Monday, January 15, 2018

USB Battery Comparison

Regardless of whether you're bugging out or just on a simple road trip, having a way to charge your electronics on the go can be a real life saver. Cell phones, tablets, even a Nintendo DS can all be charged with a USB cable, and so having a rugged, easy to maintain, easy to use power source that has a USB output plug has some serious advantages.

Solar panels are only good during the day; wall chargers are only good if you have regular power; but batteries work regardless, which is why I include them in my preps. I prefer a charger with a removable battery: 
  1. It tends to be less expensive than a dedicated battery/charger combo with the same features;
  2. You can carry extra batteries more easily;
  3. For whatever reason, the ones that I have come across are much more rugged than non-removable types. 
As such, I have three different portable USB battery packs that I have reviewed.

When I bought my DeWalt heated jacket, it came with a DeWalt USB adapter -- it actually functions as the connector between the heating system and the DeWalt 20 volt batteries that it uses.

  • Dual USB out. I can charge two devices at once with this, and it kicks out plenty of juice while I do. Both my 7 inch tablet and my cell phone have been charging on this at once, and it works wonderfully.
  • Uses DeWalt 12 volt Max or 20 volt Max batteries, and I have a ton of them sitting around. It is not advertised for this, but it will also use the 60 volt system, which gives a massive well of power.
  • Has the largest batteries, and largest battery selection in terms of charge amounta, of any of the three options here. The largest battery I have that works with this (9 ah 60 volt) will fully charge an iPhone X roughly 36 times from zero. Want to charge the kids' tablets on a weekend campout? Not a problem.
  • Really, really rugged. My USB charger has survived two motorcycle accidents (both at about 15 mph), being dropped, run over, walked on, thrown at least once, loaned to a Marine, and had a half a dozen toddlers monkey with it while it was charging a tablet for them. I know that it has a warranty, but I have not had to use it, even after the toddlers and the Marine.
  • The least expensive adapter of the three, at around $30. If you already have the batteries, this is the cheapest option.
  • Battery charge indicator means that you have some idea of how much longer you can keep things charged
  • A little loose. You can’t run around with it in your pocket as easily as the other two. The USB cable itself stays in just fine; it's the connector on top of the battery that is the issue. If you have packed it in a backpack or similar to keep it from sliding around, or keep a bungee cord on it, it works fine, but I have had issues with slipping. I have never had an issue with it sitting on a table, though. 
  • This one is the only one of the three that will not charge the batteries it uses via USB, meaning that I can’t hook this up to a solar panel and recharge things in a pinch; instead I have to have a dedicated charger on hand for this. In a long-term SHTF situation, this is a real issue.
  • This is the physically largest charger. Not only are the batteries physically larger, the charger itself is larger, and that makes this the hardest to haul around. I still keep one in my work/school backpack, but it is much harder to keep in a pocket or small handbag.
  • The batteries are expensive. Having more capacity comes at a price, and the least expensive battery that would work with this I could find for this was around $40 in December 2017.
  • To use the charge indicator, you have to take the charger off of the battery and re-seat it. Kind of a hassle.
This one is best for...
Shorter term SHTF (natural disasters/in-law visits/scout camp), or just every day use. For long-term SHTF, it requires a dedicated charger that may or may not be available. If you have a generator of some sort, and don’t require on the go charging, you can get past that.

If you already have DeWalt 12//20/60 volt tools, this is a great little tool, and can save your bacon on a job site.

I wish to point out that there is a Milwaukee USB charger that is similar to the DeWalt version above, but I don't have the compact batteries that it uses. I'm reviewing the one which takes regular Milwaukee batteries.

  • Uses Milwaukee 12 volt batteries, a basic name brand rechargeable battery that is only $25 on Amazon. There are a number of available batteries that carry a lot more charge.
  • Good energy density for a moderate price and has enough charge for approximately 1.5 iPhone charges. 
  • Can be charged via USB. It actually comes with a wall charger, and works fine with my Goal Zero nomad 7 solar panel. 
  • It uses Micro USB power in, which is actually the same standard as most cell phones.
  • Since it can be used to charge Milwaukee 12 volt batteries, this can actually be used in a long-term SHTF situation to allow use of power tools.
  • Battery charge indicator with five LED indicators. It has a button on the top that you can press at any time, and it indicates how much charge is left.
  • Pocket sized. I tend to keep this in my pants or jacket pocket as I am walking around.
  • Tight fit, with the top of the battery going into the device. It actually only takes up a very small amount of space more than the batteries.
  • Fairly rugged. I have not tested it to the extent of the DeWalt battery, but it has survived several extended outings, use as an emergency hammer, being slept on, etc.
  • At least on paper, the most water resistant of the three options. I have never submerged mine, but I have gotten soaked with it in my pockets, with no harm to it or the battery.
  • The smallest selection of batteries out of the three.
  • The USB cable comes out at an awkward angle. I am constantly afraid that I will kink the cable, even though it hasn't happened yet. This is probably not that big a deal, since the way it is positioned (look at the picture) means that it is actually much less likely
  • This cannot be used as a pass-through charger. I actually cornered a Milwaukee rep and asked him about this, and he said that he doesn't know exactly what will happen, but it is a bad idea.
    • Less of a drawback, and more a note: I asked the same rep about what would happen if you plugged the charger into itself. The rep got an odd look on his face and said “Nothing good”.
  • Requires pressing a button to get things to charge. When you press the button, it shows the level of charge left, but it can be irritating to plug something in and forget to press the button to start the charge. That may only be me, but be aware that it can be an issue.
  • Small and round, so it goes to the bottom of whatever bag it is in, but large enough to not fit into a lot of my pockets. I end up having this float to the bottom of my bookbag much more than the other two.
This one is best for...
If you have a well rounded set of preps, I actually think this is the best all-around choice. It can be used to power tool batteries, which is insanely useful post SHTF. It takes up much less space than a normal Milwaukee 12 volt charger, even if it does take twice as long to recharge a battery.

I actually like this one for my EDC. I use it when I am at school, or on business trips, and it has yet to fail me. I have even tested it with a couple of different non-brand name batteries with no problems to date.

Overall, I recommend this one. It has the power density to be useful, and the best mix of other features.

Goal Zero (Guide 10 Plus)

  • Uses four AA or AAA batteries which are available everywhere and inexpensive. You probably have them sitting around in your home.
  • Can use either rechargeable batteries or disposable.
  • Designed for use with the Goal Zero solar panels to charge. I purchased mine with the Nomad 7, and it works quite well with them.
  • Fits in a fairly small space due to the flat design.
  • Has a clear cover, so you can see the batteries inside it.
  • Lowest weight of the three, due to the smaller mass of batteries.
  • Reasonably rugged.
  • Built-in flashlight.
  • Has an “On/Off/Flashlight” switch for the USB out.
  • Metal cable built into the top makes it convenient to hang from hooks. I keep a carabiner on mine and hook it onto my backpack when I am out.
  • Secondary DC power port, so that you can use the Goal Zero charging cables instead of Mini USB when charging from a solar panel. 
  • Charges just fine from a wall outlet with a USB adapter plugged in.
  • Has an “On/Off/Flashlight” switch for the USB out.
  • Holds, by far, the least charge of any of the three. Four AA Energizer Ultimate Lithium disposables only hold enough power for four of them to charge an iPhone X approximately 1.2 times from full discharge. While a lot better than nothing, this means that four AA rechargeable energizer batteries do not contain quite enough power for a single full charge.
  • Battery door flops open a lot. I have to use a rubber band on mine.
  • Mini USB in, not Micro USB in. Micro USB is the standard that most cell phones use, and having another type of cable to mess with is a real hassle at times. If you use this type of cable, you may not have an issue, but I have found it to be less and less used.
  • The least water resistant of the three. 
This one is best for…
Long-term SHTF or 72 hour kits. Either living in a FEMA camp or similar, with potential access to new AA/AAA batteries, or very long term, mobile situations that will involve scavenging most of your supplies.

I am also a fan of this one for use when traveling by air. You can pick up new batteries at the other end if you have to, with minimum hassle, and not worry as much about the TSA.

I like the Milwaukee 12 volt. I use it in my EDC, and if budget permitted, would pick up a second one for my BOB. That said, all of these are excellent devices that have served me well, and I expect to do so for years to come, and I would not hesitate to use any of these.

Don't lick the wires, and remember to practice.

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