Review: A Single Gadget to End Your Charging Headaches – Wall Street Journal
Living next to my bed is a ghastly electronic creature. Think Audrey II from the “Little Shop of Horrors,” but with roots firmly in power outlets and long charging cables that multiply and grow. I don’t know if I should call an electrician—or an exterminator.
My monster is the progeny of our completely out-of-hand gadget-charging situation. My iPhone uses one charging cable. My laptop another! My smartwatch? You guessed it. I even have a separate charger… for my portable charger.
Not only do our gadgets not use the same cables, but, come on, these mega-companies can only spare wall adapters with one measly USB port?
Sure, wireless charging will liberate us eventually, but for now there’s another option to ease the pain: a single charger to power up all your gear.
I went in search of the best multi-port USB wall chargers, testing 15 different options—even some that let you charge laptops as well as phones and tablets. But identifying which one best solves your charging nightmare comes down to listing which gadgets you own, and how many you need to juice up at the same time.
Laptop + Smartphone + Tablet
Last weekend, I took my laptop, smartphone and smartwatch on an overnight trip—and packed one pill-bottle-size charger. (I’ll understand if you’re jealous.) When I got to the hotel, the new Zolt needed just one outlet to charge everything at the same time. No need to commando-crawl under the bed to unplug the lamp or aging alarm clock.
Laptop charging is what makes the $100 Zolt my top choice. The 70-watt octagonal charger—which started shipping Tuesday—comes with eight charging tips compatible with most Windows PCs. One end of the included cord takes the adapter tip to plug into the laptop, while the other end has a USB to plug into the Zolt, which goes straight into the wall.
I charged up Acer,
Lenovo and Asus
laptop models without a hitch. When I plugged in Dell’s Inspiron 13 7000, however, the laptop gave an incompatible-charger error. You can look for your laptop on this list, based on Zolt’s compatibility testing. If for some reason your laptop doesn’t work, you have 30 days to return it for a full refund.
The best part? Zolt charged up compatible laptops in the same time as the big, heavy, hideous chargers they came with.
Even crazier, if you buy Zolt’s $20 MagSafe-to-USB cord, it can charge up most Apple laptops, including all MacBook Air models. That doesn’t mean all Apple laptops will work: Due to higher wattage requirements, Zolt doesn’t support larger MacBook Pro models. Also, USB Type-C isn’t yet compatible, so the new 12-inch MacBook isn’t supported either.
Apple warns against using third-party MagSafe cords, as they may not properly communicate with MacBook hardware and software. Zolt acknowledges that Apple doesn’t license its MagSafe technology and says it hasn’t worked with the company. However, the Zolt charger is certified by UL, a globally recognized, independent safety-testing organization.
I’ve replaced my 13-inch MacBook Air’s standard charger with the Zolt for the past month and have encountered no problems.
The two bottom USB ports on the Zolt are for charging lower-power gadgets, like a phone, tablet, e-reader or smartwatch. In fact, it actually charged up my iPhone nearly an hour faster than Apple’s 5-watt cube that comes with the iPhone. (See why that is in the text box below.)
Watt Do Those Numbers Mean?
To understand why one charger is better or faster than another requires Electricity 101. Chargers are rated by wattage, or how much power they are capable of delivering.
Here’s the equation you need to know: Current (measured in amps) x Voltage (measured in volts) = Power (measured in watts).
“The higher the wattage, the more current a charger is capable of delivering, meaning the charge time will be shorter,” said Isidor Buchmann, publisher of Battery University.
Many multi-port USB chargers output 5 volts, so look at the amps. A USB port with an output of 2.5 amps will charge faster than one with a 1 amp output. If the charge time doesn’t improve, your device may not be compatible with the charger and may use a lower setting.
My only complaints about the Zolt are that its 5-foot MagSafe cord is shorter than I’d like, and that it can wobble a bit if you’re sitting too far away, because its prongs don’t always firmly stick in the socket. It’s also pretty pricey—$120 with the Mac cord.
An awesome alternative for MacBook users is Twelve South’s $45 PlugBug. It’s not as compact as the Zolt, but it adds a USB port to the MacBook charging brick.
Smartphone + Tablet + Smartwatch + More
If you’re focused on phones, tablets, smartwatches and other lower-powered devices, there are far more options that cost far less.
Of the many I tried, I liked Anker’s $26 PowerPort 4 best. The 40-watt charger has four USB ports, each capable of outputting 2.5 amps. That means it simultaneously charges up a smartphone, tablet, smartwatch and any other USB-powered gadget, sometimes faster than the charger you get with the device. (As with the Zolt, it was an hour faster to charge my iPhone 6s than Apple’s measly 5-watt charger.)
The company’s PowerIQ technology detects what type of device you’re using and reallocates power to charge at a faster speed, without exceeding the device’s native power supply. But be aware: If you have a newer Android phone with Qualcomm
’s Quick Charge technology, you’ll get faster charge speeds with supported bricks. Anker plans to release multi-port Quick Charge options next month.
For Apple products, the PowerPort 4 was a godsend. Not only does it beat carrying around four 12-watt iPad chargers, it also costs only a bit more than just one of them. If you need to charge both an iPad and an iPhone, go with the $14 iClever Dual USB. It’s the same size as one of Apple’s 12W chargers, but has two USB ports.
Need more than four ports? Anker’s $36 PowerPort 6 doesn’t stick to a wall, but it’s perfect for snaking up behind a desk or nightstand.
The Dream of Wireless Charging
That all sounds great but it’s almost 2016! Wireless charging has been promised for years, so why are we still carrying around all this wall spaghetti?
Wireless charging has made real strides in the past few years. Popular devices like Samsung
’s Galaxy S6 have the technology built in. However, serious shortcomings stand in the way of mass adoption.
First, the experience is often frustrating. I tested the PowerSquare Tango charging pad with a compatible case for my iPhone. I had to align the phone carefully to get it to work. And it caused my phone to get quite warm, which is bad for the battery’s long-term health. It also took an hour and a half for the phone to go from 80% to 100%.
has wireless charging in its newest tables. When I used one of the compatible charging rings (some locations loan them out to customers), my iPhone charged much faster. But that brings me to the second point.
There have been a series of wireless charging standards competing for attention. While these companies now are working towards compatibility, there’s still fragmentation. Starbucks has Powermat’s PMA technology embedded in its table, for instance. The PowerSquare Tango uses the Qi standard. Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is a rare example of a device that can charge wirelessly with either.
Until wireless charging just works, or gadget makers settle on a single connector for phones, tablets and laptops—USB Type-C is the likeliest choice—the monsters next to our beds won’t go completely extinct. But a good multi-port USB charger is enough to keep them from rising up and taking any more of our sanity.
Write to Joanna Stern at email@example.com
Corrections & Amplifications:
The cost of Anker’s PowerPort 4 is $26. In an earlier version of this article, a photo caption incorrectly stated it cost $36.