Most major phone releases nowadays come with improved charging speeds. How do fast chargers work, and how are they getting even faster? Find out here.
THE RISE OF FAST CHARGING
Nearly every recent flagship phone on the market offers some type of fast charging. Manufacturers often throw out numbers like “80% in 30 minutes” or “a full charge in under an hour” in the marketing of their latest devices.
The widespread adoption of fast charging is a response to increasing phone usage, with many people having to recharge their phones more than once per day. It’s also a necessity. As phone sizes are getting bigger each year, they need bigger batteries to keep up with the added power consumption. Without fast charging, we’d have to wait hours for our phones to top up.
At the most basic level, fast charging is simply increasing the number of watts (W) that are delivered to a phone’s battery. A basic USB port sends 2.5W to the connected device, and faster chargers raise this amount. Current-generation devices typically have 15W power bricks right out of the box. Some manufacturers have 50W, 80W, and 100W chargers available.
For the end user, it’s as simple as using a compatible fast-charger for their phone. However, for manufacturers, it’s not as straightforward as using a higher-watt power brick.
THE FAST CHARGING PROCESS
Before we go further, you should take note of a simple formula. Wattage, or power, is computed as a result of current (A, or amperes) multiplied by voltage (V, or volts). Current is the amount of electric current being transported, while voltage is the force that drives this current forward. Therefore, 3A/5V charging will deliver 15W of power.
One thing you’ll notice is that many manufacturers tout their ability to do a quick partial charge, such as being able to charge 50-80% of the battery within half an hour. This is because of the way that the rechargeable lithium-ion battery inside phones receives power. If you’ve ever monitored the way that a battery is filled up, you’ll notice that the speed of charging gets progressively slower over time.
The charging process can be divided into three parts. Take a look at the “Figure 1: Charge stages of lithium-ion” chart in this article by Battery University for more technical details. Briefly, here’s what it shows:
STAGE 1 – CONSTANT CURRENT:
Voltage increases towards its peak, while current stays constant at a high level. This is the phase where a lot of power is quickly delivered to the device.
STAGE 2 – SATURATION:
This is the phase where the voltage has reached its peak and current drops down.
STAGE 3 – TRICKLE/TOPPING:
The battery is fully charged. In this phase, the power will either slowly trickle in, or will periodically charge a low “topping” amount as the phone consumes battery.
The amount of power and length of each process depends on the fast-charging standard. A standard is an established charging process that corresponds to a particular device, charger, and power output. Different manufacturers develop various charging standards that are capable of varying outputs and charge times.
Here are the various fast-charging standards that have been implemented in mobile phones:
USB POWER DELIVERY:
Every mobile phone has a charging cable that uses USB—even the Lightning cables for Apple’s iPhones have a USB connection on the other end. USB 2.0, which has been a common specification for two decades, has a maximum power output of 2.5W. Because there’s a requirement for USB ports to deliver more power, the USB-PD standard was created. USB-PD has a maximum output of 100W and is used for a wide array of devices, including most flagship mobile phones. All USB 4 devices will include USB-PD technology, which will hopefully help standardize this.
QUALCOMM QUICK CHARGE:
Qualcomm is the most widely used chipset for flagship Android devices, and their latest processors have built-in compatibility with their proprietary Quick Charge standard. The newest Quick Charge 4+ has a max power output of 100W.
Most of these solutions raise charging speeds by increasing the voltage of their adaptors. The outlier is Oppo and OnePlus’ solutions, which significantly increase the current rather than the voltage. Fast-charging with these devices requires the use of their proprietary cables.
THE FUTURE OF CHARGING
Charging technology is continuously getting better and better, as manufacturers continue to raise charging speeds. In the next few years, more companies will experiment with charging technology, and new standards will emerge in the industry. However, it’s likely that most of these standards will still use USB-PD as their backbone.
There’s also the emergence of wireless fast charging. Transmitting large amounts of power wirelessly can become dangerous without proper thermal management. Wireless charging is still significantly slower than wired because technology companies are still figuring out how to manage the heat. That’s why companies like phone companies have released 30W wireless charges that have large fans to provide sufficient airflow.