but it appears to have only three states (full, half, empty), and I need to hover on it to get details. When it's charging, I don't even get the three states; I have to hover to see how full it is.
  • The Palm has a full resolution battery icon. It has no time estimate, but it doesn't need one since I only use it a minute at a time.
  • The music player, cell phone, and the camera all have a battery icon with multiple bars to indicate charge. The cell phone (and maybe others) has "extra empty" indicators that come after all the bars are gone. I can never decide if this is a nice psychological effect (get the user to charge before the phone is really empty) or dishonest somehow (tell the user time's up when it's not).
  • The mouse has just one LED to indicate three states (low, charging, charged), and that's really all it needs.
The Mac, the mouse, and the Palm have the best indicators, in my opinion. The displays on the music player, the phone, and the camera are all good enough to show higher resolution graphics of how the battery is doing, but they don't. Perhaps the battery sensor doesn't have any better resolution than that, but I have trouble believing the battery in my Palm is that much different from the others.

What really led me to sit up and take notice of all these batteries is all the chargers that go with them. Every one of those devices has its own charger, incompatible with all the others. The phone is worse than that. I expect it to have separate chargers for car and wall socket, but those chargers use different ports on the phone itself. Perhaps this is so the phone can be charged with the same power meant for other devices, but I can't tell. To me it's two chargers for one device.

The camera's battery is probably the worst of all. It has the lowest resolution indicator, and charging it requires taking the battery out of the camera. The best I can say about it is that it allows you to replace the battery if it wears out before you decide to replace the camera. Would it be hard to put the charger (for the removable battery) in the camera?

Anyway, I'm hoping that in the future, I'll have fewer wireless devices doing more jobs and that those devices will accept power in some standard way so I don't need a whole power strip in my house just for chargers. Also, I won't have so many hazy battery states floating around in my memory, keeping me from focusing on more important things.
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