Explainers

What exactly is Fast Charging? And how does it work?

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The mention of fast charging technologies for smartphones has become quite common lately. You’ve probably already heard of Qualcomm’s Quick Charge, OPPO’s VOOC flash charge, or OnePlus’ Dash Charge, which can juice up a smartphone’s battery to around 60 percent in just 30 minutes. So, how exactly do they work?

Most devices use lithium-ion batteries

To understand how these technologies work, knowing the basic principle of how a smartphone’s battery gets charged is a must. Most, if not all, smartphones today use a type of battery called lithium-ion (Li-ion). A Li-ion battery is composed of a positive and negative electrode and an electrolyte in between them. The lithium ions inside the battery move from one electrode to another, allowing the battery to be in a charging (storing energy) or discharging (expending energy) state.


The direction of lithium ions determines whether a battery is charging (positive to negative) or discharging (negative to positive).

Battery capacity is measured in milliampere hour (mAh)

Great, we’ve got some background on how Li-ion batteries work! The next question is how exactly do we determine the speed at which a Li-ion battery gets charged. You’re probably familiar with the rating used to gauge the capacity of a smartphone’s battery. If not, it’s the number that uses mAh (milliampere hour) as its unit of measurement. A larger number means larger capacity, which translates to longer battery life.

A 6000mAh battery will last twice as long as a 3000mAh battery. The same thing applies to charging: The larger the capacity of a Li-ion battery, the longer it takes to fully charge. The amount of current that the charger can output is usually the determining factor on how fast a battery can be charged, which is why a tablet charger that can output 2A (ampere) will charge twice as fast as a smartphone charger that can output 1A.

Another important nature of a Li-ion battery is that it doesn’t charge in a linear fashion. It’s easier to charge the battery when it’s nearly empty compared to charging when it’s nearly full. Think of it like packing a bag; it gets harder to put things in as it gets filled.

As mentioned, increasing the current used to charge a battery decreases charging time, but only up to a certain point. A Li-ion battery can only take in so much current, and increasing it past the threshold only results in dissipated energy in the form of heat. Therefore, if you use a tablet charger to charge a smartphone, it usually charges faster but also heats up faster.

Battery charging has evolved through the years

With all these things in mind, we can go back to the question of how fast charging technologies work. As its name implies, it allows rapid charging of a smartphone’s battery. This is usually done by increasing the power output of a charger, either by increasing the voltage or current that it provides to the device. You might ask if it’s safe to increase the amount of power we pump into our devices: Theoretically, it isn’t safe, but with the right hardware for monitoring and checking power output and temperature, things become safer.

Smartphones nowadays are smart when it comes to charging. Most devices today have a built-in chip for monitoring battery temperatures and the amount of power going through as the phone charges. This allows the smartphone to intelligently lessen or stop receiving power from the charger once the battery is full or if the battery gets too hot. That’s why when you leave your phone to charge, you’ll notice the charger and the battery heat up while charging, and once they’re done, both will stop heating up.

Taking things further are these new fast charging technologies that can provide more than half of a battery’s capacity in less than an hour. They work by pushing as much power as the device can handle to ensure the battery is charging at its maximum rate. As mentioned earlier, when a battery is at a low capacity, it’s easier to charge since the lithium ions have more freedom to move. This nature is what Qualcomm and other manufacturers take advantage of for faster charging.

Qualcomm’s Quick Charge gets better every year 

Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology leverages on different power outputs — mostly voltage adjustments — for the charger, depending on the current battery capacity of the device. Thanks to the special chip installed on both the device and charger, the latter can actively adjust the power output depending on the device’s needs. So, at lower capacities, it delivers the highest power rating the device can safely handle, and as the battery gets more juice, the device communicates with the charger and tells it to provide less power.

Ever since Quick Charge was introduced, Qualcomm has continued its development and currently has five iterations: Quick Charge 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and just recently, 4+. Here’s a table to summarize what the first four iterations of Quick Charge are capable of:

Quick Charge Version Voltage Current Power (Watts)
1.0 5V 2A Up to 10W
2.0 5V, 9V, 12V 2A, 2A, 1.67A Up to 18W
3.0 From 3.2V to 20V, dynamic increments of 200mV 2.6A, 4.6A Up to 18W
4.0 Dynamic Dynamic Up to 28W

Quick Charge 4.0 builds on the success of QC 3.0 by adding new features: compliance to USB Type-C and USB Power Delivery; a newer version of Intelligent Negotiation for Optimum Voltage (INOV), allowing the device to determine the optimum power level to request from the charger; and the inclusion of Dual Charge which adds a secondary power management chip in the device for better thermal dissipation and more efficient charging.

Even though few smartphones supporting QC 4.0 have been released, Qualcomm has already launched an update, version 4.0+. It further improves the Dual Charge feature of its predecessor with the addition of Intelligent Thermal Balancing, which eliminates hot spots by moving current through the coolest path available during charging. Building on the already robust safety features of QC 4.0, this update goes one step further by also monitoring the temperature levels of the case and connector. The added layer of protection helps prevent overheating and short-circuit damage.

High-current charging for OPPO and OnePlus

Being sister companies, OPPO’s VOOC charging technology and OnePlus’s Dash Charge have the same method for charging faster, and they do so by providing high amounts of current (around 4A) while charging. The level gets lower as the device gets charged up. Again, thanks to the special chips installed in the device and charger, OPPO and OnePlus devices supporting these technologies can charge faster.

Quick Charge and VOOC/Dash Charge may both be fast charging technologies, but they have some differences. Quick Charge mainly leverages on the use of higher voltages, while VOOC and Dash Charge use high-current charging. OPPO and OnePlus also made sure that the charger takes in the bulk of the heat generated while charging, which is not the case for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge, wherein both the charger and the device heat up.

Because of the phone not heating up too much, OPPO and OnePlus devices can be used while fast charging without any issues. In addition, OPPO and OnePlus’ fast charging technology is proprietary, which means you’ll need the charger and cable that came with your device to use it.

Samsung has its own Adaptive Fast Charging technology

If you own a recent Samsung device, you’re probably familiar with Adaptive Fast Charging. This is essentially the same as Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology, since Samsung acquired the license from Qualcomm to use its technology on devices that have non-Qualcomm processors. This means a Quick Charge adapter can be used on a Samsung device that features Adaptive Fast Charging and vice versa.

Fast Charging requires specific hardware

Keep in mind that to make use of such tech, you’ll need a smartphone that supports a fast charging technology and a certified charger and/or cable. If you’re using a higher-end phone that’s been released in the last couple of years, chances are your handset supports fast charging.

Summing thing up: Fast, quick, rapid charging, or whatever they call it, is technically just a smarter form of charging that takes advantage of how Li-ion batteries work. With all the prerequisites — a compatible smartphone and charger — you won’t be stuck near a wall outlet for a few hours just to receive an ample amount of energy in your device. Until better battery technology comes out, fast charging might be the only solution we have for a while.

Illustrations: Kimchi Lee

SEE ALSO: Why is USB Type-C so important?

[irp posts=”9952" name=”Why is USB Type-C so important?”]

Explainers

A phone’s water protection plan: IP ratings explained

It doesn’t give you the right to dunk it in water, though

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Illustration by MJ Jucutan

If you plan to bring your phone to a beach trip with your friends, you normally bring a pouch with you. The main function of that pouch is to protect your phone from contact with any liquid while you enjoy the waves. Of course, it doesn’t fully guarantee that water won’t seep through it — especially when a big wave crashes on you and opens the pouch. But, it does give a sense of safety and security for your beloved smartphone.

That’s the whole concept behind an IP rating that’s given to most smartphones today. Nowadays, you hear a lot about these smartphones being advertised with IP68 ratings. But, what does an IP68 rating actually mean? Is it worth something to consider when buying a new smartphone?


What is an IP rating?

IP ratings are not new in the tech world. In fact, a lot of the electrical appliances and technologies you have at home come with it. An IP rating, or ingress protection rating basically tells you the level of protection any electrical device has against solid and liquid objects. It acts as a security measure to determine what objects the device can handle without malfunctioning.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) gives out these ratings to manufacturers as a safety measure for production. It consists of two numbers that describe its protection against a vast number of objects, even human touch. The first number denotes a device’s protection against common solid objects and dust. Meanwhile, the second number denotes a device’s protection against liquids, even steam-jet liquids. The higher the number, the more protection it gets!

IP ratings are not just present in most recent smartphones. Things like electrical sockets, cameras, even phone cases come with IP ratings, as well. 

The reason it exists

Manufacturers and consumers see an IP rating quite differently. Those two numbers ultimately stand for how well your device can stand against, well anything. For manufacturers, an IP rating basically gives them a standard to follow when producing more devices. Before shipping their latest smartphones, they subject their devices to numerous tests to validate their IP ratings.

Also, it gives a more concrete way of stating that their devices are resistant to such objects. When you come across smartphones that claim to be water resistant, oftentimes you tend to ask just how resistant it is. With manufacturers, the IP rating gives a more definitive measure to that claim. For example, a smartphone with an IP68 rating is heavily protected against dust, and you can submerge it in waters deeper than a meter — perfect for beach trips.

Las Cabanas Beach Resort, Maramegmeg Beach, El Nido

For consumers, the IP rating just provides a peace of mind when buying a new smartphone. It’s basically placed there to tell you that your phone can still be used even if you subject it to too much dust or water that’s too deep. You see this in most YouTube videos or channels that basically bend, scratch, and dunk phones in buckets of water. In the end, you won’t have to worry about destroying your phone that much when you go on that beach trip without a pouch.

Some manufacturers simply don’t need the rating

However, there are manufacturers that simply found the rating unnecessary or simply just a marketing tool. Companies like OnePlus even did an entire ad that showed off their new flagship devices, the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro without an IP rating. The whole issue sparked debates on whether or not IP ratings do make sense, or companies could simply do without them.

OnePlus argues that one reason their new smartphones don’t have an IP rating is because of the cost to get one. Even simply requesting for a phone for consideration costs a lot on the manufacturing side, which ultimately bumps up the phone’s price. Pete Lau, one of the co-founders of the company estimated the cost for getting an IP rating is at US$ 30. Of course, it is entirely up to the consumer’s view of its value to the overall product.

The other reason is because of the coverage of the device’s warranty, particularly towards water damage. OnePlus claims that even if smartphones have IP ratings that show how resistant they are to water, water damage isn’t fully covered by its warranty. This also furthers their argument on why they wouldn’t want to spend on getting one in the first place. An IP rating is not a legitimate reason for people to have their phones fixed for free after dunking them in buckets of water.

To them, it does not make sense to simply attach an IP rating onto a phone even as a marketing tool. It gives off the wrong impression that the device is waterproof when the rating basically leans towards phones being water resistant.

Do we really need to know the IP rating? 

The IEC created IP ratings for everyone’s protection — from manufacturers to consumers. The whole purpose of having an IP rating is to provide a level of protection for anything electrical, smartphones included. It ensures the safety of everyone, but it’s not a way to bail anyone out when they dunk their phones in water.

While some may argue that it helps to know what your device’s IP rating is for better care, others just see it as a marketing ploy. It only seeks to sell a device perceived to be waterproof according to a standard. However, IP ratings were not meant to waterproof your phone by any means. It’s there to tell you that your phone can handle water, just possibly not too much.

At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves whether we truly see the value in having these IP ratings. Whether or not your preferred device has an IP rating, just remember: it’s not a reason for you to exploit your phone.

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Enterprise

Huawei vs the US: A timeline

An FAQ on Huawei’s problems

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Who’s afraid of Huawei? Right now, everyone is. Does anyone really know why?

Since 2017, the US has dealt continuous blows against the Chinese company. More than two years later, the war is still in full swing. Both sides have fired multiple salvos against the other. Still, despite the conflict’s longevity, most people are not really sure what’s happening.


Why are they fighting? Should we stay away from Huawei? Is it time to get rid of our Huawei devices as soon as possible? Should we really fear for our cybersecurity?

For ordinary consumers, the entire Huawei debacle is mired in political lingo and endless controversy. It’s time to clear the air. What’s up, Huawei?

How did this all begin?

Let’s go back to where it all started. In late 2017, American lawmakers reviewed the businesses of ZTE, another Chinese tech company. Soon after, the investigation unveiled a flurry of shady business deals involving Iran. By law, companies operating in the US are not allowed to communicate with blacklisted countries including North Korea and Iran. Naturally, the violation caused monumental sanctions against ZTE. The US banned ZTE from American soil — effectively, the same ban on Huawei today.

At this time, Huawei was just a moderately innocent passerby stuck between two fighting giants. At most, Huawei was accused of spying on its customers. American lawmakers proposed a boycott of Huawei’s products. The proposal drew from the emerging rise of Sinophobia. Still, at the time, the US government’s eyes were firmly on ZTE.

Current restrictions prevent Huawei from providing 5G technologies to American consumers

In its infancy, the Huawei-ZTE issue was a product of a small fear. It still hadn’t affected everyone. In fact, US President Donald Trump even tried to save both companies from utter destruction. Both companies enjoyed a reprieve from America’s ire. However, this was short-lived.

In a surprising about-face, Trump started his controversial trade war against China. The American leader abandoned his salvific efforts. Instead, he adopted an incredibly aggressive push against Chinese companies. Unsurprisingly, ZTE already crumbled from the initial push, leaving Trump without a company to make an example out of.

Trump set his sights on Huawei, the world’s second largest smartphone maker. His weapon: the same ban meant for ZTE. His motive: potential cybersecurity issues. This time, America means business. Recently, Trump finally pulled the trigger, enacting a total ban against Huawei on American soil. However, instead of just the US, Trump has been lobbying for a similar ban on other countries. Since then, Huawei has suffered a world of hurt.

What does the ban mean?

Naturally, a “total ban” sounds daunting. Banning Huawei smells like certain doom for the tech giant but what does the ban really mean?

When enforced, Huawei can no longer deal with American companies. To Huawei’s dismay, the tech maker uses a fair number of American components in its products. Most notably, Huawei’s smartphones come with Google’s Android. The ban will prevent Huawei from using the operating system going forward. On paper, this is a huge deal. Android remains the world’s biggest operating system. A lot of consumers trust Android. Huawei is losing a massive chunk of its package with the loss.

As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook — and its slew of apps — have withdrawn from Huawei’s products. The company’s smartphones will no longer have Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp installed out of the box. The threat is becoming real.

Huawei makes its own chipsets but relies on several American companies for other components

Additionally, Intel, Broadcom, and Qualcomm have blacklisted Huawei after Google’s announcement. Huawei has also lost the support of the ubiquitous ARM chip architecture.

It’s not looking good for the Chinese company. Huawei is slowly being dismembered. Faced with an army of bans, it’s natural to worry about Huawei. Worst case scenario, Huawei will become a mere shadow of its former self, devoid of the components that helped its recent success.

Should we really worry, though?

Not just yet. Right now, Huawei is enjoying a temporary reprieve. Soon after the initial ban, the American government granted the company a three-month extension. Until around the end of August, Huawei can still operate with its current partnerships. Except Facebook, its devices will still ship with the same components we love. At least for the near future, Huawei is safe.

In the meantime, Huawei is hunting for adequate alternatives for its failing parts. This means a new operating system, new chips, and likely an entirely new package. To its credit, Huawei’s development team is working around the clock. Only a month removed from ground zero, they are already promising optimistic developments for the future. Huawei remains confident in their future, launching a bevy of new phones amidst the controversy.

Likewise, some American companies are also lamenting the loss of business. Before the ban, Huawei was a loyal customer, delivering American components to a massive global audience. They aren’t happy with Trump’s ban. For one, Google has publicly defended Huawei. According to them, Huawei’s — and subsequently, the world’s — cybersecurity standards will collapse without a collaboration between international companies. With Android, Google can act as Huawei’s checks and balances against potential cybersecurity threats from malicious forces. If anything, Huawei still has its share of public defenders.

The US ban will prevent Huawei from using Android as its operating system moving forward

Most importantly, Trump still has the power to reverse the ban before the 90-day extension runs out. If China and the US reach a meeting point, all might go back to normal. Though uncertain, it’s too early to give up on Huawei just yet.

What will Huawei 2.0 look like?

Unfortunately, Huawei’s future is muddled with uncertainty. This includes any potential iterations in the future. As far as we know, Huawei isn’t bleeding from the multitude of losses. The company has reinforced its Kirin chipsets. Further, they are developing their own dedicated operating system codenamed Ark OS.

Other than that, there’s not much to go on. Speculatively, the biggest changes will come from its app supports. If Google leaves, Huawei will be left without the Play Store’s support and security. The Chinese company will have to rely on its own native software to power their phones. Unfortunately, an all-Chinese ecosystem is less than ideal for most. In fact, having one might even justify the American Sinophobia. But again, it’s all up in the air.

I have a Huawei phone. Should I just sell it?

No, you still shouldn’t. The grey market is already doubling down against the onslaught of Huawei returns. If you don’t know a willing contact, finding a buyer will be difficult. If you do find one, you’ll receive only a mere fraction of what you paid for.

At its current iteration, Huawei’s phones are still on top. They are a delight to hold and use, and if anything, have challenged its competitors to offer better value to consumers over the years. Right now, it’s best to play the long game. Wait and see what happens. If anything, Huawei — and its official partners — already has an insurance policy in place. Several retailers have declared a 100 percent refund policy in countries like Singapore. If Google cuts the cord, Huawei users can get their money back.

Similarly, Google has promised Android Q support for existing Huawei handsets. Just this week Huawei also announced the rollout of Android-based EMUI 9.1 to older models. If you already own one, a Huawei phone shouldn’t be an immediate cause for panic.

So, should we really be worried about Huawei?

Understandably, uncertainty isn’t an ideal for everyone. Huawei’s troubles are an excruciating thorn for both businesses and consumers alike. Switching to another brand is a natural solution against the company’s shaky future. However, if you’re looking at the silver lining, worrying is likely a premature reaction. If you’re not a Huawei user, the controversies shouldn’t affect you. If you’re already a Huawei user or looking to buy a Huawei device, it will likely pay off to play a longer strategy. After all, Huawei devices are still some of the best smartphones you can buy on the market.

Editor’s Note: Looks like we really shouldn’t worry after all. Not even an entire day has passed since this article was originally published but Huawei no longer banned in the US. Rejoice, Huawei users!

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Computers

Explaining OLED screens and Dark Mode

Why that screen fits in the dark

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Most of the applications you’re currently using must have rolled out their own version of dark mode by now. The smooth transition from a light to dark interface can be done through a push of a button, or by sending the moon emoji on Messenger. A lot of people also find dark mode quite sexy, and that’s probably because of the screen they’re looking at.

A lot of newly released smartphones now have OLED screens, and dark mode seems to work best on such displays! But why is that? How do OLED panels allow dark mode to flourish?


Better, blacker, affordable screens

Organic LED (light-emitting diode) or OLED is essentially a kind of display technology. In a nutshell, OLED panels allow for better and clearer images and colors.

Thin layers of carbon fiber make up OLED screens. Because of these lightweight fibers, screens show brighter and more vibrant colors. Apart from that, OLED screens show deeper blacks and reduce instances of motion blur when navigating. The best part is that OLED screens are becoming gradually cheaper to manufacture. That explains why more and more of today’s smartphones use this panel.

More colorful than the rest

In comparison to regular LED screens of the past, OLED promises more accurate colors by producing light from individual pixels, instead of relying on backlighting. Back then, LCD screens relied heavily on the backlight of the display to make colors pop. Although, such displays also make the colors seem washed, especially when compared to OLED.

Image credit: Denise Chan

However, OLED’s colors don’t always turn out better than on LED and LCD screens. One such case is when you turn your screen’s brightness to its maximum, especially under strong daylight conditions. LED and LCD screens are designed to perform relatively better in color accuracy when your screen’s brightness is set to max. OLED screens were not designed for maximum brightness, so colors at that point would be saturated.

Which OLED is best?

There are two types of OLED technologies that currently exist: AMOLED and PMOLED. A lot of people hear AMOLED tossed around a lot because lots of smartphones use it. Essentially, AMOLED uses a storage capacitor that controls how much light each individual pixel will give off. It’s the one responsible for projecting all sorts of vibrant colors on most OLED smartphone screens. Apart from that, AMOLED screens do support wider resolutions at a more affordable and efficient rate.

PMOLED, on the other hand, does not have a storage capacitor and instead relies on user control. Essentially, the user will control lighting settings, and the individual pixels will adjust accordingly. You can find PMOLED screens on smaller devices like older iPods and pocket Wi-Fi devices. Take note that these screens use more power to implement such color changes.

Joining the dark side

Ever since dark mode rolled out for different apps and interfaces, people have been contemplating on switching to it — and for good reason. On normal LED or LCD screens, the new feature does not bode well with the technology. The depth of the black their dark mode possesses is not reflected well, to the point that the blacks look more gray than actual black. This is much more obvious when the screen’s brightness is turned all the way up.

Image credit: Mike Enerio

Aesthetically, dark mode looks better on OLED screens because of the technology’s emphasis on deeper blacks. Most OLED screens have capacitors that control light passing through each pixel, which also works for blacks and whites. As such, dark mode shows up deeper and blacker, which is the intended look compared to regular modes. But, there’s actually more to just aesthetics for this mode.

It’s also been proven that dark mode on OLED helps save your battery life. Google confirmed this at its Android Dev Summit, citing that on max brightness, blacks consume less power than all other colors. Individual pixels need less electricity to show blacks on screen, which results in lower power consumption through time. Note that Google got these findings through tests on their original Pixel smartphones and their own apps like YouTube.

What’s left for OLED and dark mode

Apps and operating systems are now starting to embrace or consider incorporating dark mode into their software. While apps like Twitter and YouTube introduced such an option early on, others are beginning to take notice. Of course, you’re gonna need the right screen to fully immerse yourself.

Image credit: Simone Dalmeri

It has been proven: OLED and dark mode are indeed a perfect match. But, it is entirely up to you whether you want to stay in the light or switch to the dark side.

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