Friday, 18 November 2016

Keeping Your Smartphone Charged On The Move

Keeping Your Smartphone Charged On The Move

Struggling to keep your phone charged all day? Sarah Dobbs finds ways to give it some extra juice when you're not at home

If you could talk to your 2006-self about your mobile phone, Past You would probably be pretty amazed. The phone in your pocket today probably has a touchscreen, no keyboard, the ability to surf the web, GPS, and all sorts of other awesome things. On at least one count, though. Past You probably has a phone that outperforms yours: battery life.

Yup, while mobile phones like the old Nokia 3210 or even the swanky-at-the-time Motorola Razr V3 could go days without needing to be charged, your smartphone is probably starting to struggle by mid-afternoon if you've dared to actually, you know, use it. Make a few calls, check Twitter, use Google Maps to find your way somewhere, play a bit of Candy Crush, and you're probably looking at 40% battery left at best.

Back in 2006 or so, you could maybe have packed a spare battery to swap in when things got desperate, but you can't do that with most smartphones nowadays. It's almost ironic that the more dependent we've all become on our phones, the shorter their battery lives, meaning we're more often in situations where we can't use our phones, but we really need to.

So what are your options? Basically, it boils down to one of two things: either you need to find a charging point, or you need to be carrying a portable charger. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, so let's break it down...

Charging Spots

The obvious advantage to a public charging spot is that you don't need to have come prepared, and you don't need to lug yet another electronic device around with you on a daily basis. The disadvantage? Well, public chargers aren't always easy to find, and they may not be designed with your specific device in mind. Also, you're probably not the only person wanting to use one - and, of course, they might not be free. So where do you start looking?

The best place to start is probably your nearest shopping centre. If there's a mall near you, chances are it might have mobile phone charging stations set up. You're looking for a locker system, where you can plug your phone in, take the key, and leave it to charge; usually, these kinds of systems have 30 minute limits, after which you're meant to collect your phone - if it needs more of a boost than that.though, and you're going to be hanging around for a while, you could always plug it in and leave it again.

If the mall you're in has a John Lewis store, you might want to see if it's one of the stores that has Charge Boxes. The department store was one of the first business of its type to figure out that people sometimes need to charge their phones on the move and that, by providing the service, you might well end up with potential customers in the store for half an hour. Not all John Lewis stores can boast a Charge Box, but it's worth checking if the one near you does.

To save you wandering endlessly around shopping malls as your phone's battery life drops ever lower, you can check for your nearest Charge Box at, or if you've got an iPhone, you can download the app, which will use your location to find the nearest Charge Box charging station to you. If you're in London, you've got a significantly higher chance of finding one within walking distance, but the map shows several in other large UK cities, too, as well as one at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

If there isn't one near you? Your next stop should be a fast food outlet. Again, not all stores will have the chargers installed, but Starbucks, Costa, and McDonalds are among the most common high street food outlets that have tried making free chargers available to customers. The catch here, apart from the fact that - again - most of the locations are in London, is that they're using wireless chargers. Your phone may or may not work with the Qi standard, though many mobile phone manufacturers - including HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony - have been working to enable it. If not, you might need to get a dongle to use the chargers, which may or may not be available, So that's kind of a faff.

There are a couple of other places that offer phone charging facilities, but only in very specific locations. So, if you're in London, look for a green telephone box. The iconic red phone boxes that became more-or-less pointless once everyone started carrying mobile phones around in their pockets have had the last laugh. Several derelict ones have been given a makeover: now painted green, they've been rebranded Solarboxes, and inside are chargers for various types of mobile devices.

As the name suggests, each box has a solar panel mounted on its roof, which is where the energy for the phone chargers come from. Solarboxes claim they can give your phone a 20% battery boost in ten minutes, which is pretty impressive, and they're free to use, though a video screen plays adverts at you while you wait - and you will have to wait, since there's no locker facility, and it's probably not the best idea to leave your phone charging in public.

Another London-based potential solution depends on how you tend to get around town. A couple of new electric bus fleets have USB charge sockets built in, so if you commute using the 507 or 521, you can plug your phone in while you're on the bus and get a bit of extra juice that way.

There's also another public transport-related charging opportunity, though it's even more location-specific: a bus stop in Piccadilly, Manchester, has USB outlets  available for people to plug their own charger cables into in order to give their phones a boost while they wait for the bus. The bus stop is also wi-fi enabled, so you don't even need to use your own data while you're there. If both Solarboxes and phone charging bus stops could be rolled out all over the country, we'd basically never have to worry about not having a signal or running out of battery ever again, so fingers crossed for that particular vision of the future.

If none of the options mentioned so far works for you, you might need to get creative, or even sneaky. Phone shops might be able to help you out in a pinch, by letting your charge your phone in store; if you're an iPhone user, an Apple Store will almost certainly help you, or you could just slot your phone into a charging cradle and hope no-one notices (or thinks that your phone is a demo unit). On second thought, we're going to recommend asking a member of staff before plugging anything anywhere.

Finally, it might be worth saying that a lot of festivals and events, including Glastonbury and, er, Eurovision, offer free chargers to attendees. Airports, too, often have free chargers available in their food courts. That might not be of much use to most of us in our daily lives, but it could be worth knowing if you're planning a trip.

Portable Chargers

The other option to finding a charging point is to carry your own. Again, the advantages and disadvantages are pretty self-evident: you can use your own charger to charge up your phone wherever you are, without having to wait around. On the other hand, you do have to remember to bring it with you in the first place! They're also, obviously, not free. Still, for the sake of never having to scrabble around to find a Charge Box, or squint at a darkened screen in an effort to save your battery, it might be worth the investment.

There are a few different types of portable chargers available, though, so before you splash your cash it might be worth taking some time to consider when and where you're likely to want to use one of them.

The most common kind of portable phone charger is USB powered, and is basically just a spare battery pack. You must remember to charge it up before you go out, then chuck it in your bag but, when your phone's starting to get a bit low on power you just plug it in and switch it on.

This kind of charger is everywhere at the moment, especially now shops have started rolling out their Christmas gift sections. It's almost harder to find a shop that doesn't sell them than one that does. They range widely in size, appearance, function, and price, though. The cheapest and most basic version is pretty unremarkable to look at, costs maybe £10, and will give your phone around one to one-and-a-half full charges before it needs to be recharged itself.

Spend a bit more and you can get more attractive looking ones, and a charger that might refill your phone's battery capacity around five times before it needs recharging. Exactly how many times a given charger will charge your phone depends on how power hungry your device is in the first place, but chargers tend to range in capacity from around 3,000mAh (milliampere hours) to around 7,000mAh and more, so there's quite a variation.

If you drive to work, or you're going on a road trip, or for whatever other reason are likely to be in your car and needing to juice up your phone, it might be worth investing in an in-car charger. These plug into the cigarette lighter socket in your car, and let you plug your phone in to power it up from your car's battery. So they're not much use if you're walking around, but while you're in the car, they can be great - especially if you're planning a long journey where you'll be relying on Google and Maps to find your way.

There are some other kinds of charger that seem worth mentioning here, too, though you'll probably just want to pick one up next time you do your weekly shop and be done with it. However, if you're a regular camper or hiker, you might be more interested in chargers that don't need plugging into other electronics regularly. So how about a solar-powered phone charger? Usually quite a bit bigger than the standard USB ones - because they have to accommodate a mini solar panel - these convert energy from the sun into the kind your phone can use. They're surprisingly affordable: you can pick one up for around £20. The downside to this is that they do, of course, require the sun to shine at some point, which in the UK never quite seems like a given - even in summer.

Another alternative is a wind-up charger. These literally have you crank a handle while plugging in your phone, converting your energy into your phone's power. The you:phone ratio usually isn't amazing; one brand claimed that three minutes of winding the handle could yield around eight minutes of talk time, so you probably wouldn't want to rely on one of these on a daily basis, but in hiking type situations, where you might be in the middle of nowhere and desperately in need of a bit of extra power, one of these might come in extremely handy. They're not as easy to find in shops as the basic battery ones, but you can find them in outdoor sports retailers or some specialist electronics shops, and they range in price from around £25 to about £100.

Finally, an alternative to any of these is a phone-to-phone charger. These devices siphon off the energy from one phone's battery and transfer it to another, so in a pinch you could borrow your friend or co-worker's phone and steal a bit of their battery life. The actual devices are pretty cheap - you can pick one up for £8.99 - but how do you put a price on potentially destroying a friendship by taking precious battery life and using it for yourself? The modern world's full of etiquette pitfalls, and this one seems a little bit risky.

Still, you never know, maybe one day it'd come in useful. Maybe you know lots of people who carry fully-charged smartphones around with them all day without using them very often, and who wouldn't mind your leeching one bit. If so, lucky old you...

Take Care When Charging In Public

While it's great that there are more and more opportunities to charge our gadgets on the go nowadays, it's unfortunately necessary to sound a quick note of caution. While USB charging points might be convenient, they can also be co-opted by cyber-criminals, and used to steal information from your phone while you think you're getting a quick battery boost.

Researchers at internet security company Kaspersky Labs found that it was pretty quick and easy to install malware onto mobile phones that were plugged into computers via USB ports. Also, while phones were plugged in, the security firm found that some data was 'leaked' from the phone - like its device type, serial number, and even a list of files held in the phone's storage.

If you're plugged into a USB port on a bus, you'd think it's pretty unlikely that anyone could manage to tap into your phone that way. You'd be right, to be honest - USB ports, as we all know from our daily computer usage, can be used to exchange data and power, and at public charging points, they're pretty much designed just for power exchange. The thing to be cautious of, though, is if the port looks like it's been messed with in any way. Just as criminals can install skimmer devices at cashpoints to capture information about your debit card when you put it in to take money out, it's possible they could install devices at public charging points that would steal info from your phone.

At the moment, this is all hypothetical. There haven't been any reports of this actually happening, it's just that security experts have experimented and discovered it's possible. So, you know, just be careful, and don't go plugging your phone into something that looks dodgy. It should also go without saying, but we'll say it anyway: always make sure your phone is secured with a password, a PIN, or a fingerprint scanner, so that if anyone did get hold of it, they couldn't access your personal files. Now that our phones are basically mini computers we use to access our emails, documents, and even bank apps, it's important to treat them with as much care as we do our desktops, laptops, and tablets.

Happy Charging!

With a bit of luck, one or more of these options will turn out to be the right one for you, and you'll never have to worry about having enough battery life to get to the end of the day again. There is one last solution not covered so far, though, and that's probably the cheapest and easiest of the lot: just carry your phone's wall charger with you when you go out, and when you start getting low on battery, stop for a coffee or a drink, and ask your waiter or bartender if you can plug in your phone while you're there. Sorted!