Cellphones refuse to charge batteries
September 8, 2013 9:58 AM   Subscribe

This has happened over at least 3 different cellphones, from HTC and Samsung. The battery will work fine for months, and then the phone will lose the ability to recognize that it is charging.

This is true regardless of whether it's being charge off of a USB port on a computer, or directly from a charger off of a power strip. The phone literally stops recognizing that it is charging - the charge light won't come on, and immediately after removing the cord the phone warns of low charge, or even abruptly shuts down.

I say the phone is doing this, because currently my "3.7 V" battery is at 3.56 V - hardly empty - and yet the phone will report that the battery is critically low; it will shut down briefly after I start using it untethered.

When I have 2 batteries available, I can switch to the 2nd battery, which will work for a while... until it too begins acting unchargeable. Sometimes the 1st battery will be usable then; sometimes it continues to be recognized as "unchargeable".

My best guess is that the phone's "definition" of the minimum battery charge level rises, until it reaches the fully-charged level - and so even the slightest deficit becomes a huge depletion of the battery. If the battery is left alone long enough to drop to an actual 0-V level, the phone then seems to reset the minimum at a correct level. But that's just a guess, based on what I've observed above.
posted by IAmBroom to Technology (12 answers total)
I have this problem with my iPhone. It does seem to charge if I turn it off first, when it won't charge while on. Which makes me think it's some kind of OS or app conflict problem.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:47 AM on September 8, 2013

Best answer: This has happened to me with three iphones. It also happened with my son's HTC. Every single time it's dust inside the charging port on the phone. A toothpick is FANTASTIC for picking out miniature dust balls, which will be quite hard from all the shoving of the charging cable in there. It docent take much. I was surprised how small the dust could be and still inhibit the charging cable from seating correctly.

Look in there with a flashlight. Good luck.
posted by asavage at 11:07 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had this problem with the Virgin Mobile phone I use when I visit the USA.

I ended up buying one of these universal chargers, which plugs into an outlet and allows you to charge square or rectangular batteries of all sizes - camera, phone, whatever. The little 'lugs' can be moved to accommodate the brass terminal doo-dahs on the battery, and the bottom part is sprung to take large or small batteries.

You have to take the battery out to charge it but as you have a spare you can make sure you always have a charged-up battery to hand.
posted by essexjan at 11:11 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What asavage said. If you carry your phone in your pocket it is likely you'll pick up lint and dust and stuff over time which will impede charging.
posted by birdherder at 11:16 AM on September 8, 2013

Best answer: At least some phones, like my old HTC Evo 4G (HTC Supersonic, the Sprint WiMAX model) had a vulnerability where the USB connection on the motherboard would snap off internally.

At any rate, if you have this kind of problem A) Always check your cables: USB cables definitely go bad; B) remove the case of your phone and clean it up-- remove dust and dirt, blow air into the USB socket to clean it out. The case, if present, could be obstructing part of the cable's connector; C) try a different charging arrangement-- different computer's USB, or different plug-in doohickey, preferably a known good one.

If nothing else fixes it, take it in to the corporate store for your carrier and see what they can do-- they'll know if it's a common problem, and they can open it, possibly, even if the battery is not user-serviceable or removable.

I apparently abuse my USB cables because I destroy one every 3 months or so, but then I have 5 USB devices, between chargers and devices. They're cheap enough online that I don't mind the rate at which they break/I break them-- I just order lots.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:24 AM on September 8, 2013

You don't run a li-ion or lipo battery down to 0v. That would destroy it. You don't even run it down to 2v. The minimum is usually well above 3v for a 3.7 battery. A crappy android tablet I have won't even turn on below 3450mv/3.45. Quite a few devices will not even try to charge batteries that are below a certain threshold.

I'd clean the USB port as had been mentioned, then order a new battery "buy it now" on eBay. They're frequently under $10.

I've had to replace two iPhones(fortunately under warranty) and a couple other phones for this issue. The charging jack wasn't broken, it was just full of shit I couldn't clean out or corroded.

If a new battery doesn't fix it and taking it back to the store isn't an option, id pull out the battery and pour the highest % rubbing alcohol they have at your local pharmacy/general store(preferably like 97/98%) over and over while hunting around the edges with a needle to get fluff out and plugging and unplugging an extra cable you don't care about like 1000 times. This problem could also be corrosion, not just dirt. You wanna scrape off either as it turns to easily jetted out by more liquid mush and dirty alcohol slurry though. Let the phone dry overnight and the alcohol will completely evaporate.

The broken USB to the main board solder joint is possible, but the jack would be fairly obviously "wobbly" at least a bit. I've seen it happen, but not on a unit I've owned. If the jack is wobbly google the model you have + broken USB or loose usb and see what people say. On a few phones its a replaceable daughterboard or on a thin cable. On others... :(
posted by emptythought at 12:19 PM on September 8, 2013

Oh I also missed: I've seen corrosion on the battery terminals in phones that are constantly in sweaty pockets. Caused this exact kind of issue + random shutdowns. The solution was simply cleaning the contacts in the phone thoroughly with a rubbing alcohol soaked qtip repeatedly. The battery however, was permanently toast after that.
posted by emptythought at 12:24 PM on September 8, 2013

With these phones, if they charge through the same port as the USB cable you use to transfer data...can you still transfer data reliably ? If so, that suggests that the port is fine and you should try getting a replacement battery. If your computer sometimes can't see the phone, that suggests that the port is bad and you should buy an external battery charger as mentioned above. Mine is Anker brand and cost $10 and has been doing a great job for a year.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:42 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you let your battery die completely ever? If not, try cleaning the connectors.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:06 PM on September 8, 2013

Response by poster: OK, here's my update:

I put in the backup battery, and it charged fine (as expected). Reading all the comments about lint collecting led me to blow the socket, and probe it gently to try to push debris out, on the original battery. Then I put it back into the cellphone, where it charged perfectly normally.

My experiences with this problem had me expecting the battery to continue to refuse to charge. So, maybe that was the problem after all... It certainly travels in my pocket a good deal.

Also: the battery is labelled "3.7 V", but in reality a fully charged battery registers over 4.0 V. I'm not sure what a 3.56-V battery will look like to the electronics, but at 96% of rated charge, it surely can't be nearly the minimum-usuable charge level. So, that too is a vote towards "dirt on the battery contacts prevented good contact".

Next time I'm going straight for the canned air.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:59 PM on September 10, 2013

Response by poster: needs more cowbell: "With these phones, if they charge through the same port as the USB cable you use to transfer data...can you still transfer data reliably ? If so, that suggests that the port is fine and you should try getting a replacement battery. If your computer sometimes can't see the phone, that suggests that the port is bad and you should buy an external battery charger as mentioned above. Mine is Anker brand and cost $10 and has been doing a great job for a year."

Also, for the record: I've never noticed any data problems - but then again, I never measured transmission rates. The state levels for data transmission are likely to have very generous margins inside the +/-5V USB levels, and so they might be more tolerant than the power itself. Maybe. Or, I'm rationalizing. Don't know.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2013

I was thinking more along the lines of the port not really working at all, not slow transmission rates. My phone's USB port has some issues and it won't charge or transfer data unless you hold the cable just so (and sometimes not even then, so I've found ways to bypass using the port entirely) It sounds like that's not your issue, though.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:05 PM on September 10, 2013

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