Editorial: Why Isn’t A Battery Percentage Stock On All Android Devices?

When I purchased my AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II (not Skyrocket, I love me some Exynos power) on launch day, I had little motivation to root it. It was an almost perfect device the way it was. It was one of those elusive devices that were perfectly usable and enjoyable without modification. I even kept the stock Samsung TouchWiz launcher, because I truly enjoyed what Samsung did with this phone. I couldn’t say the same thing for most other Android devices.

However, as time went on, I felt like rooting more and more. I missed one thing from my previous phones (rooted Samsung Captivate and Preware’d HP Veer): battery percentage. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I generally do not like visual battery gauges. They’re not very accurate and you don’t learn from them.

This is how my mind works. I check my battery’s percentage all the time. I don’t obsess over battery life as some do, but it matters to me. Not that I’d use my phone less to save battery (my S II easily lasts me a day with heavy use, sometimes two). I read the percentage, check the time it’s been running, check screen on time, take app usage into account, and calculate what drains my battery how fast. After a while of all these mental readings, I learn to predict my battery. It keeps me informed about my phone and teaches me to be careful about what apps I install. It’s not like a battery draining bothers me (sometimes I just overuse my phone so it’d die faster), but it’s good to be knowledgeable about what your phone is doing.

Imagine if your car had a fuel gauge with 5 levels. Would that be usable? Not really. There are less variables that can cause fuel usage fluctuation day to day, and even then it’s just ridiculous if this were true. You could argue that your phone is just as important as your car, if not more. Your car runs out of fuel, call a tow truck. Your phone dies somewhere without a charger, and you could lose contact with your job, business, and such. It could be serious for a lot of people.

This was just not possible on the S II, or any Android phone. I knew it wasn’t impossible to achieve for OEMs, because I know exactly how to make an accurate battery mod. It’s quite easy, requiring decompiling a framework system file, some XML editing and throwing in a PNG for each percent and a charging animation. I never understood why OEMs wouldn’t do it themselves. It even looks good!

With root, this little tweak is possible. This is honestly one of the biggest reasons I rooted the thing. And this isn’t good for just people like me, I think most people would just like to know how much battery they have left exactly. It may be a mental thing, but it’s more comforting than just a picture with 5 intervals. We’re past the stage of dumbphones with 3 bars inside a battery. We’re in the smartphone era, dammit! And as long as you don’t obsess over the battery, this can be a very valuable thing.

Sure, they had battery widgets. I used them. They always looked out of place on my homescreen, so I moved them to a different page. So unfortunately, they required a swipe to a different screen to see. That’s after you had to unlock the phone. I also used to use an app that put a battery percentage in the status bar as an ongoing notification. Not only is this an inelegant solution, taking up space in your notification bar, but it was on the other side of the important info (the clock and battery icon are all on the right). It’s the most elegant thing for unrooted users, but not good enough for me.

Now, with the Samsung Galaxy S III, things changed. It was the first time I’ve ever seen an OEM include an option for battery percentage next to the stock battery. No root, no manual procedures, just a check mark in settings is all it took. Elegant, beautiful, and not crazy and colorful (like some custom ones are). Well done, Samsung. Not only that, but all Samsung phones that have received an update to 4.0.4 now have that option. This includes my AT&T S II, among other phones. It’s even better than the custom version used in ROMs, because it can be toggled (the framework mods used in custom ROMs to achieve a battery percentage are permanent, and you’d need to mod/replace a framework system file to get rid of it)

Samsung did well, but it is a bit late. Not at all too late, but late nonetheless. Even the iPhone had that since 2010, I don’t really see why Android hasn’t. There are no security issues, it didn’t take a lot of work for it to be done, I just don’t get it. All I can say is that I’m glad Samsung is pushing this feature forward and that I hope all the other OEMs start doing the same. It’s a simple yet very useful tweak, not only because it is informative, but also because it changes a persons mentality. A person can subconsciously manage his battery better this way.

My own mother says she doesn’t understand how people deal with a standard battery. Her Android device is rooted and has a similar meter to mine, the circle mod with a percentage in the center. She loves it, and says it’s incredibly useful. Even the average person sees the value in this.

What do you guys think? Is this a necessary feature for you? Is it useful? Do you feel a mental change when you’re using it? Or do you just think it’s useless? Tell us in the comments, we’d love to know what you think!

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