It’s time to say goodbye to that removable smartphone battery

Do you really care that the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx (left) and Droid Razr don’t have removable batteries, as long as they keep running?

Sarah Tew / CNET

What is the iPhone, Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, and Nokia lumia 900 have in common? The fact that their batteries cannot be easily removed.

Last week the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx wowed us with its slim physique and a long battery life which almost doubled that of the Original Droid Razr. The only component that has made this possible is the non-removable or built-in battery.

Cell phones with batteries that you cannot remove are more common than you might think. Apple has made built-in batteries a mainstay of every iPhone since its first.

In fact, add the iPhones, the two Droid Razrs, two Nokia Lumias (800 and 900), and the next Motorola droid 4 and it looks like we have a trend in our hands.

More than just a look
What’s the benefit of a battery that you can’t remove? Aesthetics are an obvious reason to go this route, with designers opting for a fluid, unibody pattern.

Take, for example, the Nokia Lumia 800 and the upcoming 900. When asked why the company chose to integrate battery, Jerry Hart, Nokia’s senior product manager for Windows Phone, told CNET: “ We have strived to provide a beautifully designed device, created from a single piece of polycarbonate with precision machined details. ”

Nokia lumia 900
Nokia’s next Lumia 900.

Bonnie Cha / CNET

Hart added that the unibody design made possible by the built-in battery makes the phone “seamless”, “extremely stiff” and “free from split lines that disrupt the feel in the hand and the visual purity of the design.”

Thinness is absolutely part of the equation, as phones without the small grooves, corners, and air pockets needed for you to open a back cover and remove a battery have the potential to be slimmer.

In fact, when you don’t have to design a product to get its battery out, you have a lot more options. Engineers can use batteries in shapes, sizes, and configurations that provide the required charge but are inconvenient to remove. This, in turn, can allow the industrial designer to create phones with creative contours.

Motorola certainly agrees. Manipulating the shape and size of the smartphone was his big goal and accomplishment with the Droid Razr; its super skinny superphone is less than 0.3 inch thick.

Droid Razr Maxx delivers second message that ultrathin phone cases can play a role practical role too. At less than 0.4 inches thick, the suite offers almost double the battery capacity, at an even thinner thickness than the status quo 0.5 inch.


Battery capacity

Nominal talk time


iphone 4s

1,430 mAh

8 hours

0.37 inch

Motorola Droid Razr

1780 mAh

12.5 hours

0.28 inch

Razr Maxx Droid Motorcycle

3,300 mAh

21.5 hours

0.35 inch

Nokia lumia 800

1,450 mAh

13 hours

0.47 inch

Nokia lumia 900

1,830 mAh

7 hours

0.45 inch

*Battery size isn’t the only indicator of thinness or performance.

The built-in batteries are also harder to lose and less prone to damage, as there is usually no door to open when you drop the phone. More than that, sealing the back cover means you are protecting the internal components from the elements, which could make the phone more rugged.

Nokia’s Hart agrees. “There is no extra air inside the product,” he told CNET in an email. “The result is that the Nokia Lumia 900 is as tough and efficient as it looks.”

The big “but”
There is at least one point of contention that keeps coming up: What happens when the battery turns kaput?

When the phones are down, as they do, a common solution for a reboot failure is to remove the battery, sit for a minute, and put it back. In extreme cases, when the battery gets low or dies, people can extend the life of a phone by swapping in a new battery that they have purchased online or elsewhere. With a built-in battery, no course is an option.

Apple stores across the country are equipped to troubleshoot and advise broken phones.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Not that Apple, Motorola, and Nokia don’t have their own fixes. Holding down the power button for several seconds performs a hard reset of the phones. Nokia shares that it has built in a procedure to reset the phone to factory settings in the worst case.

Then there’s Apple, which has its retail stores to offer on-site support for Apple products, a situation that extends a certain safety net for customers closer to home.

Without the same option for Motorola and Nokia phones, owners would have to rely more on carriers and manufacturers to repair or replace handsets with faulty batteries. In some cases, this could leave the user without a phone for days or even weeks.

We need a promise of reparation
Based on the release of the Lumias and Droid Razrs, it certainly looks like a class of superphone could emerge that uses built-in batteries to achieve a knockout design.

Razr Maxx droid
A better look at the unbroken Kevlar support of the Droid Razr Maxx.

Sarah Tew / CNET

For my part, I can’t wait to see phone makers step out of the boring black box and let designers create radical silhouettes. If battery integration is the way to do it, so be it.

As for these concerns about dealing with a dying integrated battery: they are valid. But then again, how often does the average phone owner manipulate the battery on a monthly basis?

While some people are carrying spare batteries, I think we’ll start to see more and more people consciously take an interest in phones with built-in batteries when manufacturers do two things: first, provide those smartphones with Strong, long-lasting tickers like the Droid Razr Maxx have that can handle a gargantuan number of multimedia tasks (like streaming movies) over at least two years, the average lifespan of a carrier contract.

Second, phone makers will need to establish a clear business process to help customers who run into issues and minimize the length of time people are separated from their phones.

About Kristina McManus

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