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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?

Explainers

Battle of the reversibles: USB-C vs Lightning connector

Which port is best for your device?

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Gone are the days of the peculiar dance of the ports thanks to reversible connectors. We’re talking about the USB-C standard and the Lightning connector from Apple. Both are amazing and helpful for consumers, but the two are quite different. And no, it’s not a matter of Android versus iPhone.

What is USB-C?

USB-C, technically known as USB Type-C, is the latest and most versatile USB connector to date. If you happen to have a premium phone, you already have a USB-C port for charging and wired connectivity. If you have the latest MacBook or MacBook Pro, it’s the sole type of port on your laptop for wired video and data output, as well as charging. You will find USB-C on most mobile devices nowadays, even laptops, because it’s a standard that anyone can use. But not all USB-C ports and connectors are created equal.

A technical explanation as to why they’re not all equal is that USB-C is actually just the style of connector and port; the real power comes from the USB 3.1 technology it uses, which can deliver 100 watts of power and is capable of a 10Gbps data transfer rate. It also supports Thunderbolt 3 technology for an even faster 40Gbps transfer. But not all USB-C types have USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 speeds, especially for mobile phones.

While the older USB we’re familiar with are mainly used for storing and transferring files, the new USB-C standard is not limited to that. It can relay images for displays with support for full DisplayPort A/V performance up to an 8K resolution. It’s also backward-compatible with VGA, DVI, and the trusty HDMI as long as you have the right adapters.

Since all USB-C ports and connectors look alike, it’s now harder to distinguish what the port or cable is for. Could it be a power source or for charging? Maybe for high-resolution video? Or high-speed data transfer? You’ll have to know the specifications to be sure.

What is Lightning?

Apple already had their proprietary connector with the early iPhones, but it was only since the introduction of the Lightning connector along with the iPhone 5 in 2012 that made their own design popular.

From a cumbersome 30-pin dock connector, Apple had a smaller and reversible one which was ahead of its time. Even the common micro-USB port can’t compete with the convenience of the Lightning connector. Since it’s proprietary, only Apple can use it and third-party accessory manufacturers have to pay a licensing fee to apply it to their products.

The technical specification of Lightning is pretty limited, but when it first came out, tests showed that its speeds were up to 480Mbps — the same with the old USB 2.0 standards. In 2015, the iPad Pro showed a faster speed of 5Gbps, but that’s still only half of USB 3.1 speeds.

What are the significant differences between the two?

It’s easy to differentiate the two based on their appearances. If you’ve ever used or seen an iPhone, you’re already familiar with how the Lightning connector looks with its pins exposed. USB-C looks cleaner and simpler with its symmetrical connector.

Lightning connector (left) and USB-C (right)

Again, USB-C refers to the style of the port and connector rather than the technology it has. It is convenient because it’s reversible and universal. The whole point was to have a single style of connector and port that could run pretty much everything.

The Lightning connector is solely used to connect Apple mobile devices like iPhones, iPads, and iPods to host computers, external monitors, cameras, battery chargers, and other peripherals. You won’t find it on any other device, even MacBooks.

Why is Apple not using the Lightning connector on MacBooks and will USB-C replace Lightning on iPhones?

Will we ever see a Lightning connector on a MacBook? Highly unlikely. But there’s a possibility that Apple will use USB-C soon on iPhones. Last year’s rumors pointed to the iPhone X having USB-C, but it didn’t.

With the new MacBooks relying purely on USB-C, an iPhone with USB-C is not far from reality. That’s unless Apple wants to keep the revenue from Lightning connector licensing.

Which is better?

When paired with USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 technology, USB-C is faster, more powerful, and provides greater versatility than Lightning. It’s also now widely adopted for consumer technologies may it be on phones, laptops, or other mobile gadgets.

USB-C is the future. Apple already accepted it on their premium notebooks which kind of triggered professionals who are using MacBooks, but that’s the future we’re heading towards. It will come to a point where we’ll just plug in a cable and it’ll simply work. For now, we still need to understand the differences and live with dongles.

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

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Inside the house of tomorrow: Smart home explained

Take me to 2020!

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Ten years ago, smart homes belonged to the realm of science fiction. Back then, you would only see connected smart devices in TV shows like Black Mirror, rather than in cons and tradeshows.

Today, a connected household isn’t just a working theory; it’s already a reality pushed by the world’s leading tech brands. Common, everyday tasks can now be automated by artificial intelligence or simplified through voice commands.

We are living in a world where every device has a voice, whether it’s Alexa, Siri, Cortana, or the Google Assistant. While some anticipate the curiosities that the future will bring, some fear the rapid changes that a house from the future beckons.

Regardless of how you might feel about the future of futuristic abodes, living in one can still be a mystery, especially for the everyday homeowner. There are layers of tech to wade through. As with every house hunt, it’s time to take a tour of the house of tomorrow before you inevitably live in one.

Garage: letting the right one in

As you pull up into the driveway with your electric car, the garage door automatically opens to the sound of your voice. The lights go on to help you park. You climb out of the car and hook it up to the charging station on the wall.

As you head to the front door, the garage door closes behind you. The smart camera above the door detects who you are and notifies your family that you’ve arrived. The locks disengage, and you enter.

The most common elements of a smart home are those seen from the outside. If you live within a gated community, you’ve seen automatic gates open and close by themselves. You might’ve also seen electric vehicles roaming the streets already. They may be outside the house, but these machines have become essential to the smart home ecosystem. They’ve become extensions of your smart house that you can take with you wherever.

Even as you exit your garage, other smart devices are being fitted around your house. The Nest Cam IQ, for example, is a smart security camera that adds an extra oomph in security. It can record in HD, listen in on conversations, and detect familiar faces.

Having an integrated smart security system allows you to enter and exit your home without fussing with keychains and padlocks.

Living room: command center

Entering your house, you kiss your spouse hello, kick off your shoes, and watch a bit of TV before dinner. Just as you plop down onto your couch, you remember that your house security is still disabled. You ask Alexa to turn it on. You rest easy while watching the latest House of Cards episode.

The evolution of the smart home began in earnest with the living room. As it was the central hub of the entire house, the living room also became the center for the Internet of Things. The new smart home ecosystem coordinated everything from the lights to the TV to the security system — right from the comforts of your sofa.

Who hasn’t heard of a smart TV? The industry’s newest TVs integrate the internet to build a more comprehensive entertainment experience. From a device that connects to mere broadcast stations, the TV evolved to access a vast catalog of online entertainment. You could watch Netflix while searching for your favorite recipes on Google. The smart TV became the desktop of your living room.

As people spent more time interacting with their TVs, smart devices started installing themselves around the luxuries of the living room. While you’re watching a movie, you can change everything from the temperature to the lights without standing up or pausing the programming.

The Philips Hue, for example, takes control of your house’s lighting system. That’s not all. The smart bulb automates your lights’ operation for both when you’re in and out of the house. It can even change a room’s hue to set the mood.

Another example is the Ecobee 3 smart thermostat. The automated system optimizes the temperature based on your activity inside and on the temperature outside. Further, it also makes your energy usage more efficient.

Kitchen: robots get hungry, too

As you open your fridge, a voice lists down the food you have in stock. Knowing how much pasta and olive oil you have left, the voice assistant suggests pesto for dinner. You agree. Alexa, then, preheats the oven for the pasta and preps your dishwasher for the oily dishes later.

Despite the oodles of devices inside a kitchen, tech makers are only starting to optimize the room for the smart home. LG, for example, launched a series of devices that assist you even before you start preparing the dish.

Their smart refrigerator catalogs the supplies you have left. It alerts you when you’re short of ingredients and recommends recipes based on what’s inside. Plus, it even has its own entertainment system to get your groove on while you cook.

After you gather all the ingredients, the system passes the recipe down to the appliances you’ll need. A smart oven preheats to fit the temperature you need; a smart dishwasher customizes its spin cycles to wash dishes optimally.

Bedroom: the last frontier

The day is over. Before you drift off to sleep, you remember to charge your devices — iPhone X, Apple Watch — on the wireless charging stand. You set Google Home to wake you up at 7am by playing a Rihanna song.

The bedroom is the last frontier of the home of tomorrow. The bed is the last sanctuary from a life taken over by tech. That, however, won’t last. As early as now, the Internet of Things follows you even to the bedroom.

Wireless charging stations, smart thermostat panels, and security panels pervade our bedrooms, allowing us easy access to how our house works before we call it a night. A smart bed is still forthcoming, but technology is already reaching out before it inevitably comes.

With Google Home and Amazon Echo, voice assistants now lull us to sleep and wake us up in the morning. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana will become the first and last voices we hear every day. The eerily human voice assistants have already lent their voices to every device in our home.

It’s only a matter of time before our house becomes a machine itself. Whether you embrace the future or shun it, technology will always find a way to make our lives easier. But don’t worry when it comes. All you’ll hear is the soothing voice of Alexa, asking how you want your meat cooked.

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Why it’s time to finally make the switch to LTE

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Local telcos are continuously improving their infrastructure to improve the country’s mobile internet speed. And as mobile technology progresses, so should your mobile device. (more…)

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