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What is a power bank? Power banks explained

What is a power bank? Power banks explained

A power bank is a portable battery designed to recharge electronic gadgets when you don’t have access to a regular wall charger. Ranging in size from slim, pocket-sized devices up to larger, high-capacity power banks – they can be used to charge cell phones, tablets, cameras, portable speakers, gaming consoles, or even laptops.

So the concept of a power bank is pretty simple: a rechargeable battery that can be used to charge other devices. However, even if they seem pretty basic, power banks can have some pretty complex technologies built-in.

For example, in order to reduce the risk of malfunctioning, a lot of safety features are added: overcharge protection, over-discharge protection, short circuit protection, etc.

Other types of technologies frequently seen in power banks are pass-through charging, wireless charging, and fast charging technologies such as Qualcomm Quick Charge, Power Delivery, or PowerIQ. Some newer models are even featuring futuristic battery techs such as GaN or Graphene technology.

How does a power bank work?

Since power banks are basically regular batteries with some extra features, they work just like any other rechargeable battery. They first store energy up to their maximum capacity and then release it when connected to a different device that needs recharging. That’s the basic gist of it.

Of course, in terms of circuitry, they can be quite complex devices. Besides charging and recharging they also have other features such as safety features, power indicators, quick charging technologies, etc.

What are the different types of power banks?

Power banks come in many different shapes and sizes to suit different budgets and power needs. There are portable chargers that can be used for just about every device. Most people buy power banks to use them for their cell phones, tablets, or laptops. But some portable chargers can also be used for devices such as drones, mini-fridges, or even CPAP sleep apnea machines.

New portable charger models are coming out every day with improved charging technologies. Some power banks even work by harnessing solar energy while others double as a protective case that also charges your phone. In terms of shape, the most popular ones are cylindrical or rectangular, similar to a smartphone or a deck of playing cards.

How to charge a power bank

All power banks come with a power input port. The type of port can be different based on the model but micro USB was the most popular one until recently. However, micro USB is slowly being replaced by USB type C ports, which seems to be the new standard for the coming years. So, if you’re looking to buy a new power bank, our advice is to look for one with has a USB type C input port. Here’s a curated list of some of the best USB C power banks.

The most efficient way to charge a power bank is to use a wall charger that can deliver a high power output. Using a low-quality wall charger that only delivers 2A for example, can extend the recharging time for several hours. For this reason, we have put together a list of the best GaN chargers and a different one of the best chargers with Quick Charge 3.0 and 4.0. Another way to charge a power bank is by using a charging station.

Other ways to charge a power bank are using your laptop USB port, a car cigarette lighter, or using a solar charger such as the Anker 21W. However, all these methods are slower and you should avoid them unless you can’t access a wall charger.

Make sure to also read our guide on how to use a power bank for the first time.

How long does it take to charge a power bank?

This is largely dictated by the size of your power bank’s capacity. The larger the capacity of the power bank you decide to purchase, the longer it may take to charge. But other factors can influence the charging speed too, such as the charging technology used. For example, power banks with fast charging features or those built based on the new graphene or GaN technologies will charge much faster than usual.

As a rule of thumb, for a power bank of 10000mAh, the average recharging time is around 4-6h. The fastest ones can charge in under 1h but expect to pay a premium price for that. And the slowest ones might take as much as 8h to recharge. It’s best to avoid them if you can find faster-charging options at a similar price point.

How many times can a power bank charge my device?

This comes down to the capacity of your device and the power bank/portable charger. A power bank is measured by its capacity, which is rated in mAh (milliampere-hour). Generally, the higher the mAh rating of your power bank or portable charger, the more power it will have to recharge your devices. A good rule of thumb is to look at the mAh rating of the devices you want to charge, and purchase a power bank that has an equal rating (preferably higher).

For example, the iPhone 11 has a 3110mAh rated battery. The XCentz Wingman has a mAh capacity of 5000mAh. This would safely charge your phone back to 100% battery. However it is not an exact science, there are factors to consider such as the power bank’s efficiency rating and the condition of the battery in the device you are charging. Read more about the real battery capacity of a power bank.

The following set of figures can be used as a rough guide to what kind of recharging capacity a power bank may give you.

Device Charge Times Example

Power Bank Rating Mobile Phone Tablet
2500mAh Approx. 1 full charge Approx. 25%
5200mAh Approx. 2 full charges Approx. 50%
10000mAh 4 full charges At least 100% full charge

On ou5 product review pages such as the RAVPower 20000mAh PD 60W, we even have an automatic calculator that can tell you exactly how many times that specific power bank can charge your specific smartphone model:

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Charging capacity calculator

Use the search bar below and find out exactly how many times can the RAVPower PD Pioneer 20000mAh charge your smartphone battery

If you don’t know which power bank you want, then you can use our general mAh calculator.

We’re discussing also this subject in more detail here: How many mAh do you need to charge your phone?

Is a Power Bank and a Portable Charger the same thing?

YES! They are basically one and the same thing 😊

Different terms such as power bank, portable charger, portable phone charger, external battery, external battery pack, etc. all refer to the same type of device. If it’s a battery that you can use to power a device with its own battery without using a wall socket, it’s a power bank.

Read more about these two terms and about their popularity in our dedicated article: Power Bank or Portable Charger?

What type of batteries do power banks use?

Power banks generally come with either Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po) and Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries. Of the two Li-Ion power banks are more popular.

In terms of differences between these two types:

  • Lithium-Polymer batteries have a higher energy density but they tend to have a shorter lifespan and are also more expensive to manufacture. They’re also less prone to explosion.
  • Lithium-Ion batteries, on the other hand,  have a slightly lower energy density but they can withstand more charge/discharge cycles and are generally less expensive.

For a more in-depth look at this subject, check out our article: Lithium-ion vs Lithium-polymer power banks. Which is better?

Are you allowed to take power banks on flights?

Yes, you can take power banks and other batteried on flights, however, some conditions apply:

  • you can only take them in your cabin luggage
  • the battery should be 100 Wh or under
  • batteries that are between 100 Wh and 160 Wh need a special permit
  • ideally, the output should be clearly labeled on the device

Read our detailed article for more information about power banks on flights.

Top 10 reasons to buy a power bank

#1 For traveling

Long gone are the days of traveling with nothing but a change of clothes, toiletries, and accessories. We love to travel here at Power Bank Expert – my backpack right now contains the following electronic goodies: MacBook Pro, Kindle Paperwhite, Olympus 4/3 digital camera, JBL portable travel speaker, iPod Touch, Nexus 5, and an iPad Air.

Travelling is all about the journey, and that often means spending a long time on a train/plane/bus/car. Not to mention waiting around at airports, bus stations, and train stations. More often than not you might not have any access to a PowerPoint to recharge your devices. A portable power bank will solve your flat battery blues.

Luckily today’s portable power banks come in some truly travel-friendly sizes. Take the Xcentz 5000mAh. Weighing in at a measly 4.5oz, and measuring only 4.8 x 1 x 1in, it really is lipstick-sized. Small enough to slip in your pocket, this portable charger will not put a big dent in your backpack or suitcase.

#2 For gamers

One thing all these mobile games have in common – is their capacity to kill your cell phone’s battery! But avid gamers don’t only use phones for gameplay time, but dedicated consoles such as the Nintendo Switch. However, modern power banks are more than capable to satisfy even the most power-hungry consoles and extend the game time for hours on end.

#3 For portability

Many people do not realize how small portable power banks and phone chargers are. Many are small enough to fit in a pocket or purse. With pretty much all but the most industrial-strength devices being portable enough to fit in a backpack or shoulder bag.

  • The Poweradd Slim2 5000mAh weighs just 4.4 oz and measures 3.93 x 1.27 x1.20 inches. This will slip into your pocket with ease.
  • A slight step up in size – the Anker Astro E1 5200mAh Candy bar-Sized Ultra Compact Portable Charger is an excellent choice. They weren’t lying when they named it ‘candy bar sized’ – it weighs in at 4.2oz, and measures just 5 x 3.4 x 1.7 inches.

#4 For commuting

I used to have a 1.25-hour train ride to and from work every day, and boy do I wish I’d owned a portable power bank back then! When you’re packed onto a train or a bus, your options are pretty limited in how to kill the time. But having your smartphone/tablet/laptop with you can make that journey absolutely fly by. Owning a portable power bank means you can catch up on Game of Thrones, browse Facebook or read the latest news – and NEVER run out of battery.]

#5 For camping / hiking / fishing

There’s nothing better than escaping into the great outdoors, but what if you want to stay connected to the digital world whilst you’re enjoying all that nature has to offer? You might want to upload your pictures to Instagram, keep your portable speaker playing tunes, or recharge your camera’s batteries. Here’s where a portable power bank can come into its own.

Any portable power bank or phone charger would fit the bill for a trip into the great outdoors, but there are some portable power banks that are purpose-built for the task. The Novoo Explorer 10000mAh is snowproof, dirtproof, drop-proof, and waterproof. Its rugged construction makes it an ideal buy if you often head outdoors.

Or why not keep your electronics charged, and be environmentally friendly at once and buy a solar portable charger? The Nekteck 20W Solar Charger folds out and can be hooked to your backpack as you hike to recharge its batteries straight from the sun. It’s extremely durable, weighs 20oz, and when folded down it measures 11.8 x 6.5in.

#6 FOMO

FOMO, or Fear of missing out is an emotion you’ve probably experienced before. And FOMO can quickly turn from fear to reality if you’ve run out of battery! If your cell phone is flat you could miss a call about that important job you just applied for. Or maybe a cute guy/girl just sent you a message on Tinder – how to reply if you have no batteries? Eliminate electronic FOMO and buy a portable power bank!

#7 For your hip pocket

In this post, we’ve listed all kinds of reasons and benefits why you should buy a portable power bank. But a really, truly fantastic reason is that they are so affordable! You can buy a high-quality portable power bank from a reputable brand for as little as $10 US. That’s cheaper than:

  • Getting a haircut
  • Going out to dinner
  • Buying a bottle of wine

#8 For music festivals

There’s nothing much more fun than a multi-day music festival, camping with your friends, and watching your favorite bands play. Keeping your batteries charged means you can find your friends when you inevitably lose each other, keep playing music back at your tent once the bands are finished for the night, and keep posting pictures and videos to make all your friends jealous. Make a portable power bank an essential travel companion for this summer festival season!

#9 For your job

Apart from being super-handy in your personal life, portable power banks may well be incredibly helpful for your working life as well. Here are a few careers that will really benefit from the purchase of a portable power bank:

  • Photographers can keep their camera’s batteries juiced up when they’re out on a shoot.
  • Real estate agents are constantly driving all over their hometowns, showing clients properties, and are always on their phones.
  • A job in sales often involves significant amounts of travel, as well as heavy use of laptops/phones/tablets.
  • People working in trades such as plumbers, electricians, and plumbers need to drive from job site to job site and are often away from sources of power for long stretches of time.
  • Small business owners need their cell phones to keep their businesses running. Being the owner often necessitates significant amounts of travel.
  • Students also need their electronic devices for their studies. Having your laptop go flat whilst taking notes in a university lecture could really set you back. A portable power bank will make that a problem of the past!

#10 For safety

Cell phones have become indispensable in today’s world. A benefit of your cell phone you might not have taken into consideration is for your own personal safety. Your phone is your link to the outside world. Consider you’re walking home alone at night and you’re being followed by an unsavory looking person. This can be a scary situation, and could potentially be very dangerous. All it takes is one call to the police, or to a friend or family member and they can come to help you.

Now consider that scenario again, and imagine your cell phone’s battery is dead! There’s no way for you to contact anyone for help, and that’s a situation I know I would not like to be in. With a portable power bank or phone charger, you can make sure your cell phone’s battery is ALWAYS topped up. Check out this handy article about ways to stay safe when you’re traveling.

Power bank reviews

If you’re interested in comparing different power bank models, head on to our power bank review section. Otherwise, you can check out our curated list of what we believe to be the current 10 best power banks.