Jennifer Jolly | Special to USA TODAY
Most of us are doing at least one thing a day that shortens the lifespan of our favorite gadgets – without even knowing it. Take smartphones for example. 85% of Americans keep one on them constantly, be it tucked in pockets and purses or nestled in the palms of our hands. It’s our constant companion. Keeper of all the things. More than 70% of us can’t even get out of bed without a quick tap or swipe first, and totally panic if we accidentally leave it at home. They also cost a small fortune to replace.
Here are the 10 of the most common mistakes people make that wear out these beloved do-everything-devices.
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1. Battery burnout
Your smartphone is your most powerful communication tool, but it’s no good if it’s dead. The lithium-ion batteries in our phones last longest when we keep them charged between 30% and 80% throughout the day – not just topped up to 100% then down to zero.
For iOS, just swipe down from the top right of your phone screen and you’ll see the battery life in the upper corner of your Control Center.
Android phones are different depending on the manufacturer, but I’ve been able to find battery info on most models by tapping Settings, Battery, Show Battery Percentage. For Samsung models, it’s Apps, Settings, Battery, then tap the slider next to Percentage on Status Bar.
Don’t worry about charging it overnight – that’s okay with many smartphone makers adding a “trickle charging” function – which lets the battery drop below 100% to help it last longer, just be sure to keep it above that 30% throughout the day. That said, it’s okay to let it discharge occasionally to calibrate the sensors, but don’t make a habit of it.
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2. Temperature torture
If you’re in the habit of treating your smartphone, tablet, or laptop as though it were designed with temperature torture tests in mind, that’s another big problem. Apple, Samsung, and most other device manufacturers say to avoid letting the temperature of your battery-powered gadgets dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or soar above 95 degrees. If it’s particularly cold outside, keep your phone in a pocket so that it can benefit from the warmth of your body, and conversely, keep electronics out of direct sunlight for extended periods of time.
3. App abuse
Smartphones are designed to keep apps open in the background. Forcibly closing them may satisfy that little part of your brain that wants to keep things neat and tidy, but because it takes more juice to start an app fresh than to wake it up, you’re beating up on your battery every time you do it. Stop!
4. Refrain from refreshing apps
Disable background refresh for apps that don’t need it. Background refresh allows apps you’re not actively using to continue to work on their own, fetching social updates, refreshing lists, or syncing data online. All these tiny actions use up some of your battery and it can add up fast.
On iOS, head to Settings and then General. From here, tap Background App Refresh and toggle it off for any apps you don’t absolutely need to be working in the background.
On Android, a feature called Adaptive Battery takes care of a lot of the headaches for you, but you need to make sure it’s turned on. Go to Settings, then Battery. From here, choose Adaptive Preferences and turn Adaptive Battery on. Your device will now limit battery usage for apps that shouldn’t use it or that you rarely use.
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5. Password protectors
There’s absolutely no excuse to not be using a password manager today. Both iOS and Android have them built-in, the most popular browsers all sync passwords across multiple devices, and it doesn’t even matter if you’re on Mac or Windows. Still, despite the convenient and secure options, some of us still use our birthdays, or other incredibly easy-to-hack passwords like 123456 or “password.”
Want to see if hackers can get at your passwords? There’s an easy way to check on iOS:
Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad.
In Settings, navigate and tap on “Passwords.”
Enter your passcode, Touch ID or Face ID.
Under “AutoFill Passwords,” check if the “Security Recommendations” have found any security risks. A number will appear to notify you of how many risks have been spotted.
Tap on “Security Recommendations.”
Your iPhone or iPad will list the accounts that have been compromised and have passwords appear in a known data leak. Tap on “Change Password on Website.”
6. Mayhem managers
Password manager apps like 1Password, LastPass and Bitwarden are great choices if you want to use a single app-storage solution across all of your apps, websites, and gadgets. I even store many of my passwords on an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop – because a security advisor once told me the odds of someone breaking into my home, stealing my laptop, getting past my security settings, and finding that spreadsheet – are pretty darn low.
7. Security safeguards
Recent built-in password saving tools in your web browser or mobile operating system are also great ways to better lock-down your privacy and security, and they’re totally free too. Oh, and when the password manager on your browser or mobile device pops up to suggest a password, it’s okay to use it. That’s what it’s there for.
For an added layer of security, enable two-factor authentication on your phone or tablet. In most cases, this requires you to input a special code that arrives via text message. Then, if a crook tries to break into your account, they’ll need your username, password, and your phone to make it happen – which to be honest – is really, really rare.
Also – you can always check the site Have I Been Pwned to see if your email addresses have been involved in data breaches.
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8. More privacy, please
People love to complain about big tech companies intruding in their private lives, but very few of us take advantage of the tools right at our fingertips to do anything about it. It’s easy to revoke a great deal of access to our data with a few tweaks.
The two easiest changes you can make is to limit the power of intrusive ads and ax location access from any apps that don’t absolutely need it. Giving apps permission to access personal data usually produces more personalized ads, but with so many security leaks from big companies these days, you never know where that data will actually end up. The same goes for location data, which is often requested by apps that have no business knowing where you are.
On iOS, tweak the settings inside of the Privacy section of your Settings. For starters, toggle off “Allow Apps To Request To Track,” and then select Location Services. On the Location Services screen, toggle location access off for apps that you know don’t need it, or if you don’t really use maps apps at all, toggle location access off entirely.
Android users can find similar options under the Permissions Manager menu under Privacy within Settings. Toggling off location access for most apps won’t pose a problem. Of course, apps that use your location provide a service, like Uber or Lyft, will still need access to work as intended.
9. ‘Free app’ fails
Free app trials are tempting for a reason. “Sure,” you think to yourself, “I’ll remember to cancel this cool new photo editing app within the next week.” No, you won’t. And what’s worse is that you won’t realize you forgot for another six months. It can be hard to find your current app subscriptions, and that’s probably also not a coincidence.
On iOS, go into Settings, then click your name at the top to open your Apple ID settings. From here, click Subscriptions and you’ll see a list of all the apps you’re subscribed to, with the renew dates.
On Android it’s slightly more laborious. First, open Settings, then click Google, then Manage your Google Account. From here, tap Payments & Subscriptions and then select Manage Subscriptions.
Chances are you’re going to find at least a couple of apps that you signed up for but either never use anymore or simply forgot to cancel. Tap on these apps and unsubscribe to save yourself some unwanted charges.
10. Cover it!
This one should go without saying, but sadly, people still walk around with $1,000+ smartphones with no protective case to save it from spills, drops, slips, and dips. Not having a case on your phone is liking driving around a car without a bumper. Invest in one that will protect it from all of life’s little bumps, knicks, and falls.
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.