The continued adoption of USB Type-C has seen the versatile port pop up on a huge range of devices, including everything from entry-level smartphones to Apple’s high-end iPad Pro. The USB-C plug format is a great development because it’s significantly more robust than past standards, and it’s capable of accommodating a wide range of USB standards.
While high-speed data transfer is a clear benefit of the USB-C plug, its ability to provide safe and reliable high-wattage charging is just as important, if not more so. Our top pick, Anker PowerCore III Elite, provides a lot of power.
Contrary to popular belief, USB Type-C only refers to the plug and port format. Other designations, like USB 3.0, have to do with the bandwidth that a device can use over USB. When researching USB devices, you’ll see a ton of confusing terms like USB 3.1 Gen2 2x2, which aren’t clearly defined and can throw you for a loop. In terms of charging, there are various standards in use and different smartphones may or may not be compatible with some of them.
Arguably the most important protocol is simply called USB PD. It’s currently in its third generation and can provide up to 100 watts to compatible devices like laptops. But laptops aren’t the only devices that take advantage of USB PD. The latest releases, such as the iPhone 12 Pro, can pull up to 24 watts when fast charging, although you can charge an iPhone at the normal rate using any USB charger as long as you have a USB-to-Lightning cable.
Android phones, on the other hand, use one of various other charging protocols. The most well known is Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology. Power bank manufacturers, such as Anker, have even made strides to develop their own compatible protocols that are somewhat compatible with advanced Quick Charge standards, although not all devices use these third-party protocols with the same level of efficiency. If you’re an Android smartphone owner, it’s worth considering the latest and most advanced power bank to get the fastest charging speed possible.
The first thing to consider is how much juice a power bank can actually hold. Naturally, the higher the capacity, the larger and heavier the power bank. You want to balance the capacity against the number of devices you need to keep topped up and how many times you’ll need to recharge them before you can plug your power bank into the wall. The most common high-capacity power banks can fill many smartphones’ batteries several times before they run out.
At a minimum, any USB-C power bank has at least two ports. Most have at least a Type-A and Type-C port and quite a few have multiple of each. Keep in mind that if a power bank states it has a peak output of 100 watts, for example, that figure spreads across all the ports in use. So if you have a laptop that draws 85 watts and a phone that draws 22 watts, they won’t both be able to pull the maximum wattage at the same time (although they’ll come pretty close, in this example).
There was a time when USB-C technology was fragmented and unreliable, but that’s mostly in the past, as long as you do your homework. If you stick with reputable manufacturers of both battery packs and cables, you shouldn’t run into reliability issues like incompatibility or over-voltage problems. This means you should avoid chargers and power banks from generic, no-name manufacturers.
You can buy the least expensive power banks at around $30; these are among the most portable, but they also have relatively low capacities. The biggest power banks can cost as much as $300 or more but they aren’t very portable. The largest readily portable models suitable for air travel are usually in the range between $75 and $120.
A. The FAA limits portable batteries on flights to those with capacities of 100 Watt-hour or less. This has led to many manufacturers designing models to hold just under that limit. Most power banks marketed as having a 26,800 mAh capacity fall into this category. It’s also worth noting that you must have your power bank in your carry-on luggage, as they’re not allowed in checked baggage. For what it’s worth, batteries that hold between 100 watt-hour and 160 watt-hour are legally permitted on flights with explicit airline permission, but they handle that on a case-by-case basis, so you need to get in touch with your airline first if you need to carry a battery that large.
A. There used to be a pretty good selection of these, but they’re increasingly harder to find. Some are available, such as the Omni 20c+, but the most portable options usually require a separate device for USB port expansion. Don’t worry, though, as there are plenty of low-priced USB hubs available with 100-watt PD pass-through. This model from Targus is one such option.
What you need to know: With the ability to power all but the most demanding laptops, this high-capacity model holds as much as is legally allowed on domestic flights.
What you’ll love: Rated at an impressive 87-watt output, the PowerCore III Elite can accommodate MacBooks with the same level of power that comes from Apple’s wall charger. It can refill most phones five to seven times and comes with a 65-watt USB-C charger.
What you should consider: It’s not cheap and weighs quite a bit compared to the rest.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: It’s small enough to fit inside a pocket and can fully charge most smartphones about three times.
What you’ll love: It’s actually about the same size as a smartphone and has a 10,000 mAh capacity rating. Its Type-C output delivers up to 20 watts, which is just about enough to max out the latest iPhone’s charging speed. There’s also a Type-A port with Anker’s PowerIQ technology to ensure it’s providing the safest and most effective charging rate.
What you should consider: Some users say it's not fast charging for other devices besides smartphones.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: This novel option combines the wall charger and power bank for a highly portable charging solution.
What you’ll love: If you want to carry around as little extra hardware as possible, this is a worthwhile choice. The plug folds in for easy transportation, and with a peak output of 18 watts, it charges most smartphones significantly faster than a standard USB wall charger.
What you should consider: Since the charging circuitry is built in, it has a somewhat limited capacity compared to others of its size.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.