There’s a reason why grocery stores sell cellphone battery packs and car chargers at the checkout — no one likes getting stranded with a dead phone in their pocket. For most of us, our phone is more than just a tool for making phone calls — it’s how we stay connected with our friends and followers, how we take pictures and how we find our way.

It’s that last one that can cause a problem. Have you ever noticed that when you’re using your phone for navigation, its battery drains a lot faster than normal? Why does your phone battery die so much faster when you’re using your GPS?

Talking To Satellites

The GPS on your phone works a lot like those old-school handheld GPS devices — it connects to orbiting satellites that can triangulate your position on the map. This is useful and so much more convenient than using MapQuest or Google Maps for printing out the directions to your next destination. If your phone has GPS capability, that means it’s equipped with a chip and antenna that connects to satellites.

You need more than just GPS signals to find your way, though. Your phone also needs to be able to connect to Wi-Fi or your carrier’s cellular network. While GPS may be able to pinpoint your location, the GPS signal doesn’t carry data, so it doesn’t bring the maps along with it. That’s where your phone’s Wi-Fi or 4G signal comes in. These services enable your navigation app to download the map of your current location, your route, and your destination.

That’s also why apps like Google Maps offer an offline service, enabling you to download your maps while you’re online in case you’re heading out into the wilderness where there isn’t any signal.

No Sleep For The Navigating

When you’re not using your phone, the device carrier’s cellular network. It can still receive notifications and calls, but most of the phone’s functions go to sleep to conserve the battery.

When you’ve got GPS on, your phone is constantly sending a signal to the nearest orbiting satellite. This doesn’t necessarily burn through a lot of battery — unless you’re somewhere that blocks the signal or you don’t have a good signal where you’re located.

If your phone can’t connect to a GPS or cellular signal, it will go into search mode. This prevents the phone from going into sleep mode and burns through your battery. That means if you’re going grocery shopping at Costco — which has a metal roof that can block the signal — or you’re driving down the highway, even if you’re doing the speed limit, your battery is going to drain faster.

This can be a problem if you’re using your phone to navigate while you’re driving. The further you go, the more GPS satellites your phone has to cycle through, so it spends less time in sleep mode and more time in search mode.

Battery-Saving Tips

What can you do to save your battery, especially if you’re one of those people that are lost — both literally and figuratively — without their phone?

Don’t let your phone’s battery run out. Letting it get down to zero often can carrier’s cellular network. Your phone should have a setting that shuts the device down before it can hit zero, but getting the most out of your battery means avoiding letting it die if at all possible.

Most of us take our phones with us everywhere but don’t let your phone overheat. Leaving your phone in the sun can increase its temperature quickly, reducing the charging capacity of the battery in the long run.

Keep your screen brightness turned down when you’re indoors or at night. You might need the brightest setting if you’re outside in direct sunlight, but keeping the brightness turned down the rest of the time can help conserve your battery.

When you’re not using your phone’s navigation, shut off your GPS. This will keep your phone from searching for satellites and help your battery last longer.

If your battery is on its last legs but you can’t bear to shut it off, switch to airplane mode. This will prevent you from getting calls and texts, but you can still use things like the camera without burning through what’s left of your battery life.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t use your phone’s GPS features to help you get where you’re going — after all, it’s a great tool. If you’re not using it, though, shutting it off can help save your battery and keep you away from the charger.

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Kate Harveston
Kate Harveston is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania. She mainly writes about legal issues and the political realm, but her work has covered a wide range of topics. If you like her writing, you can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog,