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7 Reasons You Should Think Twice Before Buying That New USB Wall Charger

Hi there, tech enthusiast! If you‘re in the market for a new USB wall charger for your smartphone or other devices, you may want to pause before clicking that "Add to Cart" button. While USB chargers are certainly convenient, the unfortunate truth is that many of them come with some significant drawbacks in terms of safety, performance, and compatibility.

As someone who has tested hundreds of chargers over the years, I want to share with you the top reasons you may want to reconsider buying a new USB-A wall charger today, as well as some better alternatives to power up your gear. But first, let‘s make sure we‘re on the same page about what USB wall chargers are and how they work.

USB Wall Chargers 101

A USB wall charger, also known as a wall wart, plug, or power adapter, is a device that plugs into an AC outlet to provide DC power to charge or operate another device via a USB cable. The USB (Universal Serial Bus) standard has evolved over the years to allow for higher power outputs and faster data transfer speeds.

The latest USB specification is USB4, which supports tunneling of other protocols like Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort, and PCIe. It also allows for host-to-host communication in addition to the traditional host-to-device model. However, the most common type of USB wall charger today uses the USB-A connector and either the USB 2.0 or USB 3.x standards.

USB wall chargers generally range from 5W to 100W or more in power output, with 18-20W being the sweet spot for fast charging most smartphones. The wattage is determined by the combination of voltage (V) and amperage (A). For example, a typical 5V/1A charger would provide 5W of power, while a 5V/3A would deliver 15W.

Many modern USB chargers support smart features like Qualcomm Quick Charge or USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) that allow them to safely provide higher voltages and amperages to compatible devices for faster charging. With that quick primer out of the way, let‘s dive into the reasons you might want to steer clear of a shiny new USB-A wall charger.

1. Slow and inconsistent charging speeds

One of the biggest issues with many USB wall chargers on the market is that their actual charging speeds often don‘t live up to the claimed specs on the box. While the USB-IF has a certification program to ensure adherence to the official specs, many uncertified third-party chargers fudge the numbers.

For instance, a charger might boast "5V/2.4A" output, but in reality only one of the ports supports that full 12W of power, with the others capped at a measly 5W. Or if you plug in multiple devices, the charger may not be able to supply the rated output to each port simultaneously. I‘ve even seen some multi-port chargers that actually charge slower the more devices you plug in!

So before you buy that 6-port 60W monster of a USB charger, check the fine print for the per-port output and whether the total maximum output matches the sum of all the ports. You don‘t want to be stuck waiting around for hours for your power-hungry devices to top up.

2. Incompatibility with older or lower-power devices

Another potential pitfall of USB chargers with high-amperage ports is that they may not play nicely with older or lower-power devices. While most modern smartphones and tablets can handle the extra juice just fine, some devices like bluetooth headphones, fitness trackers, or e-readers may not charge at all or could even get damaged by the higher current.

This is because the USB Battery Charging spec that enables faster charging with higher amps wasn‘t introduced until 2007, and some older devices may lack the necessary circuitry to regulate the incoming power. So if you have any cherished vintage tech that you want to keep alive, you‘re better off using a good old-fashioned 5V/1A USB charger or powered USB hub.

3. Risk of device damage or even fire

Perhaps the scariest downside of relying on that bargain bin USB charger is the risk it could pose to the safety of your devices and even your home. You‘ve probably seen some of the horror stories in the news about cheap no-name chargers and cables causing smartphones to overheat, melt, or catch fire.

The root cause of most of these incidents is the lack of proper safety measures like over-voltage, over-current, and short circuit protection. Without these essential safeguards in place, a malfunctioning or mismatched charger could fry your phone‘s delicate internals or worse.

To protect yourself and your gear, only buy USB chargers that are UL or ETL certified for electrical safety and have all the necessary protections built in. Stick to trusted brands like Anker, Belkin, and Aukey, and avoid any suspiciously cheap or counterfeit products. Your device manufacturer‘s official chargers are always a safe bet as well.

4. The rise of USB-C as the new charging standard

If you‘ve bought a new smartphone, laptop, or tablet within the last few years, you may have noticed that many of them are ditching the old micro-USB or lightning ports in favor of the newer, reversible USB-C connector. USB-C is quickly becoming the new standard for charging and data across all types of consumer electronics.

The beauty of USB-C is that it can deliver way more power (up to 100W) than previous USB versions while still being slim enough to fit on phones. It also supports nifty features like bidirectional power, so you can use your phone or laptop to charge up your earbuds or watch. And with the USB Power Delivery spec, a single USB-C port can smartly adjust its output to efficiently charge a diverse array of devices.

Many of the latest Android flagships and all of Apple‘s current iPhones and iPads now use USB-C for their included chargers. So if you want to take full advantage of their fast-charging capabilities and simplify your charging setup, you‘re better off investing in a few good USB-C chargers than clinging to the old USB-A standard.

5. Newer devices don‘t even include a charger in the box!

In a move that‘s partly to cut costs and partly to reduce e-waste, many phone manufacturers have started eliminating the power adapter from their packaging altogether, providing only a USB-C to C or USB-C to lightning cable. While some folks were understandably upset by this change, it does highlight the fact that most of us already have plenty of USB chargers lying around.

So unless your old chargers are damaged or lost, or you absolutely need the fastest charging speeds, you can probably get by just fine without dropping cash on a new wall wart every time you upgrade your phone. And if you do need a spare, you can likely find a decent deal on a standalone charger from a reputable brand rather than paying the Apple tax or whatever exorbitant price your phone maker charges for accessories.

Better Alternatives to USB-A Wall Chargers

Now that I‘ve thoroughly ruined your excitement over that fancy new USB charger, let me offer you some superior ways to rejuice your devices:

  1. USB-C wall chargers – As I mentioned earlier, USB-C is the future of device charging. A good 18-20W USB-C PD charger can rapidly refill most phones and even some tablets and laptops. For the ultimate futureproofing, opt for a 65-100W gallium nitride (GaN) charger, which packs major power into a compact package. Some great options are the Anker Nano II 65W, Aukey Omnia 100W, and Belkin BOOST↑CHARGE PRO 60W.

  2. Portable chargers – If you‘re frequently on the go, a high-capacity portable charger or power bank can keep your devices topped off without hogging any wall outlets. Look for one with 18-20W USB-C PD output as well as USB-A for broad compatibility. The Anker Powercore Essential 20000 PD and Mophie Powerstation PD XL are solid picks with 20,000mAh capacity, enough to charge most phones 4-5 times.

  3. Wireless chargers – For the ultimate in convenience, consider a Qi wireless charging pad or stand. While not as fast as wired charging, it‘s a handy way to keep your phone fueled up at your desk or bedside. The Belkin BOOST↑UP 15W and Anker Powerwave series are among the best, with wide compatibility and case-friendly designs.

  4. USB-C PD car and wall chargers – For topping off on the road, get a USB-C car charger that supports PD for the fastest speeds. The Nekteck PD 45W is a cheap and cheerful option that can quick-charge most USB-C phones and laptops. And if you want to permanently upgrade your wall outlets, the Topgreener USB-C PD wall charger is a slick way to add 18W of charging and 15A of AC power to any dual-gang box.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, you don‘t need the latest and greatest USB charger to keep your devices powered up. In fact, that shiny new wall charger might actually do more harm than good in terms of charging speed, compatibility, and safety.

Instead of falling for the allure of multi-port charging bricks and glorified adapters, focus on transitioning to the new USB-C standard for all your charging needs. A few key USB-C PD chargers paired with high-quality cables is all you need for a fast, future-proof, and minimalist setup.

And don‘t forget about alternative charging solutions like portable power banks and wireless charging pads to keep you juiced on the go. With the right charging accessories in your arsenal, you can save money, reduce clutter, and protect your devices for the long run.

So the next time you‘re tempted to impulse buy that cute USB charging station, pause and consider whether you‘re better off without it. Your devices (and wallet) will thank you!

What are your thoughts on USB chargers? Do you have a go-to charging setup or any horror stories to share? Let me know in the comments below!