I’m going to walk you through some considerations when buying a power bank. Some areas, like determining capacity, apply to battery cases, too. Between a power bank and a battery case, my advice is pretty straightforward: The former is great if you don’t want to bulk up your device all the time and you don’t mind carrying a small brick with you; The latter is better if you’re looking for an integrated protective case plus extra battery solution.
1.) Know your device’s battery capacity first
“How big a power bank do I need?” is probably the most common question I got. To answer that, you first need to know your device’s battery capacity.
Take the iPhone 6S, for example; it has a 1,715mAhbattery. In a perfect world, a 1,715mAh power bank will be able to recharge the 6S fully, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Due to voltage boosting/current conversion during the charging process, some energy is lost. In my experience, real-world conversion rate of power banks can vary widely, anywhere between 60 and 75%.
So my personal rule of thumb is to get a power bank with at least 25% more capacity than my device’s battery. In the 6S’ case, at least 2,200mAh to ensure a full recharge.
Most phones will tell you their battery capacity in the spec sheet, but iPhones don't.
2.) Factor in usage patterns when deciding capacity and number of ports
To follow up on the first point, I’m not saying that a small power bank or battery case is useless. It really depends on your goal.
For example, if you always end the day with 15% left on your 6S and that’s too close for comfort, Apple’s new Smart Battery Case may be all you need. Even if it can’t charge the 6S from empty to 100%, you’ll end the day comfortably with, say, 50% left.
Of course, getting a high-capacity power bank has its advantages. For one, it enables you to charge your device multiple times over. If you always forget to charge your device overnight or are always on the road and a power outlet is hard to come by, then it makes sense to get a bigger power bank. Also, bigger power banks tend to come with more than one output port, so that you can charge more than one device at the same time.
3.) Take Note Of The Power bank’s output power
Most smartphone-oriented power banks output a 1A current (over 5V), which is fine if your device only accepts up to 1A. But many devices, like the newer iPhones and Android devices that support fast charging, are able to accept different current and voltage levels.
Hence, it’s good to know how fast your device can charge, and get a power bank that supports it. For iPhones and iPads, I suggest power banks that have 2.4A outputs; for Android devices, at least 1.5A. In the past, most power banks had hardwired ports, with labels like ‘Apple’ and ‘Android’. Today, more and more power banks have smart ports to intelligently detect the amount of power needed, so they can provide the fastest possible charge automatically, regardless of what device goes into which port.
4.) The Power bank’s input power
This refers to the power the power bank is able to accept when you’re recharging it. The higher the input, the faster it’ll recharge. This is more important if you’ve a high-capacity power bank. Imagine a 20,000mAh power bank with a 0.5A/5V input, it’ll take two full days to recharge! If I’m buying a big power bank, I’ll make sure the input port supports at least 2A over 5V.
Some premium power banks also support Qualcomm’s Quick Charge at its input port. This allows the power bank to recharge at an even faster rate, assuming a Quick Charge-compatible USB charger is used, too. Using a 20,000mAh power bank as an example, if it supports recharging at 2A but now over 9V due to Quick Charge, it’ll take just under seven hours to completely recharge.
5.) The Power adapter
Most power bank makers don’t throw in a USB charger, because you’re expected to use the one that came with your mobile device. For the most part, that’s fine, as most smartphone and tablet USB chargers today are capable of 2A at 5V.
The problem here is not all USB chargers are the same, and many people make the mistake of using very old USB chargers to charge up their power banks. If your power bank takes forever to recharge, what you can do is check if your USB wall charger is providing sufficient power. Charging a power bank through a computer’s USB port is also not advised, unless you’re geeky enough to know and ensure that it’s providing sufficient power.
6.) Lithium-ion or lithium polymer?
I've had readers asking if they should buy power banks with lithium-ion batteries or lithium polymer ones. The short answer: It doesn't matter.
While there are charging/discharging characteristic differences between both types, for day to day use, they are for the most part indistinguishable to end users.
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