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Choosing The Perfect Portable Power Bank

Navigating the world of portable power, power banks, and portable chargers.
So if our stealthy online ads haven’t already gotten to you, one of the many other power bank companies probably has. So what is all the hype about exactly? Well, you know those electronic devices we all love so much (phone, GoPro, tablet, camera, robotic sidekick), they always seem to kick it right as you are about to tag Becky in that super embarrassing photo, before she has a chance to delete her online existence. Never fear we are here to make sure that Becky is indebted to you for life, or at least until she has procured something on you that is much more humiliating.

How to stay in charge (you like my pun, don’t you).
The first place to start is the basic understanding of what a portable charger or power bank is. Most back-up battery packs, or power banks, are simply a portable rechargeable battery that can charge electronic devices. How they work is you charge them ahead of time and then throw it in your bag or fanny pack and off you go. You can now use this magical wonder to charge your device when you aren’t near an outlet, like at the annual shuffle board convention.

What size battery pack do you need?
This is where things get a little more complicated. If you have done any basic research on this, you know that the options can be overwhelming. There seems to be three basic tiers:

  • Enough power for one full charge on most phones.
  • Enough power to charge your phone a couple times.
  • The big daddy that can fully (or almost) charge a tablet.

So how do you know how many times the portable charger or power bank will charge your device? It really comes down to simple math. Backup battery packs show their capacity in milliamps (or mAh). Your device’s battery also uses this same rating system. Here’s how it works: say you have a 2,000 mAh battery pack and you want to charge your iPhone. iPhones have a battery capacity of 1420-1800 (not including the new iPhone+). Since the backup battery has 2,000 mAh and the most you would need is 1800, you can safely assume that you will get one full charge to your phone (divide 2000 by 1800 and you get 1 and some change). Keep in mind that a little bit of power can be lost in the transfer, but it is a good estimation.

There is another thing to consider beyond the mAh capacity of the power bank and that is the output at which it can charge your device. Most cell phones and smaller devices (such as bluetooth headphones, digital cameras and GPS’s) only require 1A (amp) to charge them. However, larger more power-hungry devices (such as tablets) require a 2.1 or 2.4A output to charge effectively. This is something to keep in mind when you are shopping around. You should ask yourself what you will want to charge. Most of the smaller power banks (2,000-3,000 mAh) will have an output of 1A since they don’t have enough to charge a large device. Once you move into the next tier, a 2.1 or 2.4A output starts to become the standard.

There are even a lot of devices with dual USB outputs to charge two devices at one time. Generally one of them is a 1A and the other is a 2.1 or 2.4A. This can also be tricky to navigate as it is important to find out what the maximum output is for both USB ports combined. The reason for this is that while one USB may output at 1A and the other at 2.1A, sometimes they cannot both output their max at the same time. For example, in the scenario I just described (dual outputs – 1A and 2.1A) if the MAX output is only 2.1A, you cannot charge your tablet AND your phone at the same time. You could, however, charge two phones at once (since your phone only needs 1A each and you have 2.1A total). If you are looking to charge a tablet and a phone simultaneously, look for a power bank with a max output of 3.1 or 3.4A. The last complexity is that some devices that only require 1A to charge them can in fact take more power to charge more quickly, such as the Samsung Galaxy. This has generally not been the case with iPhones (although I am not sure if they made this upgrade on the new iPhone 6 and 6+ models). So even if you only want to use your power bank to charge your phone or other small device, you may still find the 2.1 or 2.4A output useful.

So, now you know what mAh capacity to look for, how the output rate will affect charging on your device, and that you have the option to charge multiple items at once, all you have to do is choose one. One expert tip: most batteries will print their capacity right on them. So for those devices with removable batteries, you can look here first to help you determine the capacity that you need. To help, I have listed the capacities below of some popular devices.

iPhone 4 1420
iPhone 5 1560
iPhone 6 1800
iPhone 6+ 3000
Galaxy S5 2800
iPad Mini (3rd Gen) 12000
GoPro Hero4 1160

** Legal disclaimer – the data in the chart above was found via simple online searches as not all manufacturers publish this information. This is not a guarantee of the battery capacity, but an estimate from published information by companies and user reports.

If you made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back because that was a lot of reading. You are now a little bit smarter for reading, so prove how smart you are by getting a power bank.

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