It’s hard to think of a scenario where you’re not going to want to get your gadgets charged up as quickly as possible – whether you’re heading to the office or off on an evening out, you want that battery level as high as possible when you leave. But getting your gadgets charged up is about more than how long they’re plugged in for. There are tips and tricks that can get it charging faster.
The Fundamentals of Charging
On a basic level, the amount of power going into your device and recharging its battery is measured in watts. To calculate watts you take the voltage of the device in volts, which is the energy potential, and multiply it by current (in amps or milliamps), which is the energy flow rate. Think of volts like the water pressure in a hose and milliamps as the hose’s water flow. Combine them and you have to output for your hose over all. Watts are similar, and all three are closely linked. You might see one, two, or all three of these terms mentioned when you’re looking at chargers.
So, for example, the iPhone XS comes with a 5W charger – you’re getting 5 watts of power with a wall socket and your bundled charger. However, the phone can charge at up to 18W, which means if you use a more powerful charger – a water hose with more pressure and a faster flow – your iPhone is going to juice up faster.
Various different factors influence how many watts are charging up your devices when you plug them in, and here we’ll lay out the main ones: They should help you get as much battery charge as possible, no matter what device you’re charging or how big the battery packed inside is.
The same principles apply no matter what the charging source. Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Choose your chargers
To get your gadgets charging as quickly as possible then, you need the highest wattage charging experience that your devices can safely take. One example: Switching your 2017-or-later iPhone from the bundled 5W charger to the 18W charger included with the latest iPad Pros provides a big boost (recent testing from MacRumors showed an 18W charger giving twice as much charge over an hour).
Another example: The latest MacBook Pro can output 10W of power from its USB-C slots, so you’re going to get better results from your MacBook Pro charging your iPhone than you will the 5W charger that came with the phone itself. On an older laptop with lower power USB ports, you won’t get the same power output.
The latest USB standards add more power for charging. Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
Meanwhile, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones come with an 18W fast charging charger included in the box. Nothing else will charge them faster, because 18W is the max they can handle..
We’re mentioning specific devices here to give you an idea of what to weigh up. Broadly speaking though, whether you’re juicing up a phone, a tablet, or a laptop, find the highest voltage power source you can (usually a wall socket) and the charger with the highest supported wattage.
Stick to official chargers or ones from recognised brands. Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Chargers made for bigger devices will offer high wattage ratings, which is why you shouldn’t plug your phone charger into your laptop and expect anything to happen, but you could possibly plug your laptop charger into your phone and juice it up more quickly. The latest USB standards, including USB-C, are getting us closer to a one-size-fits-all solution, but we’re not there yet.
As for wireless charging, In most cases it won’t charge up your device as quickly as a cable does – not unless your phone has a puny low-wattage wired charger and you’ve splurged on an expensive high-wattage wireless pad (like the 10W stand that Google ships for the Pixel 3 phones). USB chargers in cars are typically low power as well.
Even the fastest wireless chargers are slower than most wired alternatives right now. Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
You can research your own devices and your own chargers yourself, and you might even want to buy a high wattage charger to keep near the door. Generally speaking though, if you’re in a rush and need a quick battery boost, plug your device into the wall using the charger with the highest volts, current and watts rating you have access to.
Does that mean you can just use any charger you like? Well, yes and no. As we’ve mentioned, sometimes it’s fine – as when you use your iPad or even your MacBook charger with your iPhone – but be wary of swapping between different chargers from different manufacturers for different devices, as problems can happen, especially when you’re dealing with older hardware. Earlier and crummy chargers could brick devices or even cause small fires.
Apple will sell you a faster charger for your iPhone. Image: Apple
For newer gear, it’s not so much of a worry: USB-C and USB 3.x have made interoperability easier and safer than ever before, with built-in failsafes to stop destructive overcharging. So assuming you’re dealing with chargers and cables from recognised brands, you shouldn’t run into serious problems.
Pay attention to any fast charging tech on your device too. These standards require specific chargers, so a OnePlus phone (for example) needs a OnePlus charger to take advantage of the fastest charging speed – other chargers won’t blow up your phone in a ball of flames, but also won’t give you charging that’s as speedy.
OnePlus uses its own proprietary fast charging technology. Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Meanwhile, new iPhones and Pixels need chargers that offer USB PD (Power Delivery) for the best charging speeds. These fast charging standards and others like them (like the Qualcomm QuickCharge standard found in many Android phones) need both the phone and the charger to support them to get the full benefit, so you’ll have to check to see if your phone supports the PD or QuickCharge standard and then find a good brick that also supports it.
You might feel a little overwhelmed with the number of specs and standards you need to think about, but you only need to concern yourself with your own devices: You should be able to find out the maximum level of power they can take, and any quick charging standards supported, in a few minutes of web searching. After that, it’s just a question of identifying the best charger for the job.
Turn it off
What your phone or laptop or tablet is doing while you’re charging it makes a difference too: If your gadget is pumping out tunes or streaming video while it’s playing, it’s going to be drawing significantly more power than it will be when it’s switched off. That, in turn, affects how much battery life you’re going to end up with when you unplug.
A lot of the time you might have to use your device while it’s charging, but if you can switch it off for a few minutes, you’re probably going to get a few more percentage points’ worth of charge, and that could make all the difference later on.
Airplane mode doesn’t always make a huge difference, but it can help.
If you can’t switch it off completely, do everything you can to reduce how much power your gadget is pulling from its battery while it’s charging. Turn off wifi and Bluetooth, turn down the volume, lower the screen brightness, don’t run any particularly demanding apps or programs.
Individually these little tweaks might not make a huge amount of difference over the course of 10 minutes or so, but you can absolutely get a few extra percentage points of battery power if you combine them all together. The longer your device is plugged into a power source, the bigger the benefit will be.
Not using your phone and switching it off can grab an extra few percentage points.
There is a school of thought that all this tweaking doesn’t make much difference, but our (admittedly quite unscientific) testing says otherwise: Our ageing Pixel 2 grabs 5-6 extra percentage points over 30 minutes when the phone is switched off compared to when it’s busy streaming something from Netflix. Our iPhone XS jumps up an extra 5 percent in battery percentage from 25 percent under the same conditions.
Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on your device’s power draw, and its maximum charging speed, and how much of a charge the battery is already holding, and what you’re doing with it – but turning something off while it charges can make a noticeable difference over a relatively short time frame, and we’ve seen it happen.