Australians are beset with an affliction being felt right across the nation. Nomophobia (no-mobilephone-phobia) is the fear of being without your mobile phone, such as when your battery dies.
Rechargeable devices can add more juice to your smartphone's battery when you're out and about, finding yourself with just 20% battery left by early afternoon.
These battery packs can power pretty much anything, from your smartphone and tablet to laptops and portable games consoles. However, they're primarily aimed at portable media and communication devices.
Most can charge a smartphone multiple times and a few have more than one output, which gives you the option to charge a number of devices simultaneously. For example you could charge two smartphones, a smartphone and a tablet, or a tablet, smartphone and laptop).
You may be surprised to learn that they can usually charge tablets and other devices such portable speakers wireless headphones and compact cameras. Many USB-C enabled power banks can charge the Nintendo Switch and other handheld gaming devices.
Some models even pack enough grunt to power laptops, but we'd recommend this only if you're caught without access to a power point or forget your laptop charger. It's handy in an emergency, but not a substitute for your standard external power supply.
Size, shape, weight and capacity are the main things to consider when shopping for a power bank. A nice clear indication of available power is also useful, with some models showing a digital display rather than bars (e.g. "80% remaining").
A basic power bank with two USB ports for charging multiple devices at once.
Capacity, shown as milliamp hour (mAh), is a rough indication of the charging capabilities – the higher the number, the more power it can deliver to your device before the power bank also runs out of juice. Try to find a power bank that can completely recharge your smartphone at least twice before requiring a recharge, as this should keep you covered for one to two days at a time.
Power banks can range from single charge (3000mAh) to well over (20,000mAh), and most of the latest smartphones have a battery with around 3000mAh. A 10,000mAh power bank should be able to charge the smartphone up to three times and a 20,000mAh power bank more than six times.
You can calculate the approximate number of charges by dividing the power bank's measured capacity against your phone's stated capacity. The outcome is the total number of charges.
Size and weight
Size and weight generally increase with mAh capacity. While a 20,000mAh model may seem like a handy option, it may be too big for your pocket or bag.
If you're looking to keep your phone charged at a one-day music festival, picnic or during a night out, look into a pocket-sized model with at least 6000–10,000mAh. Other situations, such as hikes that take you away from power for a number of days, may demand larger models, but these are usually too big for most pockets.
Shape and style
This isn't too much of an issue if you plan to carry the power bank around in a bag. However, weird shapes and bulky designs may be uncomfortable for your pocket. Try to find one that has a similar size and shape to a smartphone.
Certain shapes and styles can affect portability and pocketability.
Most power banks will have at least one of these charging inputs:
USB-A: The rectangular-shaped port built into basically every laptop, hard drive, TV etc. of the last 15 years.
Micro/mini-USB: The miniature USB variant typically used in smartphones and other portable devices.
USB-C: The new, compact version of USB-A that's also flippable, so you don't need to worry about inserting it the right way up. It's gaining a foothold among smartphone and laptop manufacturers due to its size and versatility.
Wireless: A small number of models let you charge wirelessly by placing your smartphone on the power bank. Your phone also needs to support wireless charging for this to work.
USB firmware running beneath the surface tells the inputs what to do, how much data, power and speed can run through the cable, for example. This includes 'fast charging', which is a popular feature with power banks.
In order to successfully fast-charge a device, you'll need three things; 1) a compatible power bank, 2) a compatible cable and 3) a device that will accept a fast charge.
The first two points are a safe bet if fast charge is advertised with the power bank and the cable that comes with it, so it really comes down to whether your device has the necessary circuitry. If not, you could wind up paying more for a feature you can't use.
Check your device's specs on the manufacturer's website to confirm whether it has fast charge. If this information isn't available, and if you're using a low-end device with entry-level components, or an older model, it's safe to assume that it doesn't have fast charge.
Most models can charge a standard 3000mAh device such as a smartphone in around 90 minutes; any longer is a red flag. The power bank's recharge time isn't as much of an issue, as you can leave it plugged in overnight, but faster is generally better.
A few things need to match up in order for a power bank to charge your device. The power bank's output needs to meet the requirements of the device you want to charge. Smartphones can charge off a small current, tablets require more, while laptops and handheld consoles require more again.
If the output matches or exceeds the device's demands, it will charge while in use. If the output meets, or just falls short, of the device's requirements, it will slowly increase battery life, but won't charge during use. In this instance, the power bank is "powering" the device, not charging. However, it will charge if the device is turned off.
USB-C is a standard connection that has made its way into a number of devices over the past year or so. Visually, it's a compact version of USB-A with rounded corners. It adds two interesting features in the context of power banks (in addition to its flippable fitting), USB-C can send a charge in both directions and it supports fast charge.
USB-C cable and input.
Like a USB-A fast-charge port, USB-C only works if the aforementioned circumstances line up. However, you also need to plug it into a USB-C enabled device. If you don't own any, don't waste your money on a USB-C power bank.
Your power bank's ability to hold a charge will degrade over time, but they're easy to recycle when it's time to buy a new one. Mobile Muster is a free phone recycling service in Australia that also accepts smartphone accessories, including power banks.
Drop-off points include Optus, Telstra and Vodafone stores, as well as Officeworks, Salvation Army outlets and many local council offices. You can find your nearest drop-off site by entering your postcode at the Mobile Muster recycling page.
Alternatively, you can mail in your old power bank. Prepaid mailing satchels are available for free at Australia Post offices, JB Hi-Fi stores or from Mobile Muster directly. Just ask the staff as they should have them on hand. You might even have some satchels kicking around if you've purchased a new phone in the last few years as they're included in the box.
Australia Post provides free return labels which you can print here. This is a good option if you need to recycle a few items at once, but each package has a 15kg limit.
Devices in our power bank reviews range in price from $25 to almost $200. Although you can buy power banks for under $30, these cheaper models are generally under 3000mAh. You'll get one charge out of these at a time, if you're lucky.