A few days ago, I posted a column about Active Semi's recently launched PAC5220WP wireless power SoC solution. As you may recall, Active-Semi specializes in creating the chips used for charging, controlling, and powering smart electronic devices.
While I was chatting with the folks at Active Semi, they mentioned the various techniques we use to recharge our mobile devices. In the not-so-distant past, the two predominant techniques were to use wall chargers or car chargers. As we discussed in my previous column, another technique rapidly gaining traction is the use of a wireless charging station.
But there is another technology known as power banks (or powerbanks). These are essentially external rechargeable batteries equipped with a regular USB-A port (the output used for charging your smartphone or whatever) and a micro or mini USB port (the input used for charging your power bank).
These scamps come in all shapes, sizes, and capacities. Some are the height and width of a credit card and about as thick as eight cards. These slip easily into one's pocket, but the amount of charge they can hold is somewhat limited. Others are larger and boast sufficient capacity to recharge even a monster smartphone five times or more.
Power banks are one of those technologies that are not yet well known here in the USA, but they are very well known in other parts of the world. In fact, there is a huge difference in cultural awareness about this sort of technology and how it might be used. In some countries, like South Korea, they simply ship an extra battery with each phone. In other countries, these become more of a colorful fashion statement, and they may be augmented with extra ooh-shiny capabilities. In Japan, for example, you can get power banks that can also be used as hand warmers. In China, you can get power banks that also serve as small flashlights (torches in England).
Many older users might not see much advantage in something like this. This is because their smartphone use model is to make only the occasional call and to recharge the phone once every couple of days. By comparison, younger users like my son would be on their smartphones 24/7 if they didn't have to go to sleep to recharge themselves. Having a power bank means they can keep on texting and doing whatever else they are doing while their friends' smartphones splutter out and fade away.
When I asked my son if he had heard about power banks, he gave me that look that says, "You really don't have a clue what's going on, do you?" However, it turns out that he had never even heard of them until his grandmother gave him one for Christmas. I had been wondering about the purposes of the strangely shaped device he has charging from the wall each evening. It seems that he is one of the few kids at his high school who have one of these devices. This makes him the envy of all who know him.
Birthday alert: This is a great time for you to demonstrate your technical knowhow to your younger siblings, children, and/or your nephews and nieces. It's also a chance to show that you are on the cutting edge of what's cool and trendy -- simply give them the shiniest, most colorful power bank you can find as a gift, and then bask in the glow of a job well done.
When the folks at Active-Semi heard that I did not own a power bank, they asked if I travelled much and if I carried anything like an iPad with me. When I admitted that I travel occasionally -- to the forthcoming EE Live! Conference and Exhibition, to England to visit my dear old mom, or to India when I spoke at ESC a couple of years ago -- and that I would never be without my trusty iPad, they insisted that my life would not be complete without a power bank of my very own.
A couple of days later, a small package arrived on my desk. When I unpacked it, I discovered the little beauty shown below. I'm afraid my rather dingy photos don't do this justice. It actually has a brilliant white body with rather fetching mauve ends.
This device is approximately 2.5 inches wide, 4.5 inches long, and half an inch thick. The first thing I needed was a USB-A to USB-micro cable. Fortunately, like most people these days, I have stuff like this laying around all over the place. I plugged the USB-micro end into the input, and I plugged the USB-A end into the USB port on my iPad wall charger. The LEDs on the power bank started to flash in sequence, indicating that charging was in progress. It was almost fully charged when it arrived; it just needed a little topup.
As soon as the LEDs indicated that it was fully changed, I unplugged the device from the wall socket. Next, I used my regular USB-A to 30-pin Apple connector to connect the output from my Power Bank to my iPad 2.
My iPad started with a 24% charge (which I equate to ~2.4 hours of regular video watching/web browsing/emailing). I kept on checking its status, and it rose to about 85% before the charging icon disappeared, indicating that the power bank had given its all. This means that the power bank would provide me with an extra 85 - 24 = 61%, which equates to ~6 hours of additional iPad use. This is huge when you are on a long trip or trapped in an airport due to storms or whatever.
The bottom line is that I have a great big smile on my face, and I now have a new BFF (best friend forever) in the form of my power bank, which will be travelling with me around the globe. Do you own a device like this? Have you even heard of them before? Did reading this column make you exclaim, "So that's what the girl is flashing around on that Target commercial on TV"?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting