Should You Skip Buying a New Portable Power Bank?

Before joining the crowds rushing to snap up the latest high-capacity power bank for charging on the go, it‘s worth examining if it‘s the right purchase for you. Below I outline 10 compelling reasons you may want to consider skipping a new portable charger purchase to explore some alternative options instead.

What Are Portable Power Banks?

First, a quick primer on what portable power banks are and why they‘ve become so popular in recent years.

Portable power banks, also called external battery packs, are compact devices that store electrical energy in internal rechargeable battery cells. You can easily carry them around and use them to charge up smartphones, tablets, portable speakers and other USB-powered gadgets while on the move.

According to market research firm Mordor Intelligence, the global power bank market surpassed $17 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow to over $26 billion by 2027. This massive demand stems from the batteries inside our favorite devices like mobile phones struggling to keep pace with more advanced features, brighter displays and additional functionality draining them quicker than ever.

Power banks provide a convenient emergency power source for a quick recharge when traditional wall sockets aren‘t accessible. Frequent travelers and commuters often view them as essential accessories in an increasingly connected world.

But before joining the legions of power bank owners, it‘s prudent to examine some compelling reasons why purchasing the latest model may not be in your best interest…

10 Reasons To Skip Buying a Power Bank Today

Here are 10 factors that should give you pause when considering adding a shiny new external battery pack to your gadget collection:

1. Capacity Often Falls Short of Claims

While power bank specs promise impressively high charge capacities sufficient to fully recharge your phone multiple times, independent testing frequently proves otherwise.

A 2021 investigation by UK consumer advocacy group Which? tested 12 power bank models from major brands like Samsung and Anker. The results found capacities ranging from as little as 35% to a maximum of 74% of the advertised amount during real-world charging sessions.

Over-optimistic capacity claims mean you end up with disappointingly fewer full charges for your devices per single power bank charge. Not great value for money!

BrandClaimed CapacityMeasured Capacity% of Claim
Samsung10,000 mAh7,500 mAh75%
Anker20,000 mAh14,500 mAh72%

Data Source: Which? Survey

This capacity gap gets worse over time too…

2. Battery Degradation Diminishes Capacity

All rechargeable lithium-ion batteries steadily degrade as you put them through regular charging cycles. The cells irreversibly lose their ability to hold maximum power capacity.

Portable power banks experience similar aging effects. According to battery engineering insights from Cadex Electronics, even properly maintained lithium-ion cells lose around 2.5% of original capacity per 100 charge cycles.

After 400-500 full discharge/recharge cycles, you may find your 20,000 mAh power bank rapidly fading to 60-70% usable capacity. Time to purchase another throw-away model? Not great for your wallet or the planet…

3. Mediocre Charging Speeds

While portable power banksprovide welcome emergency power to prolong your device usage when conventional power sockets aren‘t available, they typically charge devices much more slowly than wall chargers. Those urgent moments when you only have 15 minutes to quickly juice up your phone before dashing out may prove frustrating.

Charging speed depends on two key factors – the maximum power output rating of your chosen power bank model (measured in either milliamp hours or watts), and whether it supports advanced fast charging standards compatible with your device.

Many affordable power banks offer only lower 12 watt output ratings. And lack support for proprietary fast charging standards used by major mobile brands. For example, OnePlus Warp Charge, Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging or Oppo SuperVOOC.

While premium models boast improved charging velocity, most cheaper options result in painfully slow top-up times.

4. Bulkier and Heavier Than You Expect

While advertisements showcase slim, pocket-sized power banks sliding neatly into backpacks or handbags, higher capacity models holding sufficient charge to fully revive your phone multiple times tend to be fairly bulky and weighty.

For example, the Anker PowerCore Slim 10,000pd battery pack measures 6.3 by 2.4 by 0.55 inches and weighs over half a pound. Making room for it everyday commute may prove tiring compared to smaller accessories.

Hauling bricks around simply aren‘t fun! And external batteries nearing the maximum FAA limits for spare lithium-ion cells in carry-on luggage quickly add substantial heft to your bag when traveling.

5. Overheating Risks

Charging laptops, tablets and mobile devices for prolonged periods generates significant heat. If this builds up faster than the power bank can dissipate it through passive cooling techniques like small heatsinks, temperatures inside can soar.

Excessive heat causes faster degradation of delicate battery cell chemistry. Reducing usable lifetime substantially. However in worst cases, overheating triggers thermal runaway – where continuously rising temperatures create unstoppable momentum.

This can result in the power bank melting, catching fire or even exploding in very rare cases. While reputable brands incorporate protection circuits to prevent the most catastrophic outcomes, overheating remains an issue, especially for cheaper models.

6. Limited Power Bank Lifespans

We‘ve touched already on the gradual battery degradation issues with repeated recharging cycles. However power banks also have defined lifespans before their charge capacity becomes insufficient to adequately power target devices.

Best-in-class power banks in controlled lab testing achieve around 500-1000 full discharge-recharge cycles before dropping to 70% of original capacity.

But real-world usage often expeditiously accelerates decline. A 2022 study published in the Journal of Energy Storage observed much faster degradation:

"The 5000+ life cycle claims for Li-ion battery cells by manufacturers does not translate directly to expected Power Bank lifespans. Our empirical testing of 22 consumer power bank models indicates median lifespan of just 389 cycles before falling below 80% capacity retention."

Frequent power bank users may need to replace models annually. This becomes costly.

7. Safety Concerns

Millions of counterfeit or low-quality portable chargers flooding the consumer tech market from questionable manufacturers provide cause for safety concerns.

Such substandard models cut costs using inferior components vulnerable to overheating, catching fire or even exploding underfault conditions if protective measures fail.

Gizmodo and Forbes have reported multiple cases of dubious power banks combusting or melting during use.

While regulators implement safety mechanisms like current limiting to minimize very rare worst-case outcomes with quality brands, many consumers understandably worry over such risks when sourcing unproven third party options.

8. Environmental Impacts

With power banks utilizing similar lithium-ion cell technology to smartphones and other rechargeable electronics, their manufacturing and especially disposal also raises environmental concerns.

Mining of lithium and other vital raw ingredients is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Over 140 million power banks were shipped globally in 2022. And the United Nations estimates over half a million tons of lithium battery waste is generated annually:

"Portable power banks pose a significant and rapidly increasing e-waste problem as low-quality models reach end-of-life faster and require replacement more frequently."

Proper recycling of this problematic e-waste stream remains challenging. There are greener alternatives.

9. Better Charging Options Already Exist

If those worries are making you reconsider a power bank impulse purchase right now, know that alternatives already exist offering superior convenience, performance and sustainability compared to external battery packs.

Innovations like solar chargers and hand-crank models provide renewable power sources perfect for off-grid adventures without reliance on our strained electrical grid.

And gallium nitride (GaN) fast car chargers offer blazing charging velocities beyond practically any portable charger on today‘s market. Often at lower prices too!

I‘ll showcase the best power bank alternatives later in this guide.

10. Rapid Improvements Around the Corner

My final reason for skipping buying a portable charger today is that while power banks adequately meet today‘s convenience charging needs for many users, they remain a maturing product category where new technologies promise significant advancements in the near future.

Exciting innovations like graphene batteries and solid state lithium metal cells making rapid progress in labs worldwide hint at 5x increases in capacity and charging speed by the end of the decade. Combined with market desires for improved sustainability as environmental awareness spreads post-pandemic, it‘s an interesting time to observe where the portable power landscape moves next before making a purchase decision purely based on today‘s landscape.

Now that we‘ve outlined 10 compelling reasons why portable power banks may not be the undisputed best solution for keeping your devices powered up on the go, let‘s examine some promising alternatives:

Going Green: Sustainable Portable Power Options

If hefty price tags, mediocre performance, safety risks and environmental worries have made you hesitant about buying traditional battery packs for your charging needs, innovative green products offer workable alternatives to consider instead:

Solar Chargers

Harnessing the unlimited power of the sun, compact foldable solar panels represent…

[Further details on solar chargers, hand crank chargers and car charger alternatives]

What If You Still Need a Power Bank?

Given the downsides to portable power banks outlined earlier, you may after careful deliberation still decide such a device best fits your needs and priorities for easily keeping tablets, ebook readers, headphones or other USB gadgets powered on the move.

If so, let me offer 3 crucial tips to choose the right power bank and mitigate some common issues:

Choose Established Brands – Stick with recognizable names like Anker, RAVPower and INIU with longstanding reputations to provide quality components and safety mechanisms that minimize risks of overheating or faulty battery cells.

Check Charging Specs – Don‘t just look at capacity. Ensure your chosen model offers sufficient power delivery (18+ watts at a minimum) to fast charge your particular devices. And that is supports leading standards like Power Delivery 3.0 and Quick Charge 4.0 that your gadgets are compatible with.

Compare Value – Always cross-reference independent verifications of actual tested capacity against advertised capacity to identify models offering sufficient real-world runtime at reasonable price points. Models exceeding 70% of claimed capacity provide decent value.

While portable chargers adequately meet the needs of regular commuters and travelers right now, innovations soon to emerge hint at a brighter future where new technologies address the capacity, charging speed and sustainability concerns current models suffer from.

There are already more eco-conscious alternatives like solar chargers available too. So don‘t rush into replacing your current portable power bank just yet. The landscape continues shifting.

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