Belkin’s fast-charging Apple Watch power bank could be sorcery
Today was just another Thursday when my colleague and editor of The Verge, Richard Lawler, tagged me in a Slack thread. Upon opening said thread, I yelled pterodactyl. Meet the Belkin BoostCharge Pro – a $99.99 10,000mAh power bank with a small divot that lets you quickly charge a compatible Apple Watch or second-generation AirPods Pro on the go (and any device that charges). via a USB-C cable at 20W).
Is it expensive? Yes, especially since it is not yet available and is only open for pre-orders. I wouldn’t blame anyone who isn’t a wearables reviewer or smartwatch enthusiast for scoffing. It’s a sensible reaction, and I completely understand why you might think I’m a dingus of the highest order for being so happy about an untested gadget. I also understand that I may have made the equivalent of $108 (with sales tax) down the toilet if this power bank turns out to be a dud.
Here’s why I’m willing to take that risk.
Thanks, I hate that. This is one of many trash cans that I am still sorting and labeling. Photo by Victoria Song/The Verge
Smartwatches have the distinction of being one of the few types of gadgets that still rely on proprietary chargers. I have a nest of Medusa smartwatch chargers from Apple, Samsung, Fossil, Google, Fitbit, Garmin, Mobvoi, and a dozen other miscellaneous wearable brands divided into multiple drawers and bins. While lawmakers can urge phones, tablets and other gadget makers to unite around a charging standard, powering wearable technology comes with unique challenges.
Frustrated with my “collection”, I called designer Gadi Amit a few years ago, who founded the NewDealDesign agency that Fitbit previously used for several products. He told me that every standardized connector, whether USB-C or otherwise, is essentially too big to work with a laptop small enough to comfortably carry. This also extends to wireless charging coils.
Another problem? The smartwatches place health tracking sensors on the bottom so they can sit on your skin, while the screen sits on the opposite side so you can actually see the dang display. This leaves device manufacturers with very limited options as to where they can physically place a charging mechanism. To complicate matters further, companies may not use the same sensors or components across devices. Any drastic overhaul of internals or design change may then require a completely new charger, even if it looks nearly identical to the old charger.
Flagship smartwatches also have a reputation for unimpressive battery life compared to the more power-efficient fitness bands of yore. Advanced GPS, always-on OLED screens, continuous health tracking, cellular connectivity – all of these features drain the battery. The more advanced the watch, the worse the battery life will be. Software innovations have improved battery life over the years, but fast charging is a quick, easy, and comfortable compromise to the smartwatch battery conundrum.
A fast-charging power bank means never wondering if I packed the right Apple Watch cable
The only problem is that fast charging has different technical requirements than normal charging. And that means – you guessed it – adding this feature requires a brand new proprietary charger. In the case of the Apple Watch, once Apple introduced fast charging with Series 7, that meant you needed the new Apple Watch USB-C charger and a power supply that could deliver more 5 watts of power. Those tiny cubes that came with Apple devices? It won’t work. And for “e-waste reasons,” the new power supply isn’t included when you upgrade to fast-charging compatible Apple Watches.
And that’s why it can be confusing for the average consumer to know at a glance if they’re using the right smartwatch charger and power supply combo to enable fast charging. As my spouse says, “It doesn’t help that old and new Chargers look a lot alike.” (Pro tip: Always check to see if it has a USB-C connector and a silver bracket on the puck.) That’s just with Apple’s own chargers, which cost an arm and a leg to replace if you lose them. . It can be a free-for-all game in the third-party market if you don’t do your due diligence. And even if you want to stick with Apple-only chargers, those don’t always work either.
This thing will not fast charge your Apple Watch. Photo by Dieter Bohn/The Verge
Example: Apple’s MagSafe Duo. Although it costs an absurd $130 for the privilege of charging your iPhone and Apple Watch on the go, you can’t use it to fast charge the watch.
Those third-party 3-in-1 charging stands? Only some of them support fast charging for Apple Watch Series 7, 8 and Ultra. Even if you buy them from accessory makers that Apple works with, like Belkin. I made the mistake of asking for a Belkin 3-in-1 charging stand for Christmas, and my relatives didn’t check if the one they gave me supported fast charging for the watch. I’m now stuck with it, even though it doesn’t have the one thing I need in the morning when I wake up for an hour-long run and my Apple Watch battery is at 10%. The result is that my nightstand is a spaghetti mound of labeled cables so that even half asleep I can choose the right charger for the right device to charge at the right speed.
Forget travel. I do my best to pack the right chargers, bricks, and power banks for the three to five portable devices I test whenever I’m away from home. I blundered in spite of myself. Worse still, the wireless magnetic pucks and pins used by portable chargers are not what I would call secure. You can plug your phone into a regular power bank, throw it in your backpack, and be sure your phone will charge. This is not the case with connected watches. It depends on whether the spirits of your ancestors will bless your magnetic charging puck on any given day and whether you jostle in transit.
This is a problem for me, of course. But even if you’re not reviewing portable devices and have dozens of cables to choose from, there’s always a risk of leaving a cable behind, grabbing the wrong one when packing, and having the choice of buying a new charger…or accepting your watch is dead until you get home.
You can plug your phone into a regular power bank, throw it in your backpack, and be sure your phone will charge. This is not the case with connected watches
I don’t know if this Belkin BoostCharge Pro will keep its promises. I’ve been burned so many times that I try to temper my expectations. But the idea that this little divot in the photo, the one where it looks like I can securely attach my Apple Watch to it and plug in my phone? And potentially eliminate two or three extra cables from my bag? And give me confidence that if I take this thing, I will be 100% sure that it will fast charge my device? And maybe let me throw away my smartwatch cables in exchange for an assortment of 3-5 power banks? For once, enough hope burns in my wizened heart that I pre-ordered the damn thing to test it myself.
Bless Belkin for even trying to ward off that. Bless the army of imitators who will likely get on board and do so at a cheaper price. Bless the inevitable copycat copycats who will for Samsung, Google, Fossil and other smartwatches.
I’ll report back as soon as this thing ships.