#FCL Resource Spotlight: The Power Bank

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by any of the companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Most people who have been alive in the last 11 years know how dependent on smartphones the vast majority of us have become today.

Many of our lifelines to the world are tied up in them, particularly text messaging and social media.

Our financial information and means of purchasing is often tied into them these days. Our means of getting around smoothly and navigating the vast majority of transportation options (other than our own cars of course) are tied into them as well — particularly car-sharing services such as UBER and Lyft that are called up and tracked using our phones. Your phone is more often than not the device you use to record the recaps and demonstrations at the end of congress workshops on video so that you can practice and retain the material.

All of this and more is tied up in a battery-powered phone that has to be kept charged, and in a lot of ways, you’re stranded if your phone’s battery dies and you don’t have immediate access to a power source to recharge it. This is particularly amplified if you’re away from home, away from your car, or otherwise out and about for most of the day, and access to wall outlets or other external power sources is not guaranteed. Enter the power bank.

The power bank is essentially a portable external lithium ion battery with a micro USB input that you plug into any computer, USB outlet, or USB wall charger that charges the battery, and the battery has a USB output that you plug any standard USB phone cable into. With your phone plugged into the power bank as it would be plugged into a standard USB charger, computer, or wall outlet, the power bank charges your phone until the battery runs out, after which it must be charged again. The vast majority of power banks include 4 light-up LED “dots” that visually show how much battery power the bank has left, with 4 dots indicating a fully charged power bank and one dot indicating an almost fully depleted power bank. Power banks are portable and can charge your phone on the go when you do not have access to a wall outlet or other power source, effectively giving you a second battery for your phone.

Some people like to charge their phones during workshops using one of the ballroom’s wall outlets. I am not a fan of this approach; while thefts from dance workshops are extremely rare, they could still happen, and in that case I would rather lose a relatively inexpensive power bank than my phone, which costs considerably more and has much of my life tied up in it. I would rather charge the power bank during the workshop and then use the power bank to charge my phone. This strategy is particularly handy if you’re staying offsite or are at a non-hotel event and do not have ready access to wall outlets in your room or power outlets in your car.

Some power banks come pre-charged but many do not – do not count on a newly-bought power bank to be pre-charged in an emergency. Buy and charge your power bank in advance.

The amount of charge a power bank has is measured in “mAh”, which stands for milliampere hours, an International System of Units measurement of the electrical capacity of small batteries. Yes, it is capitalized that way, that isn’t a typo. Basically all you need to know about mAh is that the higher the mAh, the more hours of use and full charges to your phone or other device you will get out of your power bank.

WARNING: DO NOT use Amazon’s AmazonBasic power bank models. Amazon has voluntarily recalled several of their power bank models because of overheating, which caused chemical burns. You have been warned. Stay away from Amazon’s models. This one paragraph probably cost me hundreds of potential affiliate marketing dollars but I care about your safety that much. Amazon does a lot of things well but power banks are not one of them from the looks of it.

TRAVEL WARNING: For those of you flying with power banks, the TSA prohibits all lithium ion batteries, including power banks, in checked luggage. All power banks must be carried on your person or in carry-on luggage.

More information about these policies here:

https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/power-banks

https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/more_info/?hazmat=7

SOME SAFETY AND CARE TIPS FOR ALL POWER BANKS:

– Carry your power banks in a protective case. This will certainly add bulk, but will protect your power bank and greatly extend its life, especially if you carry it around in your pocket or bag from day to day. Protective cases for the Anker Powercore and other batteries with a similar profile that also include pockets for the cables are available online for about $10.

– Always use the original charging cable that came with your power bank to charge the power bank itself

– Use original or certified cables and wall outlets to connect your phone to the power bank always… going el cheapo on wall outlets and cables may cost you in the long run by destroying or shortening the life of your power bank, this is not an area to be frugal!

My phone at the time of this writing (September 2018) is an Apple iPhone 7 so charge provided to an iPhone 7 is the benchmark by which I’m measuring all of these power banks. Your mileage may vary.

The model of power bank with the best reviews, as well as the one I personally use as my primary power bank and recommend using, is the Anker PowerCore 10000, available online for about $29.99. As the name suggests, it is a 10000 mAh battery that is capable of providing about 3 full charges to an iPhone 7 with some battery power to spare. It is very light and low profile, but has a very durable and solid construction and is good for transporting regularly.

The Powercore 10000 uses Anker’s PowerIQ and VoltageBoost technologies to charge devices as fast as possible up to 2.4 amps and supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. I was able to charge an iPhone 7 from 10% to 100% in about 2 hours while using the phone normally. The battery itself charges fully in about 6 hours when hooked up to a 2.4 amp charger. The Powercore 10000 also boasts a wide array of safety features such as temperature control, surge protection, and short circuit protection.

Another highly rated alternative that I admittedly have no personal experience using is the Mophie Powerstation Plus XL, a 10,000mAh battery designed mostly for the iPhone and iPad and available online for about $70-100 . It’s standout features are a built-in Lightning cable for charging your iPhone or iPad, a Lightning input connector so you can use your iPhone’s regular charger to charge the power bank, and the ability to use any Qi-compatible wireless charger to charge the power bank. It has a slightly larger physical profile than Anker’s offerings, and I haven’t been able to find anything about safety features online other than triple-testing and stringent quality control.

The high-capacity Cadillac of power banks is the RAVPower 22000mAh, available for about $39.99 online. This battery comes with 3 USB ports and can charge two iPads and an iPhone simultaneously. It is reported to be able to provide an iPhone 7 with 8 full charges and has a multitude of safety features including a fire-resistant shell, temperature control, and short circuit protection. Its only disadvantage is that it is very heavy at about 14 ounces, but that is to be expected of a high capacity battery.

For those wanting maximum portability and the smallest profile, Anker also offers a “lipstick-sized” power bank called the Powercore+Mini, available online for about $12.99. It has a capacity of 3,350 mAh, can be fully charged in about 3-4 hours, and can provide one full charge to an iPhone 7 and have some capacity left over afterwards. The PowerCore+Mini also includes all the quick charging and safety features of its larger relatives.

Now that I’ve reviewed a few of the highest quality power bank options, here are a couple budget options for all you maximally frugal power bank buyers:

Walgreens sells its own Infinitive 10000mAh power banks that provide about 2-3 full charges to an iPhone 7 for around $15. Target also sells its own heyday(tm) 4000mAh power banks that provide anywhere from 1-2 full charges to an iPhone 7 for around $10.

The big caveat with Walgreens’ power bank is that it’s a “slim model” which has a slimmer profile than most power banks, but makes it more physically fragile and less durably constructed as a result. After about 3 months of regular use including daily transport in my bag (albeit not in a protective case, which I have learned my lesson on) the parts on my Infinitive 10000mAh came loose in the housing, and while it still works, it doesn’t charge as reliably as it did when I got it. Still, it would make a decent inexpensive backup backup option as long as you treat it with kid gloves, carry it in a protective case, and don’t make it your regular workhorse.

Target’s power bank works reliably, although both the battery and phone charging are fairly slow, but it is much more durable than the Walgreens models and makes a decent regular workhorse and backup option for the price.

I haven’t found anything on the Walgreens and Target models’ safety features and we can assume that they aren’t as extensive as those found in the higher-end models.

In my opinion, I’d rather spend the extra $10-30 on an Anker or similar higher-quality model, ESPECIALLY for the better construction and safety features that aren’t necessarily present in budget power banks, but I recognize some people are on budgets and it’s either the $10 power bank or nothing. Still, I would suggest those on a budget go with the Powercore+Mini and keep it charged as regularly as possible.

In our connected, phone-reliant world, power banks are an essential accessory for any frugal traveler on the go. If you have anything to add, please do not hesitate to hit the comments and I hope this helped!

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