The infancy of mobile technology devices was fraught with difficulties. On the one hand, those mobile devices offer you a certain degree of freedom. They let you take calls and messages and even connect you to the internet if needed. They were, however, limited to the amount of charge their batteries could hold, for this ultimately determined the number of hours they would be useful until you had to find a wall socket. And once you ran out of phone battery, you were pretty much glued to a wall for the better part of the day.
For those who experienced this, fast charging technology is truly a godsend. This means that getting your battery half full won’t take 4 hours. In fact, most fast chargers can achieve this in less than an hour. But with so many types of fast charging available, choosing the right one for your device to fully charge quickly can be quite confusing, especially when you throw in wireless fast charging in the mix.
At the onset of fast charging technology, there were issues of compatibility and hardware choices that made it difficult to achieve optimal charging speeds. And as of this writing, there are still some who struggle with it. To clear up the fog, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about fast charging.
What Is Fast Charging?
To understand what fast charging is, let’s define the parameters of battery charging and look at the history of mobile device charging.
All gadgets run on electrical power. And a quick search on it will show you that electrical power is equal to current times voltage. If we take the unit of measurement for each of these components, we see that Watt = Amp x Volts. In this equation, 1watt is equal to 1Amp running at 1volt. In the advent of mobile phones, the charging speed was only half a watt, where 0.5watts is achieved by running 0.1 amp or 100 milliamperes through 5volts. Power delivery depends on all of the hardware involved. During this time, manufacturers had to work with USB-A 2.0 to micro USB connectors so the amount of power they could run was only up to 2.5watts.
So how do they achieve the current charging speeds we have today? They either increase the voltage, the amperage, or both. While beneficial for consumer convenience, the difference in the execution of this by manufacturers is what confused consumers about fast charging.
Fast Charging Standards And Their Extensions
As mentioned earlier, there are different ways to go about getting a faster charging rate. So, major players in the industry initially went about their own way to achieve this. Later on, other companies would build on these standards and make them their own, making things more chaotic. Let’s see what these types are.
Qualcomm’s Quick Charge
We’ll talk about Qualcomm’s Quick Charge first because it was the most common standard in the industry during the advent of fast charging. At present, they have 5 iterations of this technology. The first 2 relied on fixed amperage and varied the voltage using predefined settings. The reason that Qualcomm went this route is that the micro USB cables supplied with mobile devices, then, could only handle up to 2Amps at the fastest charging rate. With this limitation, QC1.0 topped off at 10watts, and 2.0 is capped at 18watts. The predefined voltage settings also meant that there were fixed power outputs for this type of charging. And if your device did not support it, you’d end up with slow or no charge at all.
Then came Quick Charge 3.0. This version improved the variable voltage output by dividing it into 0.2volt increments. This meant that there are a whole lot more power profiles that it supports, although peak power is still at 18watts. This technology also supports USB-C allowing it to increase the current to 4.6Amp.
The latter 2 iterations of Quick Charge improve the power output, more importantly, make them compatible with the next fast charging standard we will discuss - PD or power delivery. Thus, QC4 is able to pull 27watts in PD mode while QC5 is said to go up to 100watts.
USB Power Delivery
Quick Charge may have been the standard for fast charging in the mobile industry before, but now, the standard has shifted to USB Power Delivery. The fact that even Qualcomm had to make their technology compatible with it is proof enough.
USB PD is not to be confused with standard USB charging. Like Quick Charge, Power Delivery uses different power profiles. But instead of changing it, voltage is kept constant for different applications or types of appliances. Current is then fine-tuned to the individual accessory’s need. Small accessories would only use 5volts and larger ones use a 20volt setting.
Even if early versions also used micro USB cables, these cables had to be rated to handle the high current and voltage running through them. This allowed for a maximum of 60watts via micro USB cables and 100watts for USB-A or B cables. This means that if you tried to use PD charging to charge your phone with your cable that’s not rated to handle the current, you won’t get the benefits of fast charging.
What’s unique about USB ports and cables is their ability to transmit power and data at the same time. With Programmable Power Supply or PPS, it’s actually possible to achieve up to 100watts of power. And even though you have fixed voltages, the charger and your device can communicate to each other what one needs and what the other one can deliver. Then, the correct power profile is set and you get the optimal charging speed for your device at that particular moment. This also makes it safer to charge your phone at a higher level. It’s still quite new but support for this technology is growing.
Apple’s Fast Charging
It’s no secret that Apple doesn’t want to be copied. That’s why, up until the iPhone 7, you were stuck on 5watts wired charging. Then, Apple shifted gears and came up with their own version of Power Delivery. That’s because they still stubbornly use their lightning cables for their phones. No specifics are released due to their secretive nature, but unless you buy their newer 20watt charger, you won’t be able to charge 50% of your iPhone in 30mins. Oh, and don’t forget that you’ll also need a USB-C to lightning cable for this.
Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging
The Korean tech giant also didn’t feel the need to directly adopt emerging standards, and, like Apple, opted to use their own. Samsung uses its own blend of Quick Charge and tends to favor its own charging devices to achieve faster charging speeds. That’s because they also want to make newer iterations of their technology backward compatible. They also tried to implement PD PPS but decided to dial back on charging speeds to preserve phone battery longevity and prevent premature wear and tear.
Other Proprietary Fast Charging Technologies
Major phone manufacturers have also implemented their own versions of fast charging. These are adapted from either Quick Charger or PD technology. We’ll just list them here to illustrate why consumers get confused because of the number of versions besides the 4 already mentioned.
- MediaTek Pump Express + - a version of QC by Qualcomm’s competitor
- Oppo VOOC/Super VOOC/Flash Charge - fastest recorded charging rate at 125watts
- Motorola Rapid Charging/Turbo Power - also like Quick Charge
- One Plus Dash Charge/Warp Charge - licensed from Oppo, basically the same as VOOC
- Huawei SuperCharge - another proprietary charging technology
The list goes on.
How To Get Fast Charging Speeds?
To be safe, it’s better to use the cable and charger that came with your “modern” smartphone if you want fast charging speeds. This is especially true for most of the proprietary fast charging or quick charging technologies that we listed above. But if you’re upgrading to a new phone that doesn’t come with a charger out of the box, you can opt for the fastest charger that the brand offers. That’s because modern phones and chargers already have safety checks in place to make sure that the phone battery is safe no matter what charging phase it’s in. But if you’re still looking at other options, make sure that the charger you’re looking for is compatible with the charging technology used by your phone. Good quality chargers will indicate what type of charging it supports like this Qualcomm quick charge wall charger.
What About Wireless Fast Charging?
Now, wireless charging is just another way to implement fast charging. Instead of the power running through wires, it uses magnetic induction to create currents in coils to deliver power to the battery. It also had its rough start but just like fast charging, one standard has emerged, Qi wireless charging by the Wireless Power Consortium. But with so many wireless charging pads out in the market, which one should you choose? Even if there are proprietary wireless charging technologies implemented by manufacturers, they all fall back on the Qi standard if things don’t match. For Android phones, you’re pretty much safe with any wireless charging pad. You can even opt for a stylish customized wireless charging pad. But if you’re an Apple user, you need to consider if the charger you’re getting is MagSafe charger compatible if you have an iPhone 12 or newer. If that’s the case, you should consider using a 15 watts wireless charging pad. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with 7.5watts of wireless charging power.
Do note that fast wireless chargers aren't really that fast. Most manufacturers settle on 15watts for now just to keep things on the safe side. And again, as with a wired charger, make sure that your charger, cables, and device all use the same charging technology and standard for fast charging speeds. Installing a wireless charging case is also a smart move as not all cases are capable.