Can I charge my devices with any charger?

You don’t want to see how many cables I own.  The pretentious display of black and white spaghetti is enough to make you question my sanity.

But it’s the reality of living in a world where every tablet, smartphone and ebook reader comes equipped with its very own wall wart and charging cord.

So here’s the question: Is it safe to plug different cables into different devices or have manufacturers erected prohibitive barriers against cable promiscuity?

Most modern mobile devices use the newer Micro-USB charger, (I’m holding it in the graphic below).

So… if it fits I can mix?

Vonnie holding a Micro-USB connector

The short answer is yes.

The Micro-USB port, technically known as Micro B USB not to be confused with the nearly obsolete and slightly larger USB Mini B port) is a standard supported by a plethora of standardization bodies.

Every USB cable carries 5 volts and those designed specifically for charging usually carry somewhere between 1 and 1.5 amps.  This means one power cable can happily rule all your devices as long as it fits.

Whether you’re trying to excise extraneous cables between home and work or hoping to keep your load light for an upcoming trip, it’s safe to share you micro USB cable with all compatible devices.

Will it blow up?

I can envision the dubious look on your face as you read that last paragraph.

But Vonnie, isn’t it possible to blow up my device if I’m not using an approved power adapter?

Great question.

The bottom line is this:

Only use brand name chargers especially those flaunting the UL seal.

The UL logo denotes the charger was tested by the impartial (and fastidious) good guys at Underwriters Laboratories in Northbrook, Illinois.UL certification image credit Wikipedia

Don’t use the charger if you don’t see the UL seal.  It’s most likely an off-brand device with lackadaisical standards; you should throw it away, assume it’s a fire hazard and find a real changer.

Most of the explosions you’ve heard about are corollaries of bad batteries.

For example, last July, an 18 year old girl had a Samsung Galaxy S3 blow up in her pocket (beware, one of the photos is gruesome).

The blast lacerated her leg so she was justifiably litigious and launched a lawsuit against Samsung.

However, in the epilogue of the investigation, Mirjam Berger of Samsung Switzerland exonerated her company with new evidence:

The battery used in the device was not supplied or manufactured by Samsung or a company authorized by Samsung. Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research in Dübendorf Laboratory, corroborated this conclusion

The problem is that almost every gadget on the market uses a Lithium ion battery.

I’m going to surmise the reason is because lithium-ion batteries yield the most energy per ounce.  The energy density is very high so they’re efficient which makes them ideal for mobile devices.  In addition, they hold up to hundreds of discharge cycles.

But the news isn’t all good.

According to a research paper by the Electrochemical Society, about one out of every ten million lithium-ion batteries is predisposed to explode.

Usually this is because of a short-circuit inside the battery.  The separator that divides the negative and positive conductors (the electrodes) gets punctured or damaged in some way.

When this happens, the battery cell gets hot and eventually ignites which becomes the catalyst for adjacent cells also getting hot and igniting.  The concomitant result is a domino effect of exploding cells and eventually the entire battery melts in one great conflagration.

The moral of the story is to never use third-party batteries.

If you’re on a shoe-string budget always get the highest quality brand-name batteries especially those made by the manufacturer of your device.

Charging all day

As far as maintenance goes, you can get the most of your batteries by keeping them at least 50% full at all times; however, you should completely drain (discharge) your battery once a month for calibration.

Also most people don’t realize this but it’s also safe to leave your phone plugged in charging all day.

Most power adapters have a little chip inside that manages the State of Charge (SoC) and State of Health (SoH).  It’s a standard that virtually pervades all power adapters and it effectively prevents the phone from overheating or exploding.

This is how it works:

When you plug your power starved phone into a power source, it takes a big gulp of delicious volts and amps.  Since the battery is already low the risk of fire is virtually infinitesimal.

Then when the battery hits 80% the power adapter drops the amps (the water hose gets closed a little to restrict the rushing water) but the volts remains constant.

This is to keep the battery from overheating.  The charger provisions less amps as the device gets closer to the 100% mark.  This is also why it takes longer to charge your phone during the last 20%… during the last mile of the race there are less amps getting pushed through the cable so that the battery doesn’t melt.

So what should I pack?

Tangled cables and chargers

Some laptops can’t charge some devices.  In my experience, this is usually because the source isn’t producing enough amperage.

For example, you can’t charge your iPad through the USB port of your laptop.  USB ports produce 5 volts at 500 Milliamps but that’s insufficient for powering your iPad.

In this case you can either use the iPad charger that came with the device or simply pick up a mini-wall outlet for $20 bucks from Amazon.

Incidentally, packing the power adapter for your iPad has the fortuitous effect of providing a power plug for your other gadgets too.  That’s because the power charger for your iPad has more amps than your phone charger.

Having more amps is like having more water rushing through the water hose. Volts are analogous to the water in the hose and the amperage refers to how much water is shooting through that hose every second.

So the iPad charger can push more “water” through the hose because it’s designed to power a bigger device than your smartphone.

Thus, if you plug in a USB cable to the iPhone power adapter and attach your phone it will probably not only just charge, but also charge faster than it would if you were using a lower amperage adapter.

If you can’t lug your laptop around you should consider a portable power source with good reviews.

Check out something like the XP2000 from Energizer.  The pack is super light, comes with 6 removable tips and costs around $40 bucks.  I haven’t used this one though so I can’t report on it from experience.

The Bottom Line

  • You can safely charge any micro-USB device with any micro-USB charger.
  • As long as the wires are UL certified you won’t precipitate any fires.
  • It’s okay to charge all day
  • You might want to buy a power pack or mini-wall outlet for long trips

Hope this helps!

About

Connect with Vonnie on Twitter

Posted in Hardware, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets Tagged with:
  • Misha

    Hi vonnie! Thank you so much for such a great article! I have a question for you. 2 months ago I bought the Samsung galaxy tab 4 10.1″ the tablet has been working great and charging well. Last week I started to experience charging problems. First the tablet stated to charge slowly with its adapter and the stopped to charge altogether, though it shows the charging sign. I had to use a blackberry charger that I had and it charges slow but at least it does. I restored the tablet to original settings so I don’t think is a software problem. Also the tablet charger works well with my Samsung phone. At this point I’m not sure what to do. Don’t want to send it to Samsung yet as I need it for work. Any ideas? Thanks!

    • Ashley Roper

      I have the opposite problem. After using my Galaxy Tab 4 charger on my Galaxy S3, my S3 doesn’t want to charge on its own charger or the car charger. It just makes tons of beeps as it connects and disconnects on its own. I can be in another room and hear it beeping and chirping away, and when I return, the battery is lower than before. Any suggestions for me?

    • Kenzie Robinson

      I had the exact same problems with my galaxy tab 4!!! It wouldnt charge so my dad did something to make it work. He sent the charger back to the company. But now, i notice, my tablet is charging extremely slow.