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Features | 20 Mar 2020

Everything you need to know about charging your gadgets

Why you shouldn't charge your phone to full every night and other useful tips to help get the most out of your cables and chargers.

You may think charging your gadgets is simple – just plug them in at night and unplug in the morning. But actually there’s more to it than that. Our guide will help you charge your gadgets more efficiently and save you time and money.

The first thing to know is that there’s no such thing as an ‘Android charger’ or ‘iPhone charger’, despite these terms becoming widespread.

There are three dominant types of charging port:

  • USB-C
  • Lightning
  • microUSB.

This is what they look like, examples of the devices they’re found on and what the device-side connector looks like on the corresponding charging cable.

USB-C: not just for Android

The connectors of USB-C cables have a symmetrical design so they can be inserted either way up - there is no 'wrong' way. Lightning cables also have this design trait.
The connectors of USB-C cables have a symmetrical design so they can be inserted either way up - there is no 'wrong' way. Lightning cables also have this design trait.
USB-C ports are commonly called ‘Android chargers’ but this is incorrect. They’re found not just on most Android devices released in the past two to three years, but also all iPad Pros made since 2018, Nintendo Switch consoles, many new laptops, the latest wireless headphones and power banks.
USB-C ports are commonly called ‘Android chargers’ but this is incorrect. They’re found not just on most Android devices released in the past two to three years, but also all iPad Pros made since 2018, Nintendo Switch consoles, many new laptops, the latest wireless headphones and power banks.

Lightning: iPhones, iPads, AirPods and more

Lightning ports are found on all iPhones since the release of the iPhone 5 in 2012. They're also found on the charging cases for AirPods, some wireless keyboards and mice for Macs, and some Beats headphones and earphones.
Lightning ports are found on all iPhones since the release of the iPhone 5 in 2012. They're also found on the charging cases for AirPods, some wireless keyboards and mice for Macs, and some Beats headphones and earphones.
Lightning cables are easily identifiable from the miniature metal plates visible on both sides of the connector.
Lightning cables are easily identifiable from the miniature metal plates visible on both sides of the connector.

microUSB: an old friend

microUSB is slowly being phased out in favour of USB-C. microUSB ports are found on older Android phones and tablets, as well as numerous other devices such as Amazon Kindle ebook readers, power banks, wireless headphones and older, now uncommon types of smartphone, such as Windows Mobile and Blackberry devices.
microUSB is slowly being phased out in favour of USB-C. microUSB ports are found on older Android phones and tablets, as well as numerous other devices such as Amazon Kindle ebook readers, power banks, wireless headphones and older, now uncommon types of smartphone, such as Windows Mobile and Blackberry devices.
MicroUSB cables are easily identifiable as their connectors have an asymmetrical five-sided shape so they have to be inserted the right-way up. This contrasts with Lightning and USB-C cables which can be inserted either way up as their connectors have symmetrical shapes.
MicroUSB cables are easily identifiable as their connectors have an asymmetrical five-sided shape so they have to be inserted the right-way up. This contrasts with Lightning and USB-C cables which can be inserted either way up as their connectors have symmetrical shapes.

Plugging away

So if you lose the charging cable for your phone, or have left it behind at your workplace, you may be able to make do by borrowing a compatible cable from another device until you can buy a replacement.

If you’ve just lost your phone’s charger rather than the charging cable, you can also probably use another that you already own. All smartphone charging plugs use either USB-A ports or USB-C ports. USB-A is not only the most widespread port found on charging plugs, it’s the type of USB connector commonly found on computers and thus widely known just as USB.

USB-A ports are the most common type of charging port you'll encounter.
USB-A ports are the most common type of charging port you'll encounter.
USB-C ports look very similar to Lightning ports, but they're distinguishable by the visible 'prong' - a common characteristic of all USB ports.
USB-C ports look very similar to Lightning ports, but they're distinguishable by the visible 'prong' - a common characteristic of all USB ports.

As a result, the majority of charging cables have a USB-A connector on the charger end and a microUSB, Lightning or USB-C connector on the device end. It’s therefore natural to choose a charging plug with a USB-A port when buying replacement or additional units as it’ll charge almost everything.

But if your phone, tablet or computer uses a Lightning or USB-C connector then there’s a very good reason to choose a charger that has a USB-C port instead – fast charging.

Fast charging

Fast charging will typically halve the amount of time it takes to recharge a flat battery fully. But both your phone and your charging plug need to support it.

The industry standard for fast charging is called USB Power Delivery (USB-PD). For Android phones that support it, all you need is a charging cable with USB-C connectors at both ends as well as a charging plug with a USB-C port.

Look for USB-PD certified cables and chargers, such as the Belkin models available from Vodafone’s retail stores in the UK.

Some Android phone manufacturers sell proprietary alternatives to USB-PD under a variety of brand names such as QuickCharge, SuperCharge, Pump Express and VOOC.

These can allegedly deliver even faster charging times, but the required charging plugs aren’t compatible with each other so you need to use the one specific to your phone. They all work with USB-PD though, so you can always fall back on that.

Contrary to popular belief, iPhones can also get the benefits of fast charging. Although only the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max come with the necessary Lightning-to-USB-C cable and USB-C charger in the box, you can buy these separately and use them with any iPhone going back to the iPhone 8.

You don’t have to miss out if you own an older iPhone.

Models as old as the iPhone 6 can charge more quickly if you plug them into an iPad charger. The chargers with USB-A ports included in the box with most iPhones can only deliver 5W (Watts) of power, but chargers included in the box with iPads can deliver 10W or 12W of power (depending on the iPad model).

So charging an iPhone with an iPad charger dramatically shortens charging times – almost to USB-PD levels with some iPhones, according to independent testing by Macworld US.

This is a boon, whether you already have an iPad charger or you want buy one and save the cost of a Lightning-to-USB-C cable.

Charging top tips

As long as you’re using a USB-C charging plug and cable from a reputable manufacturer, you can safely use your USB-C laptop charger to recharge your phone. The reverse won’t always be possible though as not all USB-C charging plugs and cables designed specifically for phones support the higher wattages demanded by laptops.
The lithium-ion batteries in smartphones don’t like very hot or cold temperatures. Researchers at the University of Michigan recommend that you avoid charging your phone in temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius or below zero degrees Celsius.
Batteries don’t charge at an even rate, so it takes longer for your phone to reach 100% charge than say 50%. This is normal behaviour and nothing to worry about.
To maximise the usable life of your phone’s battery, especially if you’re working from home more and going out less, consider charging your phone only to 80%. iPhones running iOS 13 have an optional feature called Optimized Battery Charging. This will delay charging your phone past 80% if its algorithms reckon you won’t be unplugging and using your phone soon, based on your previous usage.

Wireless charging

Wireless charging involves resting your phone on top of a charging pad that is plugged into the mains via a cable. So it’s not truly wireless and charging times tend to me much slower than normal cable charging.

But wireless charging can still be useful for minimising cable clutter around your home workspace. Plus, resting a phone on top of a charging pad is easier than plugging a cable into a port if you are visually impaired or have dexterity issues due to age, illness or a chronic condition.

Thankfully, there’s just one dominant standard for wireless charging tech – Qi. Many modern Android phones, as well all iPhones since the iPhone 8, support Qi wireless charging.

Some smartwatches running Google’s WearOS can be charged using Qi as well, but Fitbit fitness trackers and the Apple Watch use their own device-specific wireless chargers instead.