Why Are Phone Makers Removing Chargers?

First they mock, then they copy

Key Takeaways

  • Samsung’s Galaxy S21 phones will ship without a charger in the box.
  • Most of your old chargers are USB-A, not USB-C.
  • Gallium Nitrate (GaN) chargers are tiny, and more efficient than your old silicon chargers.
Samsung promo image showing a charging with an "included with your galaxy" message underneath
Samsung

When Apple launched the iPhone 12, it removed the charger and the EarPods from the box. Samsung mocked Apple in an ad campaign that pictured a charger with the caption, "Included with your Galaxy." Now, surprising no one, Samsung also has stopped supplying a charger.

It seems odd that you can buy a smartphone for $800 that comes with no way to charge it, but Apple explained that removing the charger from the box would benefit the environment, and now other makers are following along. But does it really help the planet, or is it just another way to squeeze some extra profit? And what alternatives are there, now that you don’t get a charger in the box?

"I like GaN USB-C chargers, which allow even the most hungry devices—and more than one at once—to be charged extremely quickly in footprints far smaller than Apple’s daintiest chargers," technology writer John Brownlee told Lifewire via direct message.

Green, As In Money

The case for not adding chargers is a strong one. First, Apple doesn’t have to make tens of millions of chargers that will never be used. It also doesn’t have to ship them, so iPhone boxes can be slimmer, and more of them can be carried on a plane. And for those who like new gadgets, this offers an opportunity to buy smaller, more efficient chargers.

This argument was weakened somewhat when Apple also announced the MagSafe charger for the iPhone, especially because the MagSafe charger, itself, ships without a charger. You have to supply your own power brick, and if you use the wrong one, it might not work properly.

Still, the exclusion of wasteful accessories is a sound move, and despite Samsung’s mockery, it too now will ship the Galaxy S21 line without a charger in the box. They will, like the iPhone, include a USB charging cable. Samsung is the last of the big three phone makers to ditch chargers after Xiaomi did the same back in December 2020.

What Charger to Use?

Most of us can continue using the chargers from our previous phones or any other gadget, but there’s one big glitch in this green plan: USB-C. The iPhone and the Galaxy come with a cable, but it’s a USB-C cable. Samsung’s is USB-C to USB-C, and Apple’s is USB-C to Lightning. If you still have an old USB-A to Lightning cable around, then you can keep using that. Or you can use wasteful, inefficient "wireless" Qi charging.

Most of the chargers we already own are USB-A, the familiar rectangular kind of USB that’s been around for years. However, USB-C offers several advantages. 

Which USB-C Charger?

It’s not hard to find recommendations for the best USB-C chargers to buy, but if you want to know a little more about why USB-C is great, stick around.

First, the USB-C plug is bi-directional, meaning you’ll always plug it in correctly the first time. Compare this to the old USB-A plugs, which can take two or three tries.

USB-C also can carry a lot more power. Compared to the 5 watts the little iPhone brick charger has supplied, USB-C MacBook chargers can supply up to 80-90 watts. If you plug your iPhone into that, it will charge. It won’t take the full firehose of juice, but it will take what it needs.

If you’re in the market for a new charger, then you should know about gallium nitrate, aka GaN. GaN-based chargers are smaller and more efficient than the silicon-based chargers we’re used to. Because they can conduct electricity better, require fewer components inside the chargers, and have several other technical advantages, GaN chargers are becoming more popular. In use, you just need to know they’re smaller and don’t get as hot, which are reasons enough to opt for these over silicon.

It’s a bit of a pain to have to pay for something as basic as a charger, but in practice, you can keep using the stuff you’ve got for several more years. And when you do have to buy a new charger, you can be happy knowing you’re helping the planet.

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