About 3 years ago I was in Hong Kong for a set of meetings. I noticed a lot of locals were using “power banks”, which are small form-factor batteries in a box. They allow you to power up the battery on your phone or tablet by simply inserting the device’s USB cable into this mobile charger.
I remember thinking that this was very interesting. Could it be that in Asia there aren’t free power outlets for consumers at retail locations like we have here in the U.S. (i.e. at Starbucks)? Could it be that many more locals in Asia use public transportation (train, subway, bus, taxi) vs. Americans, Canadians, or Mexicans in North America that in most cases drive their car (and thus can use low-power car chargers or cigarette low power adapter charging)? That same year, I also traveled to Germany, France, and the UK and saw that these “power banks” or “mobile chargers” were being used quite frequently as well. I wondered if there were transportation similarities or was there a lack of free public USB charging like in Asia?
Now, as we enter 2015, “power banks” are littered all over U.S. e-commerce sites, carried at airport outlets, and stocked at big national retailers. Could this be due to the fact more Americans have started using larger form-factor smartphones, switching to the iPhone 6 Plus, or Samsung Galaxy and Note products en masse? Are we using our smartphones more like computers now, thus churning through battery life faster, requiring more recharges to our phone battery
As a passionate “product guy” and executive at Kensington, a computer products accessory company started in 1981, I’ve scoped the addressable market size for mobile chargers (power banks). I’ve also scoured the Internet to look at prices and the value equation of what people are buying (larger or smaller battery, which brands, what price bands). To best sum up my observations, I’ll quote Jedi master Yoda: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” In other words, you must consider more than “low price” in the category.
For example, when purchasing a laptop, it can be easier for a consumer to recognize the purchasing equation:
“Ah, this notebook has a larger hard drive vs. that one.”
“This notebook has a better display vs. another.”
“This Intel processor is faster/better.”
“This warranty is 3 years vs. 1.”
Quality of the finished product is not necessarily questioned in the purchase equation among brands such as ASUS, Acer, Apple, Dell, HP, or Lenovo. But with power banks and other power-related products, most consumers don’t have the working knowledge of what mAh means and how much it can charge a device’s battery. A consumer also likely doesn’t understand how important component technology within a power bank can mean for safety and efficiency. Are the battery cells high grade from a global quality-leader like LG (Korea), or is it being produced from a new/no-name manufacturer at the cheapest price? Does a product use Texas Instrument components for efficiency of charging (meaning fast, stable charging) or does it use no-name components to lower costs? Data shows that consumers typically choose either the best price or industrial design, not what is the safest, best overall charging product.
I’ve also noticed that people can see an advertisement that says “4-port USB charger – 2.4 AMP2” and that product will move to the top-seller list because of its low price. What the consumer doesn’t know is that they are only getting one port at 2.4 AMPs, while the other 3 ports are a slow/component-challenged mess, while you are charging more than one high-current devices (e.g. two or more tablets) at the same time. This is bait-and-switch marketing that can be dangerous because power is no joke.
Anyone can surf the web and see examples of notebook batteries burning up, charging adapters running inefficiently and wrecking a smartphone or tablet, and even stories of low-quality power banks exploding. Notebook manufacturers, for example, use global component companies such as Lite-On and Delta to produce their charging adapter equipment so that the power risk to the consumer is miniscule. They don’t source “just anything from anybody”.
Your larger phone is your new computer of the future. Ensuring you’re charging and cycling the battery properly is like putting good gasoline in your new car. Poor charging efficiency and poor delivery of power will degrade your phone battery or leave you without a full charge when you need it.
Here are a few key items to help you learn more about the power category and make smart purchasing decisions that will charge your product efficiently and safely:
- If you’re buying a power bank, understand the mAh1. The larger it is, the more capacity it has to store the power (without having to worry about how you’re going to charge up your power bank). If you buy too low in mAh, you not only won’t fully charge a phone, but you will have to find a way to charge the power bank all the time! I recommend 5,000 mAh or more for the best ratio of weight-to-carry and multiple charging cycles for a phone. If you need to charge a tablet, I recommend a power bank with at least 10,000 mAh, which can fully charge an iPad Air 2.
- Find out who made the battery cells in the product. Is it a well-known company like LG or is it a no-name generic company? Are the components from a respected brand like Texas Instruments, or are they also no-name? Don’t risk an explosion or ruining your device to save $5-$15. Don’t buy from brands that hide this information.
- If purchasing a multi-port USB charger, understand whether the product you’re buying distributes the same amount of AMPs to each respective USB port when they are being used simultaneously, or are they only advertising you that AMP on one port (the car advertising model — $9999 Special, with fine print that there is only one on the lot)? If so, your other three devices will not charge efficiently. Understand the wattage3 of the product to ensure you’re getting enough to efficiently and evenly distribute power to each respective USB port for fast charging.
- Lastly, any power brand quoting itself as “world famous” but not disclosing the power per port, clarifying the wattage or the high grade components, I’d stay away from. Let’s not litter our landfills with throw-away charging equipment and bad phone batteries.
Make a “powerful” purchase decision.
You can view our USB charger range at Kensington.com
1 Milliamp Hours. – A unit for measuring electric power over time. mAh is commonly used to describe the total amount of energy a battery can store at one time.
2Amp – power supply circuit speed
3Watt – Unit of Power – equivalent to one joule per second