There's one thing we can all agree on – power banks are pretty awesome. They store back-up charge in their own, internal battery and let us recharge our phones anytime, anywhere, even when we're away from an outlet. But not all power banks are created equally. Some are small and light, designed to fit in the smallest of pockets; others are large and bulky, but hold much more charge. Then there are the power banks that blatantly lie about their capacity. Needless to say, you don't want to own a power bank of the third kind.
These fake power banks can't be found in your local BestBuy, that's for sure. You won't see them in reputable online stores either. But if you've ever searched for a power bank, you might have come across fakes on eBay, its Chinese alternatives, or other places where dodgy smartphone accessories can be found. Most of these are sold without branding, but fakes portraying themselves as genuine brand-name accessories do exist.
How to spot a fake power bank?
Well, using common sense should do the trick. Most power banks hold between 2,000 and 10,000 milliamp-hours (mAh) of charge – the higher the capacity, the larger the physical size of the accessory. The largest models on the market do reach capacities over 20,000mAh, but they're a rare sight among average consumers due to their size, weight, and price.
Go to eBay, however, and you may come across power banks that supposedly pack 50,000 to 100,000 mAh of charge – an astonishingly large amount – but usually cost next to nothing. These are the fakes you should stay away from. Sure, they almost certainly will work as a power bank, but their actual capacity is guaranteed to be less than what the listing wants you to believe. In fact, if a power bank could really store 100,000 mAh of charge, it would be large enough to require a backpack to be carried around.
We're not saying that every single power bank that offers lots of charge for little money is a fake. Indeed, there are some good value-for-money offerings, such as the 10,000mAh power bank from OnePlus costing $19, or the 20,000mAh one from Aukey priced at $25 on Amazon. But if a deal seems too good to be true, then it could really be a scam. Do your research before making a purchase.
How bad are those fake power banks anyway?
To answer this question, we spent some $10 on one of those suspicious no-name power banks. (So you don't have to!) Our unit was supposedly capable of storing 20,000mAh of charge, which was quite a lot – about enough to provide an iPhone 6s with 10 full charges. However, the accessory could barely recharge an iPhone 6s twice before it ran completely out of juice. Clearly, the thing's actual capacity was much less than the advertised 20,000mAh, so we cracked it open to see what was really going on under the hood.
Honestly, the internals of the accessory didn't look as bad as we expected them to. Inside we found four lithium battery cells (type 18650, a popular standard) and a circuit board to control the charging process. The cells, however, looked fishy. The most alarming thing about them was the complete lack of labeling: neither their manufacturer, nor their voltage and capacity were stated. We could only assume that they were either old or of low quality, based on our experience with the accessory. In any case, four genuine, high-quality cells of this type should easily hold enough energy to recharge an iPhone 6s at least four times, but can never provide the advertised 20,000mAh capacity.
Inside our '20,000mAh' power bank
Inside our '20,000mAh' power bank
This is what our power bank looked like before we took it apart. The build quality was okay. Four LED's indicated the amount of charge we had left. Oh, and the accessory's package came bearing the tagline "Quality of life is change". Deep stuff.
Here's the bank next to an iPhone 6s, giving you a rough idea as to how big it actually was.
The bank was supposedly capable of storing 20,000mAh of charge, which were lies, of course. We also doubt that it had ever set foot at the FCC.
Inside the power bank we found four battery cells and circuitry in control of the charging process. Not too bad overall, but there's no way these cells can possibly hold the promised 20,000mAh of charge.
And here's another look at the bank's internals. The circuitry does look okay, but the lack of any labeling on the cells leads us to believe that they're of poor quality.
Conclusion: are fake capacity power banks worth it?
To summarize, fake capacity power banks are looking like a bad deal. The only "good" thing about them is that they cost very little money – between $10 and $20 in most cases, depending on the model. And yes, they seem to work. But as the saying goes, you do get what you pay for, and what you're most likely going to get is a bunch of lies – a bank that can hold very little charge for its size, made with lithium cells of dubious quality. If you're looking for a power bank, our advice is to go for one made by a brand name you can trust. Sure, it might cost a bit more than the fakes, but it is much more likely to give you the performance and features that its manufacturer is promising.