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Posted: 07:57:14 PM, 17/12/2015

Disappoing multi-port USB charge stations

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Here are two multi-port USB chargers: "an Orico DCT-5U, which offers both 1A and 2.4A output options, along with an OTG (on-the-go)-compatible port pair":


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"and a Sabrent AX-U5PB, which is supposedly able to deliver 2A to each of its five USB ports":
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If you've followed any technology retailer (brick-and-mortar, Internet, or both) for any amount of time, you likely already realize that this particular product class is one of the hottest in consumer electronics. A diversity of charge port options exists in the marketplace, which the combination of USB Type C and wireless charging may eventually simplify, although a diversity of the latter also currently exists. However, the connector-and-voltage combination on the other end of the charge cable is largely standardized nowadays; 5V at 1A (or more), sourced over USB.



This commonality is fundamentally what's fueling the multi-port USB charger's popularity. However, as abundant user feedback on Amazon and elsewhere indicates, consumers' experiences with these products are less than stellar. For some suggestions as to why this is the case, let's first look more closely at the Orico DCT-5U. It's promoted as being a 5-port charger with 40W of aggregate output current, but when I connected its front OTG port to my HTC One M7 smartphone for charging purposes, here's what awaited me:
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Why? The only qualifier I can find in the online product overview documentation is "Please note: OTG is not compatible with Apple products," which references the charger's optional on-the-go direct-data-transfer capabilities. The online FAQ also doesn't mention anything charge-related that's specific to the OTG port, and the user manual isn't available for download from the company's support site, either. However, after a frustrating 30 minute search (a fact which pretty much makes my point all by itself), I found the printed user manual, which included the following broken-English statement:



OTG Ports are not Dedicated Charger. They may can't Charge Some Devices. Charge Devices via Dedicated Charger is Recommended.



Calling the Orico DCT-5U a five-port charger under these circumstances seems disingenuous to me. Do you agree?



Next, let's look more closely at the Sabrent AX-U5PB. It's marketed as a "50W" charger, which, if you do the math on its five-port, 5V-output specifications, translates to ~2A maximum per-port output current capability. There's nothing in the product markings or documentation to suggest otherwise. However, a look at the Amazon user feedback suggests that something's amiss. Some units don't deliver more than ~1A per port, even when only one device to be charged is plugged into them. Other folks find that the AX-U5PB works as claimed only if a particular power-on sequence is employed. And still others find that the device prematurely dies. My particular unit hasn't yet experienced any of these problems, but a 20% 1-star rating percentage isn't exactly confidence building ... and a quick scan of other multi-port USB chargers on Amazon reveals that this situation isn't unique to the AX-U5PB, or Sabrent more generally, for that matter.



Finally, let's look back at the Orico DCT-5U. Two of its ports are explicitly labeled "1A," with two others stamped "2.4A" (and the last two identified as "OTG," but I've already grumbled about that bit). I get why manufacturers create chargers that don't output 2.4A on all ports; many battery-inclusive devices won't accept more than 1A of current, after all. And this per-port differentiation also enables manufacturers to shave a bit of bill-of-materials cost versus a 2.4A-on-all-ports charger alternative, important in slim-at-best profit margin product categories like this one.



But given that consumers naturally act in response to a "bigger numbers is better" mentality and don't have a clue what maximum currents their various devices accept, inevitably something that should be hooked up to 2.4A (like a tablet) is instead connected to 1A because that's the only available port left, with molasses-slow charging as the result. Other manufacturers instead label their ports with specific appropriate-product guidance, such as "smartphone" and "tablet." But what if you have a smartphone that's 2A-compatible? And what port do you connect to your smart watch ... your e-book reader ... your portable music player ... your Bluetooth headphone set?



Chargers such as Anker's 71AN7105SS:
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take a slightly different tack. Although the unit's 40W max output specification reveals that it isn't capable of outputting 2.4A on all five ports, they aren't explicitly labeled as being either high- or standard-current compatible. Instead, the unit's "PowerIQ" feature intelligently senses the current needs of each device connected to each port, and allocates total available current accordingly. And abundant Amazon user reviews, 78% of which currently give the product a 5-star rating, seem to suggest that there's merit to Anker's approach ... as long as no more than three of the five connected devices are high current-demanding, that is.



Still, given the inevitable not-insignificant number of customer returns from folks who obtained either a flat-out failing unit or one that doesn't charge as rapidly as expected, I can't help but wonder if it's more profitable at the end of the day to bite the bill-of-materials costs bullet, sell a charger that's inherently 2.4A-capable on all ports, and benefit from the reduced product-return costs that result. And more generally, I'm disappointed to have to wrap up this particular writeup with the same words I used in another recent post: "This isn't the first time I've encountered a product that's incapable of meeting the specifications touted in its marketing materials. But it's nonetheless disappointing."

Sigh.

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