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How to pick the right charger: A practical guide
Picking the best charger for your smartphone and other gadgets has always been a bit of a chore, and the growing trend in handsets shipping without a boxed adapter has only made the process more arduous. The many charging standards, cable types, and brand-specific terminology certainly doesn’t help narrow down your needs.
Charging your phone is simple enough — plug in the USB-C cable to any old plug or port, and you’re off. But is the device really fast charging or powering up as optimally as possible? Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to know. Fortunately, we’re here to help. When you’re done with this article, you’ll be fully equipped to pick out the best charger for your new smartphone, laptop, and other gadgets.
Here's what you need to know about picking the right charger for your device.
- Find out how much power you need in watts (W). This is often listed on a phone's specification sheet or manual. Typically, phones vary between 18-80W, with some even exceeding 120W.
- Check the charging protocol supported by your device. If it's proprietary, such as OnePlus' Warp Charge, you'll need to buy a first-party charger. Universal standards, such as USB Power Delivery, open the door to many third-party options.
- Pick out a charger that matches both the power requirement and the charging standard of your device.
- If you're planning to charge multiple devices from a single charger, double-check it to make sure it can share enough power on all its ports for your gadgets and that each port supports your required standards.
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A quick primer on charging your phone
Smartphones often give you a generic indicator like “fast charging” or “rapid charging,” but that’s not always helpful. Google’s Pixel 6, for instance, just displays “Charging rapidly” whether you’re plugged into a 9W or 30W charger. Hardly helpful.
When picking out a travel adapter, charging hub, power bank, or wireless charger for your phone, there are two key things to consider. The first is the amount of power you’ll need. Fortunately, manufacturers often list the maximum charging power their device is capable of on the spec sheet.
USB-C can charge everything from headphones to high-performance laptops.
Broadly speaking, smartphones range from 18-120W, while tablets go up to 45W. The latest laptops may even offer 240W charging over USB-C. Finally, smaller gadgets like headphones tend to make do with basic 10W charging.
The second is the charging standard required to obtain this level of power. This is the trickier part, as devices often support multiple standards that offer different power capabilities — particularly super-fast-charging Chinese smartphones that use proprietary standards to provide very high power levels. Fortunately, these devices still ship with chargers in the box. Still, you’ll want to know the fallback charging protocol if you plan to buy a multi-charging hub or power bank.
Fast charging requires a plug with both the right protocol and amount of power.
Generally, there are three categories that every smartphone charging standard fits into:
- Universal — USB Power Delivery (USB PD) is the most common USB-C charging standard for phones, laptops, and more. USB PD comes in a few flavors but the main thing to note is whether your phone requires the advanced PPS protocol. Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4 and 5 are compatible with this standard, also making them universal. Qi is the equivalent universal option in the wireless charging space.
- Proprietary — OEM-specific charging standards are used to obtain higher speeds than USB PD. Support is often limited to the company’s own products and plugs, so you’ll seldom find support in third-party plugs and hubs. Examples include OnePlus’ Warp Charge, Oppo’s VOOC, Xiaomi’s HyperCharge, and Huawei’s SuperFast Charge.
- Legacy — Some pre-USB-C standards still linger in the marketplace, particularly in lower-powered gadgets and older phones. These include Quick Charge 3, Apple 2.4A, and Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging. These are gradually phasing out of the marketplace but are still occasionally used as a fallback protocol for modern gadgets, including Apple and Samsung smartphones.
The magic formula for correctly fast charging your smartphone or USB-C laptop is to buy a plug that supports the required charging standard while also providing enough power to the device.
How to find your phone’s correct charging standard
With the above in mind, if your phone uses a proprietary charging standard or comes with an adapter, you’ll receive the fastest charging speeds by using the plug provided in the box — or, failing that, a similar plug that offers an equivalent power rating. Reusing plugs from old devices is a great idea where possible and always worth a try first.
Ensuring you have the correct charging standard is more of a headache if your phone doesn’t ship with a charger in the box or if you’re looking for something that will play nicely with all of your gadgets. The best place to start your search is on the manufacturer’s spec sheet. There are no guarantees here though — some list the required charging standard to obtain peak speeds, while others don’t.
See the official spec sheets below as an example of what to watch for.
While these major brands do an okay job, there are some issues even here. For instance, Apple’s product page lists the wireless charging standards but glosses over the fact you need a USB Power Delivery plug for fast wired charging. Meanwhile, Google’s spec sheet lists the required specification but implies you need a 30W charger, when in fact, the phone pulls no more than 23W from any plug.
If you can’t find mention of a charging standard, it’s a reasonable bet that any phone bought in the past couple of years will support USB PD in some form, although we have spotted that even some flagship phones, like the Oppo Find X3 Pro, don’t. Regarding wireless charging, Qi is a pretty safe bet for most modern devices outside of a few exclusively proprietary charging models.
Picking the best charger
Now that you know the right standard and the amount of power you need, you can cross-reference these specifications with the adapter you have in mind. If buying a multi-port adapter, charging hub, or power bank, you’ll want to ensure that enough of the ports meet your power and protocol requirements.
Again, some manufacturers are more forthcoming with this information than others. Fortunately, we test charger ports as part of our charger review process to ensure they work as anticipated.
When considering multi-port adapters, note that each USB port often provides different standards, and will have to share their power rating when plugging in multiple devices, often unevenly. So check the capabilities of each port, where possible. You’ll also want to ensure that the maximum power rating of your charger can handle the full load you’re anticipating. For example, charging two 20W phones from one plug requires at least a 40W charger or perhaps even 60W for a bit of headroom. Often this isn’t possible with power banks, so just aim for as much power as you can.
USB PD and Quick Charge support covers the majority of phones.
You may also find chargers that refer to GaN (gallium nitride) charging technology. It’s an increasingly popular but far from essential material that helps chargers run more efficiently and cooler while allowing them to be more compact. It’s a nice extra to have, especially for higher-powered adapters.
If you’re struggling to find the correct information or just want to cover as many bases as possible, pick a charger that supports both USB Power Delivery PPS and Qualcomm Quick Charge. Those standards will ensure you’re covered for the vast majority of devices, old and new. Opting for a 60W model or greater will cover you for everything from phones to laptops. Don’t discount the importance of reputable brands either. First-party chargers and major third-party brands, such as Anker and Aukey, are the most likely to implement charging standards, safety features, and multi-device power handling correctly.
Can I test my device’s charging power?
If you’ve bought a charger but aren’t convinced you’re getting the fastest speeds possible, testing your phone’s charging power can better diagnose issues than simply relying on your phone’s opaque charging indicator. There are a few different ways to do this, some free and some requiring specific hardware.
The simplest port of call is to use an app that gives you accurate battery charging information. Accubattery and Ampere are popular choices for battery monitoring and list the battery’s current and voltage while charging. Multiply these numbers together to get the power. Inware is an even better choice as it automatically calculates the amount of power.
However, apps can’t tell you the maximum power your device can handle or list the current charging protocol. These methods also rely on the power level reported by software at the battery, which may not be 100% accurate or exactly match the power reaching the device.
For the most accurate measurements, you’ll want an in-line USB-C power meter to read the real current and voltage. There are loads of these to pick from online — just make sure you buy one that can handle the power levels you’re planning to test. We’ve had some good experiences with this 2-in-1 USB-C LCD Digital Multimeter for checking over the basics.
Regardless of which method you use, remember — charging uses the most power when the battery is closer to empty, typically below 40%. You’ll see much lower power readings when charging your phone with a battery capacity above 75%. If you do detect low power levels, try a different cable or USB port, where possible, before jumping to buy a new charger.
Need some suggestions? Best wireless chargers for your phone
Now that you’ve read our guide on choosing the best charger for your phone or other devices, you should be able to buy with confidence and not worry about whether your gadgets are charging correctly.
We’ve already done a lot of the legwork for you regarding fast charging. For example, we’ve prepared some guides to point you in the right direction for smartphones that don’t ship with a charger in the box. Likewise, our best list and reviews include all the relevant information you need to cross-reference with your handset.
- Best wall chargers for the Samsung Galaxy S22
- Best wall chargers for the Google Pixel 6
- Best wall chargers for the Apple iPhone 13
- The best wired and wireless Samsung Galaxy charging options
- The best phone chargers you can buy right now
- Best wireless chargers for your phone
- Fastest charging cables: Which one is best for you?
If you’d like to learn more about battery charging, standards, and the like, we have plenty more resources to read at the links below.
Q: Does it matter which charger you use to charge your phone?
A: No, all USB chargers will provide at least basic levels of power to any phone, although it may be very slow to charge. However, the charger you use and its specifications do matter if you want fast charging speeds, as outlined in this article.
Q: Does the wattage of a charger matter?
A: Yes. A charger’s wattage determines the maximum amount of power it can provide. This is even more important if you’re planning on charging multiple gadgets at once, as you’ll need enough power for all of them.
Q: Can I damage my phone with a more powerful charger?
A: No. Your smartphone will negotiate and limit the power it draws from the charger based on the supported charging protocols.
Q: Can I charge my phone with a weaker charger?
A: Yes, it will just take longer.
Q: Is fast charging bad for my phone’s battery?
A: It depends. Phones are supplied with batteries designed for fast charging, so fast charging certainly isn’t dangerous. However, you may find that batteries degrade slightly quicker when using fast charging in the long term.