In the good (or bad) old days of the Nokia 3210 and its like, running out of battery power halfway through the day was way down on the list of mobile phone gripes. We can remember going a week or more without plugging our trusty mobile brick into the power outlet.
Fast forward to today, and having to charge your phone three times in a single day isn’t unheard of. So it is no surprise that portable chargers, or power banks, have become extremely popular, varied and available in a wide range of capacities. If you travel a lot, or simply want to spend the day at the beach listening to music, having the ability to charge your phone on-the-go can be a life saver.
What is a Power Bank?
Simply put, a power bank is a portable battery charger. They are available in a range of sizes and battery capacities, but as the key point is portability, they are rarely larger than a small mobile phone, and sometimes small enough to fit on a keyring.
A power bank will usually have at least two USB ports: one for charging the power bank, and one for connecting the power bank to your phone or tablet for charging. They will also usually have some sort of power display to show you how much charge is left. This can be as simple as a row of lights, or a more accurate LED digital display.
The power capacity of power banks also varies greatly. Generally, the very small ones will have a capacity of no more than 3000-5000mAh (enough to fully charge most smartphones once). The larger palm-sized power banks are more likely to have a fully-charged capacity of 10000-14000mAh (enough to charge a phone 2-3 times, or a tablet 1-2 times). However, it is possible to get power banks, for less than £20/$25, that offer a capacity of 30000mAh or more.
Are Power Banks Expensive?
The price of a power bank, as you might expect, can vary greatly depending on the size, brand, capacity and features. Expect to pay £10-£15/$15-$20 for a low capacity, mini power bank. If you need more power, and want to go for the currently more popular 10000-12000mAh palm-sized portable charger, you will likely need to spend £20-£30/$25-$35 for a good quality model.
A high-capacity power bank could be as much as £80/$90 or even more for the ultra-high capacity ones. But you should be able to pick one up for much less if you shop around. We found several 20000+mAh chargers for under £40/$50.
The Best Power Banks – 2021
Here are a few of our favourite power banks, available now. All are widely available from online and offline retailers, so shop around and you can almost certainly find a bargain, no matter your charging needs.
Veho Pebble P1
This palm-sized power bank is the one that currently sits in the bags of several of the team here. It hasn’t got the largest capacity at 10,400mAh, but it does feature dual USB output ports, so you can charge two devices at once. The LED digital display shows you exactly how much charge is left (and it seems to be pretty accurate to us).
Charging is fast for most smartphones, but it only has a 2.1A output, so it isn’t lightning fast at charging larger tablet batteries. It does the job, but if you are going to be charging your iPad Pro more than your iPhone, it may be worth thinking about a power bank that can output 4.8A.
This isn’t the smallest or the lightest portable charger on our list, but it feels reassuringly solid, and Veho has built a good reputation for quality electronics at low prices.
Currently available for as little as £26.95 at Amazon.
HAMA Supreme 20HD
Need a bit more power? The HAMA Supreme is a larger power bank, in physical size, but also in capacity. Offering 20000mAh (with 10000mAh and 5000mAh versions also available), the HAMA Supreme would be capable of fully charging an iPhone 12 at least 4-5 times. As mentioned, the size of the power bank means it isn’t really a pocket device, but at 68 x 25 x 130 mm, it is certainly small enough to be tucked away in a small bag.
The power pack has a classic business look in black, so there’s no need for it to remain hidden in your handbag or jacket. The soft-touch surface gives the battery pack a touch of class and feels pleasantly powdery. The external batteries always look good, as finger marks are barely visible on the matt finish.
The HAMA Supreme features two USB outputs, so two devices can be charged at the same time. It also has both micro USB and USB-C input ports for charging the power bank itself. Battery level is shown by 4 small lights on the front, showing 100%, 75%, 50% and 25%. Not the most accurate display, but with such a large capacity, this seems less important.
Expect to pay around £32 for the HAMA Supreme 20HD on Amazon.
Anker Astro E1
If being able to charge your device 3-4 times isn’t a requirement, and you just want a small power bank for those odd occasions you are far from a power outlet for a few hours, the Anker Astro E1 is a great choice. This small, lightweight power bank only gives you 5200mAh, and only a single USB output (no multiple device charging here), but at only 119g and about half the size of a modern smartphone, you can carry this around all day and barely notice you have it in your pocket or bag.
5200mAh is almost certainly enough to fully recharge a modern smartphone, and may even be enough to charge a small tablet. The Astro E1 uses something called Power iQ, an automatic system that detects the device connected and adjusts the output accordingly. Power remaining is shown by 4 small lights (100%, 75%, 50% and 25% remaining) on the front of the power bank.
There is nothing ground breaking about the Anker Astro E1 power bank, but as a truly pocket-sized portable charger, perfect for a single charge or a quick battery top-up, we are happy to recommend it.
You can pick up the Anker Astro E1 for under £15 on Amazon.
ALOGIC USB-C Ultimate
If you are really serious about charging on-the-go, then the ALOGIC Ultimate could be the way to go. This definitely-not-pocket-sized power bank gives you a huge 27000mAh of charging power, the option of 60w USB-C and two 15W USB-A outputs, AND wireless charging for Qi-enabled devices. This means you can charge 4 devices at once, including any laptop that can be charged via USB-C (such as a MacBook Air).
The Ultimate 27000mAh features a cool white light LCD display, which accurately indicates the battery’s current capacity. And while you will definitely know you have it in your bag, and taking into account how much charging power it offers, we were pleasantly surprised how compact the ALOGIC Ultimate is. At 182mm x 105mm x 27mm, it is smaller (although much thicker) than a small tablet, and very much still a portable charger.
This really isn’t your every-day power bank, being more suited to weekend camping trips or a day working in the garden/park, and the price, at around £130/$150 reflects this rather more specialised usage. But if you need to be able to charge your device for several days, or want to double the time you can use your MacBook away from a power outlet, this is a great solution.
Currently available for under £120 at Amazon.