What Is A Portable Charger?

Handheld power banks keep you charged on the go

A portable charger, sometimes called a power bank, is a reusable battery small enough to fit in your hand. Covered by a protective casing, it connects to any variety of input and output sources, allowing you charge various devices (a smartphone or a laptop, for example) from almost anywhere without the need for a wall outlet.

Portable chargers can come in a wide variety of forms and have a broad range of features, but the most essential aspect is that they have a rechargeable battery built-in that is used for extending the power and use time of your other devices.

Goal Zero Solar Charger
Goal Zero

Smartphones use battery capacities measured in milliamp hours; they range between 2,000mAh and 5,000mAh, though there are the occasional differences. Typical battery banks used for powering phones and laptops will also have their battery capacity measured in milliamp hours, which makes it easy to determine which size charger you need for a specific device.

How Portable Chargers Work

Instead of charging your phone, tablet, or other device directly from a wall outlet, you charge it instead from the power stored in the portable charger by inserting the charger (or charger cable) to the device that needs power. 

Given the short lifespan of many smartphones, many of the most popular and best portable chargers are USB devices. These usually are on the smaller side so they can easily come along with you in a pocket or purse and extend your phone’s battery life. 

Portable chargers are often equipped with one or more USB ports allowing them to connect to nearly any variety of cable used to charge modern smartphones. Standard Micro-USB, USB-C, and Apple Lightning cables ending with a USB Type-A are some of the most common connections you’ll be looking for to use with a portable charger.

How to Use A Portable Charger

Portable chargers come in an incredible variety, and that means there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how they work or how you’ll charge them. Many of the smaller portable chargers recharge over Micro-USB or USB Type-C connections, while larger battery banks may use DC connectors like you might find on laptops and other electronics. There are even solar-powered portable chargers on the market.

Power banks charge like any other electronic device with a rechargeable battery. Some may charge faster because of the connector or because a smaller-capacity battery recharges more quickly.

To charge a device using a portable charger, just connect your device to the portable charger and turn the charger's power on. It will begin charging the dead or low-powered device. Some chargers provide an indicator to show you when the charge is done; some do not.

What Else Can Portable Chargers Do?

While the most basic portable chargers just offer a USB output to charge one device, other (usually more expensive) chargers offer whole host of special features. Some offer support for various quick charging technologies, letting you top up your smartphone extra quickly. Some include multiple USB ports so you can keep multiple devices charging at the same time.

Some portable chargers offer more utility, with three-prong outlets, DC power, and flashlights not uncommon. Some portable chargers for laptops store a ton of power to keep energy-hungry computers powered. There are even specialized power banks for jumping cars that include a port to directly connect alligator-clip cables.

Some portable chargers offer charging for a single use only. Single-use portable chargers can be handy in some situations and are good for very tight budgets; multiple-use chargers are a better choice for people who frequently need to recharge devices when away from home.