If the past week of disastrous coastal weather has proven anything, it’s that our smart phones and other mobile communication devices are not just useful: they can be life-savers.
But the Achilles’ Heel of most phones is their limited battery life. Especially during emergencies when wireless networks are struggling and electricity it knocked out, a drained phone battery can be a danger. So let’s give it up for portable chargers, from tiny, keychain-sized devices such as the $5, two-hour PulsePak to more robust ones such as the Goal Zero Torch 250, which can charge itself via solar panels, acts as a flashlight and can even recharge with a hand crank for under $80.
If you’re stocking up on these for daily use or interested in donating for relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey, the best advice I can give on portable charger batteries is this: look for durability, portability and enough charging time.
As far as durability, look for devices that aren’t made of cheap plastic and that are water- and shock-resistant if they’re going to be put through rough conditions. For portability, it’s natural to want to opt for the biggest charger that holds the most battery life (and that can charge multiple devices at a time), but if you plan to carry it around for any length of time, look for a balance between power and light weight. And as far as that charging power, keep an eye on the battery capacity, measured in milliampere hours (mAh). The higher the mAh, the longer the battery will last without having to be re-charged. A typical smart phone might have an internal battery with a mAh below 2,000. So any charger with a capacity above 4,000 mAh should be able to charge your phone at least twice to full battery life. Some pricier external batteries go over 10,000 mAh; that may be overkill for most poeple.
Almost as important as choosing a good charger is making sure you have the right cable for your device. Don’t assume an Apple Lightning cable or Micro USB cable will come with a new charger; try to keep around at least one extra charging cable and consider getting one with a braided cable or other advanced design; I’ve gone through so many standard Lightning cables I swore never to buy one from Apple again (they fray easily). Consider cables from companies such as Anker, which makes great, inexpensive wires to charge phones and tablets.
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