Choos­ing a Por­ta­ble Bat­tery Pack

Be­cause There Are Other Things To Con­sider Be­sides Ca­pac­ity.


Smart­phones and tablets these days are ef­fec­tively pocket com­put­ers. But be­ing multi-tal­ented comes at a cost of con­sid­er­able bat­tery drain. Un­til the next bat­tery break­through, most people to­day opt to carry an ex­ter­nal bat­tery pack (a.k.a. power bank) with them. Here are some tips on how to go about choos­ing one.


CA­PAC­ITY VS. PORTA­BIL­ITY The main spec­i­fi­ca­tion to look out for in a por­ta­ble bat­tery pack is ca­pac­ity, which is mea­sured in mil­liampere-hour (mAh). The ca­pac­ity of your de­vice’s bat­tery is also mea­sured in mAh, so loosely speak­ing, if your phone has a 2,000mAh bat­tery, a 2,000mAh bat­tery pack is able to recharge it fully, once. How­ever, be­cause of power lost due to volt­age con­ver­sion and cir­cuit re­sis­tance, and some­times, the qual­ity of the charg­ing ca­ble, you rarely get a 1:1 match. While you can get one with a higher ca­pac­ity (there are bat­tery packs which go up to 20,000mAh) so that it’s able to recharge a de­vice mul­ti­ple times over, keep in mind that this usu­ally also means that it’s big­ger, heav­ier, and pricier. 2.

MO­BILE DE­VICE IN­PUT CUR­RENT Most smart­phone-ori­ented bat­tery packs out­put at most 1A (at 5V) over the USB port. While this works fine for most people, some may no­tice that their smart­phone now takes a longer time to recharge as com­pared to when a wall charger is used. This is es­pe­cially true if the phone is able to ac­cept a higher cur­rent. Re­cent An­droid smart­phones have a 1.5A charg­ing in­ter­face, and those which sup­ports Qual­comm’s QuickCharge 2.0 stan­dard (e.g. LG G2) can draw as much as 2A.

Most tablets re­quire at least 1A to charge too, with some draw­ing up to 2.5A. Take the Ap­ple iPad Air for ex­am­ple, which comes with a USB wall adapter that pro­vides 2.4A. If you were to plug the iPad Air to a bat­tery pack’s 1A USB port, it’ll ei­ther be un­able to charge, or charge re­ally slowly. So if you’re look­ing to charge a tablet, our ad­vice is to buy a bat­tery pack that’s ca­pa­ble of a higher than 1A out­put (at least 1.5A if you’ve an An­droid tablet, and 2.1A if you’ve an iPad). Lastly, there’s no harm us­ing a higher-pow­ered port on a smart­phone, as the de­vice only draws what is re­quired. In fact, it may even charge faster if it’s able to draw more cur­rent.


BAT­TERY PACK IN­PUT CUR­RENT It’s easy to per­suade yourself to buy a large ca­pac­ity bat­tery pack. But one tends to for­get that the higher the ca­pac­ity, the longer it takes to recharge. In fact, most people we know who have 15,000mAh bat­tery packs leave them to charge overnight. An­other fac­tor that af­fects how long it takes to top up the charge is the bat­tery pack’s in­put cur­rent. Most bat­tery packs ac­cept be­tween 0.8A and 1.5A, with the higher cur­rents typ­i­cally found on the higher ca­pac­ity ones. If you come across two bat­tery packs with seem­ingly iden­ti­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions and price tag, this lit­tle de­tail could be the tiebreaker.

Some bat­tery packs also al­low them­selves to be charged while they’re charg­ing other de­vices. How­ever, we don’t rec­om­mend it be­cause con­stant pass-through charg­ing may af­fect the bat­tery’s life­span. 5.

QUAL­ITY VS. PRICE Bat­tery packs can ex­plode, and the one mea­sure we can take to (hope­fully) pre­vent this is to buy from name brands or rep­utable ven­dors. Some bat­tery pack mak­ers will even tell you (usu­ally on the pack­ag­ing) where they source their bat­ter­ies from. Also, while that brand-less bat­tery pack sounds like a great deal com­pared to a branded one that costs three times as much, it’s of­ten im­pos­si­ble to know if the man­u­fac­turer cut any cor­ners with the short cir­cuit, over-charg­ing, and tem­per­a­ture pro­tec­tion mech­a­nisms in or­der to achieve the low price.

Lastly, when some­thing sounds too good to be true, it usu­ally is. If you chance upon a 6,000mAh bat­tery pack that’s a quar­ter the size of other bat­tery packs with the same ca­pac­ity, and there’s no men­tion on how it achieves this feat, the ca­pac­ity claim is likely to be over ex­ag­ger­ated. 4.

NUM­BER OF PORTS Many re­cent bat­tery packs come with a built-in USB ca­ble that wraps around the case so that you don’t need to worry about leav­ing the USB ca­ble at home. To cater to iOS users, some of them come with a built-in Light­ning ca­ble in­stead. These Light­ning con­nec­tor-com­pat­i­ble bat­tery packs tend to cost more than their USB coun­ter­parts be­cause of the MFi (Made For iPhone/iPod/iPad) li­cens­ing and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram fees the man­u­fac­turer has to pay.

Higher-ca­pac­ity bat­tery packs also usu­ally come with more than one USB charg­ing port. Nat­u­rally, more ports cost more money, and the num­ber of ports you should go for de­pends on how many de­vices you carry. The big­gest ad­van­tage of additional ports is that you can charge more de­vices at the same time. The tip here is to find out the to­tal out­put cur­rent of the bat­tery pack when more than one ports are used. For ex­am­ple, a bat­tery pack with two 2A ports may out­put the 2A when only one port is used. When both ports are con­nected, the to­tal out­put may be limited to 3A, with each port get­ting 1.5A.

This US$80 Anker Astro Pro2 is one of the few bat­tery packs with a multi-volt­age port for 9V or 12V de­vices.

Un­less the bat­tery pack has ‘smart’ ports, don’t as­sume each port out­puts the same cur­rent.

Most of Probox’s bat­tery packs use Sanyo bat­tery cells, which the Taiwanese com­pany is quick to point out on its web­site.

We pre­fer bat­tery packs with an in­put charge port that uses mi­cro-USB in­stead of a round tip, be­cause the for­mer is eas­ier to re­place ver­sus re­plac­ing the en­tire USB wall charger.

The Moi­gus Moi­book bat­ter­ies come with an in­ter­est­ing dual-con­nec­tor USB in­put and mi­croUSB charg­ing tip.

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