Power Banks - Essential or Burden?

Power banks have become the so called "necessary evils" nowadays. Most of us are not aware on what kind of power bank to opt for and the precautions needed while buying one. Let me share some details on this important piece of technology in a wider perspective.

There were the days when we used to plug-in our phones to charge once in a week and kept using it for the full week. Not anymore - our smartphones do not even last a day these days. With increased dependence on smartphones, tablets and laptops for all the things we need to do, the battery life of our devices has been outstripped by the tasks we have been performing on them. The gadgets we depend so much upon suddenly give up on us. That is where the need for a portable power device arises. The portable chargers, commonly known as Power Banks have become quite ubiquitous these days.

Sensing the growing need for these gadgets, many power banks have mushroomed, which in most cases, are not up to the mark. Prospective buyers need to be educated on the quality of the power banks which the sellers seldom do. There are a few points to be taken care of while choosing a better power bank. Let us analyse the world of power banks in a nutshell.

Power banks - A definition

Power banks are portable chargers for mobile devices, to use simple words. They store energy in them and allow you to charge a device when you do not have a power source nearby. There are three major types of power banks available -
  • Universal Power Banks - These can be used on a variety of devices irrespective of manufacturers. That's why they are named universal. They are available in a variety of sizes and configurations.
  • Solar Powered Power Banks - These are most uncommon of them. They use solar power to charge themselves. Since solar charge is slower than the conventional charging, these devices also contain cables for charging them the usual way.
  • Battery Phone Case Type - They have been out of commercial use these days. They have less device compatibility.

Are power banks safe to use?

Technically, anything that charges your device via USB should not be any reason for worry. You just need to take care to choose the gadget as per the specific needs of your device. In fact, the circuit that charges your phone is inside your phone. So as long as it is working fine, it should not matter where the power is coming from - wall outlet, PC or a power bank. Actually, they have more advantages associated with them than the disadvantages.

Advantages -
1. You can charge your device when electricity is not available.
2. They are high powered and have the capability to charge your device faster than the conventional chargers.
3. They charge themselves via USB. So, you can charge them in cars or from a PC.

Disadvantages -
1. They are expensive. Though low cost alternatives are available, they are not as reliable as branded ones.
2. Some of the power banks tend to be bulky and heavy.
3. Power banks have shorter power cords and using the phone while charging is sometimes not easy.

What should I look for when buying a power bank?

It is difficult to categorically state the guidelines to be followed while choosing a power bank. Let me point out a few vital notes to be considered -

Capacity - It is the most important factor to be considered while buying a power bank and depends completely on your requirement. If you tend to carry too many devices with you, you may need to buy a high capacity power bank to be able to keep all your devices charged. The capacity of their batteries is measured in 'mAh'. Since batteries are known to lose a bit of charge when not in use, buying a power bank that has slightly more capacity than your requirement is advisable. Assuming you have a device with a battery capacity of 2100 mAh, your 5000 mAh power bank should be able to charge it twice. Go for a power bank based on your total requirement which depends on all your devices and their combined capacity along with the approximate number of charge cycles you need.
Battery Type and quality - Power banks consist of either Lithium-Polymer or Lithium-Ion batteries. Li-Po batteries are more expensive. Pay attention to the quality of batteries. Most of the low priced power banks use refurbished batteries.
Connectors - Go for a power bank with a built-in cable. Buying additional cables may not be a better option. Pay attention to check whether the power bank has proper connectors. Smartphones normally need 1A current. If a port supplies less than that, it may not charge the battery effectively. Opting for more amperage rating than what your device needs may also affect the batteries.
Portability - There are power banks that offer multiple benefits. These additional features include multiple ports that support simultaneous charging of multiple devices. Likewise, a power bank with higher capacity will tend to be bulkier, heavier and pricier. Keep in mind that we buy a power bank because it is portable. If you are forced to carry a burden in the form of a power bank, it defeats the very purpose.
Protection - Power banks come with additional safety measures to protect your devices. Make sure the power bank you are buying has such safety circuits built-in. A few of these additional features include -
  • Short circuit protection
  • Over charge protection
  • Over discharge protection
  • Temperature protection
Such features ensure durability of your device and protect it from unwanted repairs. Please remember that these features may come at a premium.

Price - Some manufacturers provide low cost power banks with higher capacity/features. Please note that they may be spurious. Most of them may have substandard or refurbished batteries. Make it a point to go for a device from a known brand.

Powerbank troubleshooting

Let us now try to analyse some of the common problems associated with power banks. Most of the issues caused can be solved easily following the tips mentioned herein.

1. Power bank drains faster -
  • Check the battery capacity of your device and that of the power bank.
  • Avoid keeping the cables attached to your power bank when no device is connected which may drain the power from it.
2. Tablet is not charged by the power bank -
  • Tablets usually need at least 2A current to charge. Make sure you have connected it to the correct port.
  • Some tablets need to be in sleep mode to be able to be charged.
3. Power bank does not turn on -
  • Your power bank might have drained fully. Connect it to a power source and wait for a few minutes.
  • Your power bank might have gone to sleep mode. Check the documentation.
  • Some power banks go into sleep mode when they detect an overcharge, overdischarge or short circuit. Change your cable and check.
4. What is the lifespan of power bank? -
A good power bank can give a life span of about 500-600 charge/discharge cycles. A power bank should be able to hold 80 to 90% of charge under ideal conditions.

Parting thoughts

A power bank indeed is a boon for an unhindered smartphone experience. As long as we take precautions on how we choose it, they help you get the convenience of being always connected. Sensing a need to let the smartphone community stay learned on the different aspects of the power banks, an attempt has been made to compile all possible information on these gadgets. If you need need any clarification, please feel free to respond here.

Read Hands-on Review of the 2500 mAh power bank from Astrum (Lithium-Polymer)

Article by Timmappa Kamat
Timmappa Kamat is a technology enthusiast. He has an active interest in newer technological developments. He is fond of new gizmos & gadgets. He loves to share his knowledge through tech-savvy websites as a freelancer. A Mechanical Engineer by profession, he is equally interested in blogging, with his own blog. He wants to carve a name for himself in blogging arena one day! If you need any clarifications about his articles,please respond here below or get in touch with him through his profile.

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