How to Pick a Portable USB Charger and Battery Pack

How to pick a portable battery or USB charger
Need extra power in a pinch? Here are some tips to help you pick the right portable battery and USB charger to juice up your smartphones and other gadgets. RAVPower

So you’re out and about with your smartphone, multitasking like a boss by pushing out tweets, updating your status on Facebook and posting pics on Instagram. 

Then your device runs out of juice and it’s only noon. Ruh-roh.

Maybe you’re a heavy social media user and video viewer. Perhaps you forgot to charge your device the night before. Regardless, you’re now out of power and need your smartphone back in action pronto.

Chin up, sport. To quote Yosemite Sam, all you need to do is “Charge!”

But wait, you say. What if there isn’t a wall outlet nearby? Well, this is exactly the time when having a portable USB battery pack charger comes in super handy. Now, there once was a time when portable charging options were few and far between. Then again, the influx of smartphones, tablet and other gadgets have fueled a boom in portable charging devices as well.

Besides price there are a bunch of other factors you’d want to think of before choosing a portable battery charger. What’s the best way to pick one of these doodads? Here are some tips to help you find the charging partner that’s right for you. For actual examples, you can also check out our roundup of portable battery chargers.

Capacity

Just like portable gadgets come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, portable battery packs come in assortment of capacities as well.

A small iFrogz GoLite 2.0 charging stick for example comes with 2,600 mAh — which is short for milliamp hours — of juice. Then you’ve heavyweights such as the RAVPower Extreme Series Power Bank which has a whopping 23,000 mAh capacity.

Typically, you’ll want to get a charger that can at least charge your target device fully in one go.

To do that, you’ll need to know the energy capacity of the device you’ll be charging. An iPhone 6, for example, is powered by a 1,810mAh battery while a Samsung Galaxy S6 has a 2,550mAh battery.

Once you know your device’s capacity, just check out whatever portable battery you’re looking into and see what its own mAh capacity is. A small 3,000 mAh charger, for example, would be more than enough to fully charge most smartphones.

If you’re looking to charge devices such as an iPad, Kindle Fire or Nexus 7, however, you’re going to need a charger with more juice. An iPad Air 2, for example, has a 7,340 mAh battery. Meanwhile, the older iPad 3 clocks in at more than 11,000 mAh.

Even if you don’t own a large device, you may own multiple smaller gadgets like a personal phone, work phone and an MP3 player, for example. In that case, getting a USB battery pack with a larger capacity might be helpful, too, in case you need to charge several devices at the same time.

Size and weight

With 23,000 mAh, the RAVPower Extreme Series Power Bank sounds awesome, right? Well, as with many things, the answer depends. On the plus side, you can charge iPads and even laptops (it comes with a charging connector that connects with where the laptop AC adapter normally goes) several times over with that much juice.

One drawback, however, is its size.

Not only is it a figurative brick, it literally weighs like one, too. This is fine if you’re going on a camping trip and plan to have your car nearby to store stuff. When it comes to daily use, however, the charger is just back-breakingly big, especially if you commute to work via public transit. (On the plus side, I guess it’s potentially great for knocking out a mugger cold.)

In short, if you commute on foot or happen to be a student who walks to and from classes, a smaller charger would be a better option for backup power. Some phone cases even double as battery packs so those are viable charging options as well.

Just note that such cases typically make your phone bulkier.

Charging time

When it comes to charging time, charging your battery pack and charging your device with a battery pack are two separate things. It’s OK, for example, if charging a battery pack from a wall outlet takes a long time as you can always leave it plugged overnight. It’s probably not as OK if your battery pack takes forever to charge your smartphone.

Solar-based chargers, for example, may be nice to have when camping for a long time but many typically take a long time to charge devices and run out of power pretty quickly. Fast chargers also aren’t just great for charging up a phone in a jiffy, they’re also good at charging devices with larger batteries such as tablets.

Extra mile

Extra features aren’t really necessary in the grand scheme of things but they can help seal the deal when picking a portable battery storage pack. In some cases, it can be something as simple as having two USB ports like the Snow Lizard SLPower so you can charge two devices at the same time. Some USB charging sticks such as the RAVPower Luster, meanwhile, double as flashlights.

I’ve even seen portable chargers that double as panic alarms in a pinch like the Champ Bodyguard. Then you’ve got chargers such as the JunoJUMPR which also allow you to jump start vehicles. You even have speakers such as the Braven 850 that come with a USB port to charge your other devices as well. Gadgets like the Secur SP-5000 Solar Media Player, meanwhile, not only come with a speaker but a solar cell as well.