Choosing a Portable Battery Charger
Imagine it's the middle of the day, and after several rounds of phone tag, the name of an elusive contact pops up on your smartphone screen. Then you notice that ominous red on the battery icon: Your phone is about to die. Luckily an array of portable battery chargers is available for the rescue, and you don't have to spend big to get your hands on one of these little lifesavers.
Portable Battery Charger Brands.In this market are recognizable names including mobile device manufacturers such as Samsung and battery brands such as Energizer and Duracell. But some of the best values come from lesser-known names that specialize in mobile accessories. Companies such as Mophie and Anker sell products ranging from battery cases to outdoor solar chargers. We focused on portable external batteries that charge phones and other electronic devices via USB and found many good ones under $35. All of them can power both Android and Apple devices.
Our favorite is the RavPower RP-PB010 (starting at $27), a large-capacity charger that can handle two devices at once without sacrificing speed. We also like the small, colorful RavPower RP-PB17R (starting at $18), which has enough power to charge a phone multiple times despite its diminutive size. The popular Poweradd Pilot 2GS (starting at $16) rounds out our picks for best portable phone charger. Its battery capacity is surprisingly large given that it's only about a half-inch thick.
We found plenty of other models that are also worth recommending. The Aukey PB-N15 Power Bank (starting at $31) has an extremely high capacity for the price. We like the Jackery Bolt 6000 (starting at $30) because of its integrated cables -- one micro-USB and one Lightning cable -- perfect for users who are liable to lose or forget a charging cable on the go. The smallest portable charger we found is the TravelCard (starting at $29), a credit-card-size device that you can tuck away in a wallet, pocket, or purse. It doesn't have as much capacity as our other top picks, due to its tiny size, but it'll keep your phone running in an emergency.
Many shoppers like the Flux Portable Charger (starting at $26), but quite a few buyers say it charges their devices too slowly, and its recharge time is pretty slow as well. Others report that it stopped working altogether after just a few months, while still others say that the charging ports can break.
Pricey vs. Cheap Portable Chargers.The chief difference between cheap portable chargers and more expensive models is battery capacity. Pricey battery packs can juice up even a laptop in an emergency. They also have sufficient output to charge more than one device at a time at top speed. Most of the budget chargers we picked have enough oomph to charge any of the latest smartphones more than once, not to mention a feature phone, camera, ereader, or Bluetooth device. Most of our picks also have the output and capacity to recharge a tablet. The relatively small capacity of some cheap power banks makes them lighter and more portable than high-capacity chargers.
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Battery Charger Reviews: What We Considered
The portable USB charger market used to be somewhat sparsely populated, and the available devices drew more attention from consumers than from expert reviewers. Now the market is crowded and full of competition, which has driven down costs and spurred companies to deliver extra features such as built-in flashlights and sleek design. Ultimately, though, there are bigger considerations.
To determine the best portable chargers, we looked at information and reviews from a wide range of expert sources. These included general review sites such as Wirecutter and tech sites such as PC World that conduct hands-on testing. We also considered product roundups by the likes of Tech Radar, Digital Trends, and Android Authority. We checked retail sites such as Amazon to see what consumers on had to say after buying and living with the products.
In general users and experts seem to want the same thing: a fast, reliable charger with sufficient power and a convenient design. Portable charger reviews indicate whether the performance of cheap models matches up with manufacturer claims about things like battery capacity and portability.
Power.The most important feature of a portable battery charger is the amount of extra power it can hold, which is measured in milliampere hours. The larger the capacity, the more charges a power bank can provide before its own battery needs to be recharged. Generally consumers just want assurance that if their phone dies when they're out for the day, they can get it charged up again. We looked for chargers with a minimum capacity of 4,000 mAh, which should provide at least one charge for a leading smartphone such as an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Still, note the sizes of the batteries in your electronic devices and compare them with the capacity of the external battery you're considering. Keep in mind, too, that no charger is 100 percent efficient; some power will be lost in the transfer, due to circuit resistance and voltage conversion. For maximum power on a $35 budget, the Anker PowerCore 20100 (starting at $32) has a massive 20,100 mAh capacity and can charge two tablets at the same time. Almost all our picks sport LED indicator lights to show how much battery remains.
Size and Weight.Before buying a portable charger, consider its physical size and shape. A portable charger is convenient only if it's small and light enough to carry around easily. With that in mind, we looked for chargers no larger than the smartphones they're designed to power. That way, you can toss one into a bag or pocket without adding much extra bulk. The trade-off with a compact, lightweight power bank is that you sacrifice battery capacity. Still, there are so many small yet powerful options available these days that there's no need to go around feeling like you're carrying a brick. In making our picks, we looked for low size-to-capacity and weight-to-capacity ratios, but ultimately this is a personal choice: Do you prefer an external battery that can provide several charges (or charge up several devices) on the go, or a smaller, lighter option with just enough juice for emergencies? Either way, you'll find what you want among our top picks.
Speed.The best portable chargers provide extra juice fast. User experiences vary and many power bank reviews are vague (using phrases like "insanely fast"), but we gleaned that a good portable charger should fully charge a smartphone within a couple of hours. Some users see sluggish charging speeds because they're trying to use an inexpensive charger with output of 1 or 1.2 amps to charge a device such as a tablet, which generally draws around 2 amps. Our top picks have at least one charging port with output of at least 2 amps (at 5 volts); some offer a marginally faster 2.4 amps. Although many can charge two devices at once, not all have sufficient output to power them up quickly, especially if one is a tablet. These days some cheap portable battery chargers, such as the Tronsmart Presto 10000 PBT10 (starting at $23), support Qualcomm's Quick-Charge 3.0 technology, which charges compatible devices very rapidly.
Charging Cables.Portable power banks usually come with a USB cable. To charge them up, users plug one end of the cable into a micro-USB (or USB-C) input and the other into a computer USB port or AC wall charger. The cable can then be reversed to charge a device on the go. Some chargers come with extra connectors for different types of devices, but those aren't necessary as long as you have the USB charging cable that came with your phone. If you have an iPhone, for example, simply use the Lightning cable provided by Apple. That said, we did favor products with integrated Lightning and micro-USB connectors, so users don't have to worry about keeping a charging cable handy.
There aren’t a lot of wireless portable chargers out there, especially for consumers on a budget. The Mophie Charge Force Powerstation (starting at $100) is highly regarded but expensive for a portable charger. In our price range you can find a solar phone charger, such as the OutXE Savage Solar Charger (starting at $30), although recharging via solar panel can be a slow, tedious process.