In any scenario, having to deal with a dead cell phone is a pain. No one likes to realize their alarm did not go off because their phone died in the middle of the night. Or that they are totally lost when the phone’s GPS suddenly changes to a black screen.

With how important cell phones have become to everyday life, you would think that grabbing a charging cable would be simple. However, there are a number of options available depending on what type of phone you have. Even when looking at the same type of charger, different versions can be available.

Phone Charger Ratings

Chargers can have different ratings that are based on three factors: power (watts), current (amps), and voltage (volts). Amps are the key factor to look at here. Larger devices with bigger batteries, such as a tablet vs. a phone, hold more power and can take longer to charge. Phone chargers are made with different ratings depending on what device they are designed to go with. For example, this car charger has three USB ports on it. The first two ports have 1.0A (amps) while the last port has 2.1A. The 2.1A port has higher amperage and can charge big devices like tablets faster while the 1.0A ports are better for smaller devices like cell phones.

Some devices will only draw a certain amount of power from any charger to avoid damaging themselves. For example, iPhones will never charge with more than 1.0A. On the flipside of that, if you used a 1.0A charger with something like a tablet it would charge slower than if you used a 2.1A charger.

There are some rumors that claim charging a phone too fast can reduce the maximum battery life over time. This is false and nothing but an urban legend. The worst-case scenario is that your battery will not charge faster because it was not built for that. Nothing will be damaged by using a high-speed phone charger. Think of it the same way as using a wall outlet. You could plug in a computer or you could plug in a lamp. The computer uses a lot more power, but that does not mean plugging the lamp into that same outlet will make the light bulb explode.

iPhone Chargers - Lightning Cables

Lightning cables were designed by Apple and are specifically designed to be used as iPhone chargers. Being proprietary to Apple, the options for buying lightning cables from third-parties are limited. Functionally, lightning cables work the same way as Micro USB cables for Android phones. They are a different size and shape from Micro USB, which makes lightning cables unique to iPhones.

Lightning cables were introduced by Apple in September 2012. Most Apple devices that people use today need lightning cables. Older Apple devices used a 30-pin dock connector instead, but most of these devices are old enough that they have been replaced. 30-pin dock connectors are no longer officially made by Apple, so if you happen to have an older device you will have to look for a third-party charger.

Some newer Apple devices are beginning to replace lightning connectors with the new USB-C connection. USB-C, also called USB 3.1, charges faster than a lightning cable and has been included on new MacBook Pros. While it has not been implemented on the iPhone yet, that may happen in the near-future.

Android Chargers - USB Cables

Android chargers are more diverse than iPhone chargers since Android phones are made by different companies. There are four types of USB chargers that can be built into Android phones: 2.0 Mini USB, 2.0 Micro USB, 3.0 Micro USB, and USB-C.

2.0 Mini USB is the old standard for cell phones. Mini USB was the first step in making a standardized cell phone charger, replacing the proprietary chargers that each phone company used to make independently. Mini USB is still used on some other devices like GPS and cameras but on cell phones it is has been replaced by Micro USB.

2.0 Micro USB carries a 500mA (milliamps) charge and is still one of the most common connections for Android phones. This charging speed is about half of what an Apple lightning charger is capable of. The inside of a USB connector has 4 metal pins used to send the electrical current. These pins are attached to four individual wires inside the cable.

3.0 Micro USB uses 9 pins, giving it an increased charge of 900mA. This new speed puts 3.0 Micro USB just a little below a lightning cable’s charging speed. A few phone companies have used 3.0 Micro USB, most notably Samsung, but most have either stuck with 2.0 Micro or skipped directly to USB-C. Even the companies who did use 3.0 Micro USB have switched over to USB-C at this point.

USB-C (also called USB Type-C and USB 3.1) is the newest and sleekest version of USB phone charger, being released in August 2014. Rated for 1.5 amps thanks to using a whopping 24 pins, USB-C is 50% more powerful than Apple’s lightning cables. Additionally, USB-C can be inserted facing up or down. It eliminates those small but extremely frustrating moments where the cable will not go in and you realize it was upside down. Most major phone manufacturers are making the switch to USB-C or have done so already.

Micro USB
USB 2.0
2.0 USB
USB 3.0
3.0 USB
USB Type-C
USB 3.1

2.0 Micro USB (left), 3.0 Micro USB (middle), and USB-C (right)