Power banks are a must-have. Screens keep getting bigger and processors more powerful, but if there’s one thing that doesn’t seem to improve with today’s mobile devices, it’s the battery’s ability to last the whole day. And while we’ve seen some superb long-life smartphones recently, you can still find you’re running out of charge before you can get near a socket, especially if you’re playing games or streaming video.
With a power bank, though, you can always get a recharge – even when you’re far from home. In fact, with bigger power banks, you can get away for a weekend or go camping and still keep your phone juiced up. And it’s not only smartphones that can benefit. Tablets, digital cameras and Bluetooth speakers can often do with a top-up, and a decent power bank is a must-have accessory if you love playing on a Nintendo Switch.
With so many brands and models to choose from, which one should you buy? We’re here to help. We’ll run you through the different specs and what to look for, then point you towards the best power banks on the market.
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Best power bank 2021: At a glance
How to choose the best power bank or charger for you
What kind of power bank should I buy?
Basically, you’re trying to balance four factors: size, speed, capacity and price. The rules are simple enough: the less you spend, the lower the capacity and the slower the power bank will charge.
Cheap power banks
The cheapest and smallest power banks will have a capacity of between 2,500mAh and 10,000mAh. These days we’d avoid anything below 5,000mAh, as it won’t have enough charge to refuel most recent smartphones. At the upper end of this range, though, you’ll have sufficient capacity to recharge your phone or give a tablet a decent boost – and can find one the size of a Mars Bar for around £12 to £20.
Mid-range power banks
Spend a little more and you’re looking at power banks with a 10,000 to 20,000mAh capacity. You’ll get an increase in size and weight to match; 20,000mAh batteries are roughly the size of a big-screen smartphone, but they’re also a good 50% heavier. Expect USB-C connectivity, plus support for Qualcomm Quick Charge or Qi wireless charging for around the £30 mark.
Expensive power banks
Splash out more than £30 and you can bag a bigger power bank that charges faster, with capacities starting out at 20,000mAh and going all the way up to 26,800mAh or more. USB-C with Quick Charge functionality is a given, although you’ll be looking at a bigger, heavier half-brick of a charger. The advantage is that you’ll be able to top up multiple devices, often simultaneously, and you’ll have enough charge to keep them going for a whole weekend or even longer.
What else should I look out for?
All power banks feature a micro-USB or USB-C port for charging the power bank, as well as a USB-A port for charging your mobile devices. Don’t worry if you don’t have a micro-USB or USB-C cable because one’s usually provided in the box. If there’s a USB-C port, you can often charge using that or the USB-A port, although you might need to have your own USB-C-to-USB-C cable. Some devices also have multiple output ports, meaning you can charge two (or more) devices simultaneously.
After that, things get tricky. The higher the output of the USB ports, the more quickly the connected devices will charge, but only if the devices support the right USB power standards. Nearly all power banks and smartphones now support the USB BC 1.2 standard, which can deliver up to 7.5W over USB-A or 15W over USB-C. A growing number, meanwhile, support the USB Power Delivery (PD) 2 and 3 standards, which increase the maximum voltage and current to deliver up to 100W of power – enough to charge a lightweight laptop at a decent speed.
Beyond that, there are Qualcomm’s Quick Charge standards. The most common is Quick Charge 4, which pushes out a maximum 21V and 4.6A for 100W of output. It’s also compatible with USB PD.
Still, Quick Charge 4 hasn’t had as much love from manufacturers, who seem to have standardised on USB PD. The same applies with the new Quick Charge 5, even though the latter can charge compatible phones to 50% within five minutes when using the right charger. It’s not hard to see why: USB PD is supported by Apple and Google’s recent devices and still delivers pretty fast charging on Quick Charge 4 and Quick Charge 5 phones – and it’s an open standard without any licensing costs.
Is it worth paying extra for a fast-charging power bank?
Yes. There’s very little difference in terms of price these days, and even if your existing phone doesn’t support Quick Charge 4 or USB PD, there’s a good chance that your next one will. In fact, there’s an argument that the smartest thing to do is standardise around USB PD and ensure that your power banks, chargers, smartphones and tablets can all run under the same charging ecosystem, giving you fast charging whenever you need it.
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The best power banks to buy
1. Anker PowerCore 20000 Essential: The best value high-capacity charger
Price: £28 | Buy now from Amazon
The PowerCore 2000 Essential packs a 20,000mAh capacity for a price usually associated with 10,000mAh power banks, and that’s far from the only thing it has going for it.
It has dual USB-A ports for charging, as well as USB Type-C and micro-USB inputs, and while there’s no support for USB-PD, Anker’s PowerIQ and VoltageBoost technologies give you up to 15W of power through each USB-A port simultaneously. That makes it a good pick if you need to charge two phones or a phone and a Nintendo Switch at the same time. It also has a trickle-charging mode for Bluetooth headphones and other low-power accessories.
It’s a big and heavy power bank, dwarfing even the biggest phablets and weighing 280g. It took the best part of 11 hours to recharge the battery. It’s a little faster, though, when it comes to charging your devices, with our test phone reaching 26% in 30 minutes and 54% in an hour. It’s not the fastest or most exciting charger, but if you want a high capacity for an affordable price, this is the power bank to buy.
Key specs – Capacity: 20,000mAh; Input: USB-C, micro-USB; Outputs: 2 x USB; Dimensions: 74 x 158 x 19mm; Weight: 280g
£29.99 Buy now
2. PowerAdd EnergyCell 5000: The best lightweight power bank
Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon