Buying Guide: USB Battery Packs / Powerbank

Powerbank

USB battery packs / powerbanks (or whatever you call them) are great when you’re out and about and need to charge your devices but there are some features which you should look out for when buying one

  1. Buy from a reputable source
  2. Sufficient capacity
    • You need a powerbank that is capable of charging all your devices and has enough juice to get you through the day
    • Phones: ~2000mAH, 7″ tablets: ~4000mAh, 10″ tablets: ~8000mAh
      (iPhone 5S: 1560mAh / HTC One M8: 2600mAh / Lumia 1520: 3400mAh / S5: 2800mAh / iPad Air 2013: 8820mAh / Nexus 7 2013: 3950mAh)
  3. Output Charge speed
    • Ensure it can charge your device at the best and fastest speed
      • Tablets usually 2A
      • Phones usually 1A
  4. Passthrough ability
    • When the powerbank is being charged when connected to a power outlet, passthrough allows it to charge any device connected to powerbank, straight from the power source and not from the powerbank itself: perfect if you want to leave all your other charges behind and charges all your devices with just a single power outlet! (Note: may want to ensure that it charges at full USB charge speed)
  5. Battery gauge
    • Nice quick way to know how much capacity is left in your powerbank
    • Allows rationing of your charge
  6. Charges via a standard USB cable
    • Being able to charge your powerbank using a standard cable is ideal as proprietary charges can be hard to replace if lost
    • Ideally the same cable as your other devices (my powerbank can charge via miniUSB but all my devices use microUSB so it is one extra cable to bring along)
  7. Multiple USB ports
    • for those with multiple devices (or for sharing with others)
  8. Port positions
    • Some USB cables may be bulkier than others and thus powers that are spaced out are useful so that you can utilise all ports at the same time
    • Ideally all ports on a single side so it can be pocketable or just easily placed on a surface standing up if needed
  9. Charges quickly via USB
    • If allows charging via several methods (e.g. proprietary cable as well as via USB), ensure that it can charge quickly over USB (my Sanyo powerbank charges very slowly over USB)
  10. If it supports passthrough, added bonus ability to maintain proper charge, amperage and voltage when plugged/unplugged from power source
    • This use case comes from using your powerbank as the power source for devices like the Raspberry Pi: you want it to provide the power to the Raspberry Pi and if the power source gets disrupted and you do not wish for the device to get restarted, the powerbank must maintain a proper current/voltage so not to trigger a restart.

Note: a 4000mAh powerbank will not charge a 2000mAh phone battery twice due to inefficiencies, battery health and other factors.

ITLT: Headphone and USB port placement

Port Positions

How does one pocket this?

IMHO

  • both USB/charging port and headphone ports should be on the bottom
  • ensures pocketability when charging on the go with a USB battery pack while listening to music

Good

  • iPhone 5S
  • HTC One M8

Bad

  • Nexus 5
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
  • Lumia 930

Other Notes

If you’re stuck on with a device with non optimal port placement, I suggest getting right angle connectors for your headphones as it at least allows the device to rest on the connector without straining anything too much (you could also get a right angled USB connector, but it is yet another thing to worry about if you care about USB charging speeds)

Right Angled Headphone Connector

ITLT: USB Charging Speeds

USB chargers with USB cable

Ever had that moment where you plug your device in, see the charging symbol and thought that you were getting a good charge? Well I’ve had times when despite the charging icon showing, that the battery was actually getting slowly depleted, so here are some tips to make sure you’re charging optimally:

  • Check your charger
    • bigger devices usually require a charger that provides more amperage (tablets usually 2A, phones usually 1A)
  • Check your cables:
  • Check your USB port
    • for your computer / USB external battery packs with multiple USB ports: some ports could charge faster than others
    • find out how much power you’re getting via a device like the Practical Meter
  • Check your charging speed
    • Android
      • CurrentWidget (currently using this an available as a widget and/or on-going notification)
      • Charger Timer (haven’t used but looks good)
  • Force a faster charge
    • There seems to be a few Android apps that do this but it may also be device/kernel dependant. I have not tested these but there are apps like this

Other Notes

  • You can charge a device with a higher amperage charger: the amperage is the maximum rating that the charger can supply. If a device requests 1A then it will supply 1A even if the charger says 2A.
  • Voltage should be matched. 5V is the standard but I’ve seen slight variations of like 4.9V/5.2V but as it is only a small amount they shouldn’t be detrimental unless the device is very sensitive to it.
  • Also if you have chargers that specify power rating (e.g. Apple chargers), use the following formula:
    Power (W) = Current (A) x Voltage (V)

    So given a standard 5V

    • 12W charger will charge at 2.4A
    • 5W charger will charge at 1A.

Use your Android Phone as a Wireless Adapter for your Computer

So my Linux install going messed up somehow and I was left with no wireless driver installed. I know that you can use Android phones to USB tether mobile data (e.g. 3G/4G/LTE) but I didn’t know that you can do the same over WiFi!

Image

Image

Now while in OSX I’m pretty sure it worked out of the box previously, it seems that you need now need to download the HoRNDIS driver. With Linux (Ubuntu) it worked out of the box and in my previous usage of USB tethering, Windows should work automatically as well.

USB Modem Lock-in: The Reason to buy a 3rd party 3G USB modem

What happens when you put a DST SIM card into a b-mobiled branded TechFaith Flying Angel 46 USB 3G modem as shown below?

You get a bunch of fail as the modem is locked. This is a reason to buy a 3rd party 3G USB modem as it should support any SIM card and thus will be useful for bringing overseas as well. I contacted b-mobile who told me to contact the manufacturer. I tried to email but did not get any response from them. Perhaps it’s round 2 for trying to contact them or try to learn the inner workings for locking and unlocking modems.

Bmobile’s 1st Generation 3.5G HSDPA Modem in Ubuntu/Linux

bmobile's 1st Generation 3.5G HSDPA modem

bmobile's 1st Generation 3.5G HSDPA modem

Ever since I had the opportunity of using bmobile‘s 3.5G modem to get mobile broadband (via Zoom!) I was curious to see whether it would work in Linux. After much testing, I did manage to get it to work but it wasn’t consistent (it only seemed to work when the modem was tied to /dev/ttyUSB0, so I kepted plugging it in and out and redialed to see if it worked).

For the newer bmobile modem check out this page courtesy of @jikam

Test system: Running Ubuntu 9.04.

  1. Get usb_modeswitch (in Ubuntu / Debian you can “apt-get install usb_modeswitch” which makes things much easier)
  2. Get the usb_modeswitch.conf file and put it in /etc/
  3. The modem is identified an Alcatel One Touch X020 / X030 / MDB-100HU / Nuton 3.5G (lsusb will show ) so search usb_modeswitch.conf and uncomment the section for DefaultVendor, DefaultProduct, TargetVendor, TargetProduct and MessageContent

    ########################################################
    # Alcatel One Touch X020 (aka OT-X020, aka MBD-100HU, aka Nuton 3.5G), works with Emobile D11LC
    # Alcatel One Touch X030 (aka OT-X030, aka Nuton NT36HD)
    #
    # Contributor: Aleksandar Samardzic, Marcelo Fernandez

    ;DefaultVendor= 0x1c9e
    ;DefaultProduct= 0x1001

    ;TargetVendor= 0x1c9e
    ;TargetProduct= 0x6061

    # only for reference and 0.x versions
    # MessageEndpoint=0x05

    ;MessageContent="55534243123456780000000000000606f50402527000000000000000000000"

    ########################################################

    to

    ########################################################
    # Alcatel One Touch X020 (aka OT-X020, aka MBD-100HU, aka Nuton 3.5G), works with Emobile D11LC
    # Alcatel One Touch X030 (aka OT-X030, aka Nuton NT36HD)
    #
    # Contributor: Aleksandar Samardzic, Marcelo Fernandez

    DefaultVendor= 0x1c9e
    DefaultProduct= 0x1001

    TargetVendor= 0x1c9e
    TargetProduct= 0x6061

    # only for reference and 0.x versions
    # MessageEndpoint=0x05

    MessageContent="55534243123456780000000000000606f50402527000000000000000000000"

    ########################################################

  4. Do the actual mode switch for the modem to change the device from USB storage to modem mode:
    sudo usb_modeswitch
  5. Create the USB serial device for dial up:
    sudo modprobe usbserial vendor=0x1c9e product=0x6061
    This step created 3 devices (/dev/ttyUSB0, /dev/ttyUSB1, /dev/ttyUSB2) on my system.
  6. Use the Network Manager Applet to configure a new broadband modem connection with the B-Mobile configuration (APN: bmobilewap)

As mentioned this does not work consistently, so if it doesn’t seem to connection try plugging the USB modem out and back in and retry. I will try find a way to get this more consistent, but hopefully this will help those who are trying to get it to work

Using your phone as a modem via USB

image35

Though Bluetooth is a nice wireless way to use your phone as a modem, Bluetooth has it’s issues and sometimes it’s just not worth it when you can connect your phone via USB easily and without fuss. Using a USB cable would ensure faster transfer speeds over Bluetooth, if the maximum Bluetooth speed is capping your speed, and would also utilize less battery from your phone thereby giving advantages if you don’t mind the wires flowing around

Requirements:

  • Ensure your phone is configured to be able to connect to the Internet (example for DSTCom Brunei)
  • Drivers for the phone to be recognized as a modem on your computer (should be on CD that comes with the phone, or in the installed software, or possibly find it online)

Notes:

  • Following guide is done on Windows XP, if you need a Mac version, do lend me your Mac and I can tried make 1 for you =)
  • To obtain maximum connection speeds, the modem’s maximum speed to maximum as detailed here

 

For All Phones

  1. Connect the phone and install necessary drivers to recognize phone as a modem
  2. Open up “Network Connections” in the “Control Panel” and a new connection should be created
    image41
  3. Use that connection and dial *99# to connect to the Internet
     

For Nokia Phones

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