These days, nearly everything in your bag has a rechargeable battery -- your phone, tablet, wireless headphones and laptop probably being your main priorities. But even if you're carrying four or more devices around, you don't need a separate wall charger or outlet for each one. That's because you can charge nearly everything -- including newer laptops -- through a one-size-fits-all charging technology: USB-C Power delivery, or USB-C PD.
OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration -- but not much. The fact is, if you're packing the right kind of charging cable (or dongles), and your laptop was released in the past couple of years, you'll be in very good shape. The key, of course, is getting one of the latest and greatest USB-C PD chargers. Thankfully, I've spent the past few weeks testing some of them, and I've found some go-to choices for charging on the go.
A few commonalities to the models we focused on: Most of these use a new material called Gallium Nitride (or GaN) that enables high-power adapters to be made in much smaller sizes. As a result, these adapters generally deliver 60 watts of power or better, putting them in the same ballpark as the 65W chargers that many laptops ship with. (That also blows away the puny 5W charger that is still default pack-in for the iPhone 11 and earlier models, though the iPhone 11 Pro models ship with an 18W USB-C model.)
Most of our top picks below include dual charging outputs instead of one, allowing for simultaneous charging of multiple devices. And they all have folding AC prongs for easy travel.
All of the products below have been independently chosen and tested by CNET editors. Note that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
In my opinion, this little guy is the best of all worlds. It's got both a USB-C PD port and a good old-fashioned USB-A port, so it can charge any device from android smartphones to a wireless headphone to a full-on laptop, and most everything in between, including the Nintendo Switch, Kindle and iPad. (PS4 controllers, which tend to be very picky about their power source, didn't seem to work.) It's great for traveling, thanks to a relatively small size -- it tips the scales at just 105 grams -- and fold-up prongs. Oh, and did we mention it currently costs $30 at Amazon? In separate sessions, this thing charged an HP Spectre x360 or a new MacBook Air from dead to about 65% in an hour, and topped them off fully in a bit over 90 minutes. And when we threw an iPhone X on the second port, it had no trouble charging the phone and laptop simultaneously. Do yourself a favor: Get two -- one to live permanently at home, the other to stay in the go-bag.
If you want ultimate portability, this model delivers the same power as the version above in an even smaller package: It'll fully juice up a laptop or anything else in your bag. The only drawback is that it loses the extra USB-A port. It was previously selling for closer to $50, but now it's about $40. (The white one costs a couple bucks more.)
If you don't need the legacy USB-A charging port, this Anker is a good choice. It does split its wattage output, so charging two laptops would slow things down considerably. But when I charged an iPhone and MacBook Air simultaneously, it still got them both to 90% and 80%, respectively, after a fast 90 minutes. Its biggest drawback: at $55, it's the most expensive one here.
Let's temper expectations here: At 45W, this USB wall charger isn't intended for juicing up most laptops (though it'll charge one if you plug it in and leave it overnight). But if you want an affordable single-port wall charger for smartphones, tablets and accessories that can easily slip into a pocket or purse, this RAVPower is a great fast charging option -- and this USB wall charger costs just $30. That's just a dollar more than Apple's wall charger that's bulkier and has less than half the wattage (just 18W).
How we selected USB-C PD chargers
You'll notice this list encompasses only two brands: Anker and RAVPower. We focused on them because of our earlier positive experience with both brands. Also, we've seen some of these fast charging products get enthusiastic mentions on shopping sites like The Inventory, and their Amazon user reviews are generally overwhelmingly positive.
In our tests (see below), the Anker and RAVPower models performed very closely to one another. But the reason the final list skews almost totally to RAVPower is because that company is just killing it in the value arena: In nearly every head-to-head match-up, the RAVPower charger beats its equivalent Anker model on price. But, if you see an Anker model on sale, it's certainly worth scooping up.
We're not saying that there aren't other good brands out there, but now that we've tested the ones listed above, we can confirm that they deliver a great value for the money. If and when we see viable alternatives at these price points, we'll update this story accordingly.
How we tested USB-C PD chargers
I did my own anecdotal testing on these models by running three products down to zero battery life, charging them up and checking the battery life indicator at intervals of 30, 60 and 90 minutes. The USB devices I used were a iPhone X., a recent and a two-year-old
In most cases, I ran at least two runs per charger per product and averaged them together if they came within a reasonable percentage of each other. The asterisk indicates dual-port chargers that were charging with the laptop and iPhone simultaneously.
Charging speed, compared
|Charger||Device||30 min.||60 min.||90 min.|
|RAVPower Dual-Port*||HP laptop||46%||64%||81%|
|RAVPower Dual-Port*||MacBook Air||38%||65%||85%|
|RAVPower Dual-Port*||iPhone X||39%||73%||91%|
|RAVPower PD 3.0||HP laptop||50%||71%||94%|
|Anker Atom PD 2*||MacBook Air||28%||54%||80%|
|Anker Atom PD 2*||iPhone X||44%||75%||90%|
Tips for using USB-C PD chargers
Make sure your device is compatible. If you have a small device to plug in -- smartphones (whether Apple or Android phones), wireless headphones, iPad, Nintendo Switch and so forth -- all of these chargers will almost certainly be compatible. And most of them will charge those products at a faster speed -- sometimes a far faster speed -- than the default charger that came with the device. For Macs, it's easy: If your Apple laptop has a USB-C port, it will accept PD chargers, while older models with MagSafe power adapters won't. On the PC and Chromebook side, it's trickier: Most -- but not all! -- new laptops with USB-C ports support PD charging (even if they also have a traditional proprietary charging port). Check the manufacturer's support documentation to verify.
Get the right charging cable. The reason the RAVPower dual-port model is our top pick is that it's truly a universal charger: It will power any standard USB or USB-C device using your old-fashioned USB-A connector or newer USB-C charging cable. But if you get one of the other models above with only USB-C outputs, you'll need to make sure you get a compatible cable, such as:
- USB-C to USB-C cable (for MacBooks, newer iPad Pros, PCs and Chromebooks and some newer accessories like speakers and headphones)
- USB-C to Micro-USB cable (for many current and older accessories, including most non-Apple wireless headphones and devices)
- USB-C to Lightning cable (for all iPhones, most iPads, AirPods and other Apple accessories)
Make sure the connections are secure. In at least one test, I came back to a laptop 30 mins later and found it hadn't charged at all. It turned out that one side of the cable was just half a millimeter too shallow in the laptop port, preventing a full connection.
Buy a USB-C compatible device. Slowly but surely, the entire electronics industry is moving over to USB-C as a common standard for data and power. While Apple's Lightning port remains a huge exception to the rule, affordable Lightning-to-USB-C cables have bridged the charging gap. Meanwhile, expect Micro USB to become more of an endangered species in the years ahead. When and where you can, try to opt for a USB-C device and charger as you shop for things like battery packs, wireless headphones, tablets and other peripherals to plug in. It's a great way to future-proof your gadgets.
Keep a few dongles on hand. Yes, USB-C power is pretty great -- except that nearly every airline seat, coffee shop, airport lounge and hotel room now seems to be equipped with those old-fashioned USB-A charging ports. That's why it never hurts to keep some adapters on hand for your device. The Elebase dongle shown above includes an integrated keychain that keeps it attached to the main cable. Not exactly elegant, but it gets the job done -- at $9 per pair.
This story was originally published earlier in September.