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Are your gadgets crippled by aggressive power-saving features?


Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist with a passion for gadgets and the "digital lounge room".

View more entries from Gadgets on the go


LIGHT BULB Photo: Louie Douvis

It seems usability has been abandoned in the quest for better battery life.

A couple of months ago I bought myself a new little HP Pavilion DM1 4108AU notebook to take on a work trip to New York. In terms of size, weight, keyboard, battery life and price it's perfect for my needs. I've been extremely happy with it except for one gripe -- the flickering screen brightness. My little travel companion has a mind of its own and randomly adjusts the screen brightness when I move the pointer across the screen. Not subtle changes but harsh jumps which are very distracting when you're trying to get some work done.

The problem seemed for all the world like some kind of aggressive power-saving feature but, after trawling through all the Windows power settings and HP bloatware, I couldn't find any way to disable it. And I'd always encounter it when I was in the middle of working, so I'd try to ignore it and push on rather than get sidetracked on a technological wild goose chase.

Eventually it became too annoying to tolerate so I downed tools and turned to Google for answers. It didn't take long to find other people complaining about the same problem with HP's Pavilion DM1 range. Some people had reinstalled Windows or even taken their notebook back to the store for a replacement, but still encountered the problem. 

After a little more searching I discovered the culprit -- the Vari-Bright feature related to the ATI Radeon graphics card. Supposedly it slowly adjusts brightness and gamma settings, according to what's on the screen. Yet even HP admits that it has a habit of leaping about and offers a guide to adjusting the sensitivity or disabling it. The setting is buried away in the Power Play settings within the AMD VISION Engine Control menus (which might be known as the ATI Catalyst Control Centre depending on your computer).

You really have to wonder what kind of genius at HP thought it was a good idea to enable Vari-Bright and set it to maximum sensitivity by default, even though it was going to create plenty of problems for users and even generate unnecessary warranty claims. It even jeopardised sales, as several reviews of the HP's Pavilion DM1 range point out disappointing screen brightness as one of the few flaws. It's quite possible reviewers overlooked this hidden power saving feature.

I can tell you exactly what kind of genius enabled this feature -- one who only cared about battery life bragging rights, even though disabling Vari-Bright actually makes little difference to the battery life. It's not just HP playing at this game. When I reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S III I had to override five power-saving settings before I could assess the picture quality in the web browser. The browser has its own aggressive screen brightness setting which make it unusable outdoors under the default settings. But that didn't seem to matter to the power management team obsessed with bragging about the battery life. I appreciate that sacrifices need to be made, but surely you need to draw the line somewhere.

Have you run into trouble with aggressive power-saving features crippling your gadgets?

2 comments so far

  • Turning the screen brightness down has more benefits than just battery life. Set the screen to zero power, total black. You are no longer annoyed by animations repeating constantly. You do not have the people at work interrupting your lunch with their Google talk. The kid next door does not grab your phone and play games because she/he thinks it is broken.

    Date and time
    October 16, 2012, 2:55PM
    • The ideal device has one button. An off switch.

      Nothing else is necessary.

      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 1:08PM

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