Ask LH: What Should I Look Out For When Buying A USB Charger?

Ask LH: What Should I Look Out For When Buying A USB Charger?

Hey Lifehacker, With all the discussion recently about the pitfalls of buying cheap micro-USB wall chargers off eBay or from markets, what is the best way to buy a fast charging but safe charger, without paying a fortune for it? Thanks, Charged Up

Dear Charged Up,

Cheap USB wall chargers are a bad idea in all respects and can actually be deadly. Even if your charger isn’t threatening physical bodily harm, it could damage your device, or just not charge properly.

It’s no surprise that a no-name charger for just a few dollars could be dodgy, but buying from an actual store is no guarantee either. A $12 charger sold through Officeworks has the potential to overheat, melt and expose high voltage contacts.

So how do you avoid these dodgy chargers?

In Australia, electric devices undergo compliance testing to ensure safety and receive the RCM mark if they pass.

Keeping an eye out for the tick means you know a device has met the standards and is safe to use. The problem is, putting a product through full testing costs $5000-$6000 — not something fly-by-night sellers are likely to do.

Of course it’s possible that some dodgy sellers could fake the RCM sticker as well.

Manufacturer-branded USB chargers are generally a safe bet, but keep in mind these are often still sold as fakes online. Paying extra is not a sure bet either, since many of the fake chargers are also sold at higher price points.

To be totally safe, avoid online or market USB chargers where the true origin of the charger is unknown. Instead, shop at large electronic retailers, such as Dick Smith, and look for brand name chargers such as Belkin. If in doubt, Google the charger brand and look for reviews.

Safety is most important, but when it comes to charging fast, there are a couple of other things worth keeping in mind. Many phones and tablets can accept more than the typical 1 amp from a charger. Especially when it comes to tablets, a 2 amp charging rate is necessary to top up in a reasonable time frame.

The latest Snapdragon CPUs support Qualcomm Quick Charge, which can quickly boost up to 60% battery life in just 30 minutes. Of course you need a compatible charger, which doesn’t include any of the el-cheapo models from eBay.

The actual USB cable used can slow down or speed up your charge rate as well. It’s all about wire gauge -– most use 28/28 cables, which won’t handle more than about 500 mA of charging current. Thicker 24 gauge wire can handle up to 2 amps and is stronger to boot, so will be less likely to develop faults.

Where do you buy USB chargers from? Tell us in the comments below.



  • I’ve always just used the one that came with my devices. After awhile you should have accumulated several.

  • I bought a car charger from Kmart and it kept overheating and cutting out. I thought it would be fine since I bought it in Australia but it was still cheap and nasty.
    Then I spent about 5 times more for a good, reputable charger from the US. It seems silly ordering one from far away and paying for postage but at least I feel better knowing my car dashboard won’t catch fire or melt anything.

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