Although power banks appear to be simple devices at first sight, they do have a multitude of features most buyers might not aware of. And what usually starts as a quick 10-minute shopping session, can easily end up in paralysis-analysis that drains several hours before a decision is reached. Thus, our aim with this buyer’s guide is to help the average non-professional consumer to quickly and easily find the most suitable power bank for their needs.
What to look for in a power bank
In the following sections, we’ll explore the most important features you should take into consideration before choosing a portable charger. We arranged them in order of importance (in our opinion!), from top to bottom.
Capacity is arguably the most important feature of a power bank. This is where most people look first and this is also why it’s very common for the capacity to be listed in the actual name of the power bank. The unit of measure for capacity is mAh, which stands for milliampere-hour.
Although you can find power banks with capacities as low as 2000mAh, they don’t really make sense for most people, who need more than that since the average smartphone currently has a battery capacity larger than 2000mAh.
Since a lot of people are looking to get at least 2-3 charges out of their power bank, it’s easy to see why the 10000mAh power banks are some of the most popular. Other popular capacities are 20000mAh and 30000mAh.
However, you should know that not 100% of the power bank’s capacity is transferable to your phone. Due to inefficiencies in charging and other factors, only around 2/3 of the capacity can actually be used. You can read more on this subject here. You might also want to read this article on how many mAh you actually need to charge your phone.
Another important aspect when it comes to capacity is the flight status. The current airline regulations only allow power banks of up to 100Wh (or around 27000mAh) to be taken on flights without having to get approval first. Read more details about flying with power banks here.
The power output is measured in watts (W) and it’s an important factor when it comes to fast charging. The majority of smartphones that have fast charging require 18W of power to achieve the max charging speeds. If your power bank can’t provide that, then your smartphone will take longer to reach a full charge.
You should also know that more powerful devices such as gaming consoles or laptops require larger amounts of power. So if you want to also be able to charge your laptop while using it, you’ll most likely need a portable charger capable of supplying up to 100W of power.
When it comes to ports, you should know that the newest standard is the USB type C port, which, in time, will replace the older USB type A and micro USB ports. So our advice is to look for power banks that are based primarily around USB type C ports. You can see a selection of such power banks here.
Besides the classical USB type A and USB type C ports, some power banks come with other types of charging ports such as DC ports, cigar lighters, and even AC plugs. If you’re looking for a power bank with specific ports, you can use our custom-made power bank filter.
The number of ports is important too. The more ports a power bank has, the more devices you can potentially charge at the same time. So if you have multiple devices to charge on a regular basis, or if friends and/or family members often rely on your portable charger, then look for a product that comes with multiple charging ports.
Another important feature you should take into consideration when looking for a new power bank is its charging (aka recharging) time. Needless to say, but the faster a power bank can recharge itself, the better. A few years ago the average 10000mAh power bank would take between 6 to 8 hours to reach a full charger. But nowadays, it’s very common to see charging times of around 2-3 hours or faster.
We actually put together a curated list of some of the fastest charging power banks. The fastest one can get topped up in just 18 minutes, due to the fact that it’s using graphene, a newly emerging technology. However, you should expect to pay a premium for ultra-fast charging times.
Some of the most common fast charging technologies you’ll see are Power Delivery (PD), Qualcomm Quick Charge (QC), or PowerIQ. But in order to achieve the fastest charging times, you’ll need a compatible wall charger. In the majority of cases, power banks come without a wall charger, so you’ll need to purchase it separately. We created some lists of what we believe to be the best: QC chargers, GaN chargers, Android chargers.
So keep in mind that even if you’ll purchase a very fast charging power bank, if the wall-charger cannot provide enough power or it’s not compatible in terms of the charging technology, then you will not achieve the advertised charging times.
When it comes to portability you’ll need to consider two aspects: weight and volume. They are both generally directly proportional to the device’s capacity. Thus, the more mAh a power bank has, the heavier and bulkier it tends to be.
So if you want an ultra-slim and credit-card-sized power bank such as the Clutch 2300mAh, you’ll need to sacrifice capacity and contend yourself with a power bank that most likely will not be able to fully charge your phone even once.
10000mAh power banks have maybe the best portability and capacity ratio. They’re small enough to fit in a pocket but powerful enough to charge your phone 2-3 times. You can go for a thin one that’s the size of a smartphone such as the Crave Plus, or you can choose one that’s credit-card-sized but which is somewhat thick such as the Zendure Supermini.
In terms of price, you can expect to pay anywhere between $20 and $50 dollars for an average power bank. Premium models can reach well over $100, especially if they come with wall chargers. On the lower end of the scale, you can find power banks as cheap as $10, but our recommendation is to avoid those because most likely, a lot of quality shortcuts have been made in order to reach those prices.
In order to help you better judge the value of a power bank, we created the mAh/$ metric, which you can see on all of our power bank review articles in the feature box section. So for example, the Zendure SuperMini has a mAh/$ ratio of 217.44 while the Renogy 72000mAh has a mAh/$ ratio of 360.02. Overall, the bigger the number, the more capacity you’ll get for your money. Obviously, this does not take into consideration other things such as build quality, but it’s still a useful metric to consider when trying to decide which power bank is best for you.
Of course, power banks have a lot of different features which can be very important, depending on your needs. Here are some of the ones that might be of interest:
- Pass-through charging: the capability of the power bank to charge one or more other devices, while it’s being charged itself. Read more here.
- Wireless charging: the ability to charge other devices wirelessly, such as in the case of the Aukey Basix Pro.
- Trickle charging (aka low-current charging): the ability to charge devices that require very small amounts of power like fitness bracelets or smartwatches. One such example is the Anker PowerCore PD Redux. Power banks that don’t come with trickle charging will not be able to supply low amounts of power!
- Safety features: most power banks come with an array of safety features such as overcharge protection, overdischarge protection, short circuit protection, shock protection, etc.
- LCD screen: the vast majority of power banks feature just 3-5 LEDs to showcase the remaining charge. Although useful, it can be quite imprecise. The better alternative are LCD screens which are able to display the exact amount of stored power in percentile numbers.
- Flashlight: some power banks come equipped with a flashlight. In most cases, it’s not a very bright one, but there are exceptions in which the flashlight is very powerful, such as the Xcentz 5000mAh.
- Solar charging: some power banks come with integrated solar panels which can charge the device directly via sunlight. However, in most cases, it takes a very long time to reach a full charge via solar energy. Some power banks are better in this respect. You can read more about it here.
- Waterproof: this is an important feature for people that are into camping, fishing, sailing, etc. Although many power banks are water-resistant, there aren’t many that are actually waterproof. You can see a selection in this article.
Popular power bank brands
The 3 most popular brands when it comes to power banks are Anker, RAVPower, and Aukey (you can read a side-by-side comparison of some of their most popular items here).
However, you usually can’t go wrong with other brands such as Crave, Goal Zero, Omnicharge, Poweradd, Zendure, or ZeroLemon, to name just a few. Although lesser known than the market leaders, these brands also offer high-quality, dependable products.
When it comes to brands, our main advice is to steer clear of no-name brands. Even though they can offer some very cheap power banks, at first sight, it’s very likely that their build quality is very poor. This means you’re exposing yourself to potentially dangerous situations since power banks have been known to catch fire or even explode.
Best choice for most people: the RAVPower 60W
Before we go into the details of choosing a suitable power bank, we’d like to mention a power bank that would be a perfect fit for most people: the RAVPower 60W. So if you want to spend the least time possible doing research and if you’re not looking for a power bank with some specific features, then consider getting the RAVPower 60W.
You can hardly go wrong with it. It’s a stylish and compact power bank that can fast-charge the average smartphone 3-5 times. It can even charge laptops! Furthermore, you’ll be able to top it up in just about 3 hours. All-in-all it’s one of the best price/quality ratios you can find today. For more details on its specs and features, check out our dedicated review.
However, if you’re looking for something more specific, or if you want to do some deeper research, then read on.
What to avoid
Knowing what to avoid when shopping for a power bank can be as important as knowing what to look for. We suggest steering clear of knock-off power banks as they’re generally very low quality. This means that they won’t last very long, but most importantly they can become a real hazard by potentially starting fires. Spending even $10-$15 dollars more on a power bank can make a lot of difference in terms of the quality of the product you’ll get.
Another thing to avoid is power banks that are advertised to have huge capacities. In most of these cases, they’re actual scams, as the devices that the clients receive are severely underpowered. For more info on this subject, read our 100000mAh power banks article.
You should also avoid buying power banks that run on older technology such as outdated ports (i.e. micro USB) or very slow charging times. If you’re going to buy a new device, why not get the advantages of the new tech as well?
Although simple at first sight, power banks can prove to be quite complex. But this means that there’s a power bank for basically any requirement. If you know what to look for, finding the best option for your needs should be fairly easy.
In this buyers guide, we tried to cover all the most important aspects you should consider when shopping for a new power bank. If you believe that there are other important facts and features that we did not address, or that we address insufficiently, do get in touch with us via the contact page. We’re always looking forward to hearing reader feedback!