Continuing my ‘best of’ travel tech gear series, today we look at charging cables, adapters, and power strips. As you’ll see, there’s a crazy number of different types of charging solutions that address all of the key challenges tech travelers face: size, length, weight, durability, and charge speed.
Wall Chargers, Adapters and Power Strips
If you’re traveling overseas, its likely you’ll need an adapter and might also want to pack a power strip. Elsewhere on this website I’ve shared the love of my Satechi Smart Travel Adapter and my power strip (for Australian sockets). The Satechi Smart travel adapter comes in two versions. The first is the full version that includes a router with four networking modes (router, repeater, access, client). The second, is a light version with just the travel adapter. It sells for about half the price of the full version.
There are loads of different types of travel adapters you can buy. Try to get something with inbuilt USB ports so you can charge several devices at once. I like the Satechi range of plug adapters because they’re high quality, and combine multiple products into one.
If you’re not so concerned about USB ports and are only looking for a basic travel adapter, Flight 001 sell the world’s first colour-coded 4-in-1 travel adapter. How it works is that you use an included colour-coded world map to match the same coloured plug to the colour on the map of the country you’re traveling to. Simple.
For travel strips, the two most popular models for travelers that have US plugs are the Belkin SurgePlus 3-Outlet Mini Travel Swivel Charger Surge Protector and the Monster Outlets To Go. Conveniently, the Belkin power strip has two inbuilt USB ports. Note though, that the Belkin charger is actually bigger (and heavier) than it looks in the pictures. Belkin’s SurgePlus is also available to purchase in other geographies, including Australia.
If you’re traveling with a Mac, there’s another gadget you’ll want to know about, the Twelve South PlugBug Global Power Adapter. Its an adapter for pretty much every country in the world, but unlike your Apple wall adapter, it has a USB port built in, so you can charge your Mac and your iPhone or iPad at the same time.
For situations where wall sockets are at a premium, there’s the Bracketron Twist and Charge that enables you to charge two devices from a single port. You insert your plug into the AC wall socket through the Bracketron, and charge your USB device at the same time through the USB port on the Bracketron. It is for US style plugs only.
Another product worth pointing travelers to is the NomadPlus. The NomadPlus wraps a power bank around your original Apple wall charger, giving you both a wall charger and a portable external battery. Whilst charging your iPhone using the wall charger, the NomadPlus is also charging an internal 1800mAh battery. When you’re out for the day, the NomadPlus gives you a lightweight battery that can almost fully recharge most iPhones. (With only 1Amp output, it is not designed for iPads, though.)
Last, but not least, there’s the Zolt Laptop Charger Plus, billed as the world’s smallest, lightest, smartest laptop charger… and more. At 93mm x 34mm and only 100g, the Zolt is designed to be four times smaller, and three times lighter than your standard laptop charger. It can simultaneously charge your computer, phone, and tablet. And shipping with eight laptop tips, the manufacturer claims the Zolt will work with over 90% of the world’s laptops.
With the capacity to replace several chargers from your kit (and also reduce your baggage weight), clearly, this is a charger that is perfect for travelers. At $99 its not cheap though. And if you have a MacBook, you’ll also need to buy an additional MagSafe adapter for $20 extra. (In some countries (i.e. Australia), this price is roughly comparable to a replacement MacBook charger – in others, its more than double the price.) You can read more about the Zolt Laptop Charger Plus at their website and buy it here or read more reviews at Amazon.com.
Next, let’s look at a problem travelers seem to face all the time: getting a charge in the shortest amount of time possible (without blowing anything up!)
Chargers for Travellers Needing a Quick Charge
When you need a quick charge, there’s Anker’s PowerIQ series of wall chargers that are designed for the job. Anker’s chargers have an inbuilt technology that is designed to deliver the fastest possible charge to your specific model of smartphone or tablet (up to 2Amp). You can buy them in two-port, or four-port models.
If you have an Android device, there is a rapid charging technology called Qualcomm™ Quick Charge™ that may interest you. Qualcomm claim you can charge a device up to 75% faster with chargers that use their technology. You can read more about it at the developer website. This Android Authority article also provides a thorough review. Anker have some wall chargers and external batteries that use Quick Charge™ technology, as do several other manufacturers. Check to see if your Android device supports this standard. That said, Google announced that they’re going to support the USB Type-C standard in some upcoming Android devices. This technology will provide a faster charge, and may make Quick Charge™ technology unnecessary.
So, what about charging an iPhone or iPad quickly?
Apple devices don’t support Quick Charge™. I discuss everything iPhone and iPad charging in depth in iPhone Travel Life. The very short version is that iPhone 6 and above models will charge slightly faster with one of the higher wattage adapters from Apple. (And no, it won’t damage your iPhone. Apple sell a higher-wattage 12W charger as a replacement for the standard 5W charger that ships with an iPhone. Also, the iPhone itself regulates the charge it draws, so you can’t force more power into the iPhone… as much as you might want to.)
Also, as is touched on below, you need to know that the quality of the cable you use will affect the speed of your charge. So, look to use a premium cable, or, if you’re on a budget, one of the AmazonBasics range (discussed below).
And, if you’re traveling with one charger for both an Android and an iPhone – and you find that one device is charging slowly – the PortaPow Fast Charge USB Adapter may be the solution to this problem. Another problem, although less common these days, is where you’re traveling with a computer that only has a USB 2.0 port. If you want to get a much faster charge than your computer would otherwise provide, the Ucharger is what you’re looking for.
Charge and Sync Cables
Lets start with a product designed to reduce the number of cables in your bags, the innovative 2-in-1 cable. With this style of cable, you get a Lightning cable and a micro to USB cable in the one product. Innergie’s MagiCable is an example of this type of cable. It will charge either an Android or an Apple device. Again, there are loads of cheap cables like this made in China that just won’t sync your device properly or deliver a quick charge. So you will want to go for a quality brand when buying this style of cable.
Alternatively, you can purchase an original micro USB to Lightning adapter from Apple, or the AmazonBasics model for what’s typically a better price. You then attach that to the end of your standard micro-USB cable to charge an Apple smartphone or tablet.
For travelers looking for a set of short cables that don’t take up much space in their luggage, there are several solutions. First, are those that attach to a keyring. Nomad make a model for either Android or iPhone.
In recent years, Nomad have pioneered many innovative styles of charging cables. These range from the original Chargecard, which was a charging cable built into a credit card sized adapter, to their most recent innovation, the Nomad Wallet. That product is a wallet with an inbuilt battery and Lightning cable, designed to fully recharge your iPhone once.
Here are a few more different styles of cables that are suited for travelers.
Mophie’s three piece set of mini cables will take up hardly any room in your luggage, and charge Android or Apple devices. I travel with a set of these cables.
Sometimes though, you’ll want something longer, for example, because you want to charge from a wall socket. For something stronger than your original charge cable, Anker make a 3-foot braided charge and sync cable for Android or Apple devices. They also make longer cables (10-feet) which might be useful if you want to charge your tablet and use it at the same time. Anker also make an extremely popular range of cables known as Anker PowerLine. They’re durable (1,000+ bend lifespan), high-rated, super-fast charging and sell at rock bottom prices. You can get a single PowerLine cable for Android for about $5 or a 5-pack for around $10. An Anker PowerLine Apple MFi certified Lightning cable will also only set you back about $10. Conveniently, Anker’s PowerLine series of cables come in a large variety of lengths and multi-cable packs, so its best to check the entire range to get the best deal for your circumstances.
Next, there’s the new kid on the block, the USB Type-C cable. You’ll find the USB Type-C connection on the latest MacBook, although, in time, many devices will use them. In the quest to find the best USB Type-C cable, a software engineer (and top Amazon reviewer) tested and reviewed a ridiculous number of them. You can find his list here.
Finally, there’s the basics. AmazonBasics. Many smartphone users consider the AmazonBasics product line to be the best way to get a quality, durable, charge and sync cable at a fraction of the cost of an original cable. You’ll find that most of the AmazonBasics range have consistently high consumer ratings across their product range, which is rare for tech products. AmazonBasics products also typically ship with a 1 year warranty. So if you’re on a budget, and want a quality cable, AmazonBasics are definitely worth checking out.
It is worthwhile briefly looking at cable protection and cable care. Many cables (original Apple cables, in particular) tend to fray at either end. There’s a device called the Fray Fix, which is a small plastic attachment you add to each end of your charge cable to protect it from fraying. There are DIY solutions to the fray problem that you can find online. Many, however, could be considered unsafe. Whatever solution you choose, its worthwhile learning how to wrap a charge cable, to reduce the chances you’ll damage it. (If you have a MacBook, I wrote an article about how to safely wrap a MagSafe cable.)
Who would have thought there were so many variations on the humble charging cable and wall adapter? You may now be thinking that now there’s even more cables and chargers for you to pack in your luggage! But remember, you can mix-and-match cables. For example, you can pack a longer micro-to-USB cable along with an Apple Lightning adapter. Or, as I do, you can just pack the cables that best suit the purpose of your trip. Sometimes its only a short cable, other times it is a combination of cables. Continual product innovation in this space means that you can find excellent products to meet all different types of needs or circumstances.
In closing, you probably noticed that many of the products on this page are from the same manufacturers. That’s very deliberate. Charge and sync cables are one of the tech products that seem to have a very high number of product failures and unsatisfied consumers. I’ve tried to stick with manufacturers that produce quality products, and also stand behind them with a fair warranty. You’ll find many sellers of tech products on Amazon.com that offer a warranty, however, some consumers report great difficulty in getting the company to honor it.
There are other problems with cheap cables and adapters. First, they can fail more easily than those which shipped with your device. Second, you may find they don’t sync content from your device properly. Next, with respect to cables, a poor quality cable or adapter can sometimes significantly increase the time it takes to recharge your device. Finally, with cables designed for Apple devices, those that don’t have the official MFi (Made For iPod/iPhone/iPad) certification may stop working after Apple makes an upgrade to iOS. In short, it pays to go with a reputable manufacturer.
All of the items on this page (and more) can be found in this website’s companion store (www.traveltechstore.com). You might also be interested in the article I wrote on how I reduce the risk of buying dud tech products.
Image Credit (CC): USB - Type C cable Maurizio Pesce