Every few weeks, I head up to Connecticut with five or six close friends or family members and some newfangled gaming laptop for a LAN party. Most of my gaming clan are like family to me, so we often share or loan charging peripherals. When everyone in the house needs to charge a controller, a Nintendo Switch, or some other piece of technology, spreading the energy around becomes a necessity.
Ideally, everyone in our gaming clan would only be sharing USB-C cables to charge our devices. But our LAN party reflect the industry: we’re not there yet.
There isn’t a high-end gaming laptop that doesn’t use its own proprietary charging plug. Sometimes that’s a design choice by the OEM or the physics of energy transfer getting in the way, thus making it harder to use USB-C instead of some odd plug that I won’t ever see on another laptop.
Developments in fast and wireless charging tech over the past decade have improved all of our favorite gadgets, making for less frequent visits to a wall outlet. Recently, fast charging has played a big role in that by making it easier to quickly juice up a battery and get moving again through the proliferation of USB-C.
USB-C promised to be “the cable to charge them all.” USB-C consists of the Type-C standard cable itself, as well as Thunderbolt 3, USB-PD, and the different generations that affect how quickly you can charge with the cable. The proliferating styles can be confusing for consumers.
Once you figure out the cables you’re using, you’ll have to face a ton of heavily marketed fast charging standards, all with different charging rates. Apple’s fast charging, Qualcomm’s Quick Charge, OnePlus’ Dash charging, Motorola’s TurboPower — it can feel like chaos.
Here’s why it matters.
My gaming clan might not play Fortnite on mobile — we’re a PC, PS4, and Switch kinda group. But if we did, I’m quite sure we’d redesign the game room to have several USB-C cables, so we can be ready for those moments where a dispute can only be resolved with a 1v1 game of Dragon Ball FighterZ on the Switch.
Thankfully, things are less complicated when it comes to charging our phones.
Most Android smartphones have Quick Charge 4.0 or a competing tech with similar wattages, like OnePlus’ Dash charging, or Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging. If the device in question is an LG or Samsung smartphone, then you’ll also have the benefit of wireless charging. For iOS users, the iPhone X, 8, and 8+ have their own fast charging solution around USB Power Delivery bricks you can buy alongside Apple’s own Lighting to USB-C cable. Earlier models have some workarounds, too.
But not all accessories are made the same — use the wrong one, and you can permanently ruin your battery. Just so we’re clear: do not buy cheap, off-brand accessories! A bad cable can over-volt or potentially overcharge a battery, eventually damaging it.
What about the future of batteries and charging? Over a heated game of League of Legends, my friends and I discussed if there might be a way through by storing and transferring energy in a way that doesn’t use chemical reactions, like a traditional lithium-ion battery does. That would mean using supercapacitors, which store energy on the surface of a material. The upside is that they can be charged very quickly and retain energy storage capacities over time. They don’t wear out, like ordinary batteries do. The only catch is that they’re taking a while to come to market, with additional testing and research required to make it compatible for phone batteries.
We’re not far off from drastic changes in how we charge our devices. Just last week, Samsung announced the Galaxy Note 9 with a new S Pen that uses supercapacitor tech, to get near-instant full charges when the stylus is docked inside the phone. It’s exciting to think that near-instant charging is becoming reality.
Super fast charging like that would make my LAN parties go a lot smoother by keeping everyone charged and away from wall outlets, so I’m all for it. Until then, my LAN parties are just going to have setups with chargers of every type.