What the best portable chargers have

  • Simple operation. In this frenetic world, the less hassle the better. A plug-and-forget portable charger that monitors itself is best, and one that automatically stops charging when a device reaches full capacity is even better.
  • Plenty of power. The more power portable chargers store, the more devices they can charge or the longer they can stretch the life of a single device.
  • Multiple charging ports. Many portable chargers can power up only a single device at a time, so if you need to charge multiple devices at once, the more USB ports the better.
  • Indicator lights. Charging times and capacities shouldn't be a mystery; the better chargers have LED lights indicating the status of the charge and of the portable charger's battery.
  • Quick charging times. The biggest complaint with solar portable chargers is that they are painfully slow to recharge. For now, you're better off with traditional portable chargers, where charging speeds are much faster.
  • Compatibility. With the right connectivity, a good external battery charger is compatible with thousands of devices. Chargers that have the ability to connect to USB mini and USB micro devices open more possibilities. Apple users need to look for lightning-connector compatibility.
  • User-friendly design and durability. These devices will often see heavy use, and it's important to know about design flaws or incompatibilities in advance. Especially important for users on the go is a portable charger's durability.
  • Accessories. Portable chargers are relatively inexpensive. Some require additional components like adapter tips and charging sleeves that may have to be purchased separately and can become costly, depending on the number of gadgets you need to charge. While it's becoming less common, some manufacturers help offset these costs by offering bundled packages, customized selection of adapters and designs, and vouchers to receive free adapters.

Know before you go

How much money do you want to spend? All of the portable chargers reviewed here cost $100 or less. Most range between $20 and $80, but some chargers might need additional accessories like connectors, and these add to the cost.

How many devices will you charge at once? Plenty of options are available for charging a single device. It helps to know how many devices you intend to charge and whether you will charge them all at once.

Are all your devices compatible with the charger? If not, are adapters available to connect your device to the charger? Again, additional adapters drive up the cost.

How much power will you need? Many portable chargers store enough power to charge a typical phone or small USB device. Even when they don't, they can boost battery life enough to allow the device to operate a little longer. Power-guzzlers like iPads demand too much juice for some lower-capacity portable chargers; look for those with 10,000 mAh and up for tablet charging.

Where will you do most of your charging? If you plan to travel and need to keep your devices charged, a portable charger is a great tool. It's also important to take note of the device's design, durability and mAh -- particularly if you plan on going off the grid for a while.

What's to come

Green energy solutions can be a good thing, and portable chargers are no exception. Up-and-coming within this category are solar chargers. Although plenty of good solar chargers are on the market, they have a ways to go before they can compete with grid-powered devices. Their primary drawbacks are long charging times and cloudy days. Other charging devices include those powered by propane, boiling water and people, as they move or ride about. High-tech inductive charging, in which you can charge a device simply by laying it down on a pad, is a cool concept but hasn't gained a lot of traction with consumers.

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