Smartphone saver? You can bank on it
Australians are beset with an affliction being felt right across the nation. Nomophobia (no-mobilephone-phobia) is the fear of being without your mobile phone, such as when your battery dies.
Luckily, rechargeable devices can add more juice to your smartphone's battery when you're out and about. They're essentially a wall socket for your pocket, and can be very handy if you keep finding yourself with just 20% battery left by early afternoon.
What can power banks charge?
These battery packs can power pretty much anything from your smartphone and tablet, to laptops and portable games consoles. However, they're primarily aimed at portable media and communication devices. Many can:
- Charge a device such as your smartphone multiple times.
- Charge a number of devices simultaneously (e.g. two smartphones, a smartphone and a tablet or a tablet, smartphone and laptop).
- Charge most smart tablets and other devices such as portable speakers, wireless headphones and compact cameras.
- Some models pack enough grunt to power laptops, but we'd recommend you use this feature only if you're caught out without access to a power point or forgot your laptop charger. It's handy in an emergency, but not a substitute for your standard external power supply.
Size, shape, weight and capacity are the main things to consider when shopping for a power bank. A nice clear indication of available power is also useful, with some models showing a digital display in lieu of bars (e.g. "80% remaining").
How big are power banks?
Capacity, shown as a milliamp hour (mAh) figure, is a rough indication of the charging capabilities – the higher the number, the more power it can deliver to your device before the power bank also runs out of juice.
- They can range from single charge, 3000mAh units, to models with well over 20,000mAh stored away.
- Most of the latest smartphones have a battery with around 3000mAh.
- Try to find one that can completely recharge your smartphone at least twice before requiring a recharge, as this should keep you covered for one to two days at a time.
- A 10,000mAh power bank should be able to charge the smartphone up to three times and a 20,000mAh power bank more than six times.
What are the size and weight ranges?
These increase with capacity.
- While a 20,000mAh model may seem like a handy option, it may be too big for your pocket or bag.
- If you're looking to keep your phone charged at a one-day music festival, picnic or during a night out, look into a pocket-sized model with at least 6000–10,000mAh.
- Other situations, such as hikes that take you away from power for a number of days, may demand larger models, but these are usually too big for most pockets.
What are the different shapes and styles?
You may want to weigh up the shape and style as well.
- This isn't too much of an issue if you plan to carry the charger around in a bag.
- However, weird shapes and bulky designs may be uncomfortable for your pocket.
- Try to find one that has a similar size and shape to a smartphone.
How do I connect my device to a power bank?
Most power banks will have at least one of these charging inputs:
USB-A: The rectangular-shaped port built into basically every laptop, hard drive, TV etc of the last 15 years.
Micro/mini-USB: The miniature USB variant typically used in smartphones and other portable devices.
USB-C: New, compact version of USB-A that’s also flipabble, which means you don’t need to worry about inserting it the right way up. It’s gaining a foothold among smartphone and laptop manufacturers due to its size and versatility.
USB firmware running beneath the surface tells the inputs what to do – how much data, power and speed can run through the cable, for example. This includes “fast charging,” which is a popular feature among power bank manufacturers.
Fast charge explained
In order to successfully fast-charge a device, you’ll need three things:
- A compatible power bank
- A compatible cable
- A device that will accept a fast charge.
The first two points are a safe bet if fast charge is advertised, so it really comes down to whether your device has the necessary circuitry. If not, you could wind up paying more for a feature you can’t use.
- Check your device's specs on the manufacturers website to confirm if it has fast charge.
- If this information isn't available, and if you’re using a low-end device with entry-level components, or an older model, it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t have fast charge.
What is USB-C?
USB-C is a standard that has made its way into a number of devices over the past year or so. Visually, it’s a compact version of USB-A with rounded corners. It adds two interesting features in the context of power banks (in addition to its flipabble fitting):
- It can send a charge in both directions.
- It supports fast charge.
Like a USB-A fast-charge port, USB-C only works if the aforementioned circumstances line up. However, you also need to plug it into a USB-C enabled device. If you don’t own any, don’t waste your money on a USB-C power bank.
How much do power banks cost?
- In our power bank reviews, devices ranged in price from $25 to almost $200.
- Although you can buy power banks for under $30, these cheaper models are generally under 3000mAh. You'll get one charge out of these at a time, if you're lucky.
- Most models can charge a standard 3000mAh device in around 90 minutes; any longer is a red flag.
- The power bank's recharge time isn't as much of an issue, as you can leave it plugged in overnight, but faster is generally better.