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?

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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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Explainers

The new online generation: Explaining 5G internet

Faster, better, and more available?

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Are you still bothered by slow internet in your country? Even with the advancements and supposed improvements in infrastructure, we’re all living in a 4G world. The current generation of internet connectivity is still present in today’s mobile and telecommunication networks. But now, a new generation has emerged, and it has the potential of taking the whole world by storm.

Let’s stop and ask first: What really is this new generation? How different is it from the existing generation’s internet? And, what needs to be done to welcome the change?


What really is 5G?

5G is the new generation we’re speaking of here. Specifically, it’s the next level of mobile network connectivity being rolled out at the moment. What 5G offers to everyone is pretty straightforward: faster internet speeds, close to zero latency, and improved accessibility. It’s expected that 5G will replace existing 4G technology once fully deployed in the near future.

Currently, 5G is still in its early stages of deployment — much like an early-access game. Companies are given plenty of time to integrate the 5G connectivity interface on their devices, or at least until March 2019. Once the initial deployment is done, 5G will be available in more devices, whether it’s your phone or your smart device.

A connection that comes in waves

Remember that one science class you had about the electromagnetic spectrum and visible light? Basically, devices that emit electromagnetic waves fall under a spectrum depending on their frequencies and wavelengths. For most network connections, their waves follow a similar concept, with 4G found on the leftmost and 5G in the middle.

There are two ways that 5G can work in any place at any time, and one of them includes waves. This strand of 5G is called the millimeter wave (mmWave), and is currently present in most research facilities and military devices. With mmWave, 5G connections are ideally faster (peaking at 10Gbps) and provide lag-free services because it adds additional bandwidth for devices to use. Although, it is held back by obstacles such as walls and floors that just bounce the signal off.

The second way is through a sub-6GHz spectrum. Unlike mmWave, the sub-6GHz spectrum is more of a middle-of-the-pack approach to 5G connectivity. Basically, 5G signals will strengthen connections that currently exist in the world like 3G and 4G. This is mostly because 3G (2.4GHz) and 4G (5GHz) fall under the 6GHz limit. This method is the more cost-effective approach, and it doesn’t easily experience interference.

How different is it really from 4G?

We always talk about how 5G is faster than 4G in terms of data transfer, which is true. But, there are other things that differentiate 5G from its predecessor. For starters, 5G connections can cover a wider area than 4G. This means that even if you’re far from your router or cell tower, you can still access 5G networks at the same speed. Just don’t be too far away, as the technology isn’t capable of reaching that far yet.

Apart from that, 5G is less prone to interference compared to 4G networks. Even if mmWave is hampered with the presence of obstacles, it still doesn’t stop it from performing relatively better than 4G. For example, even if there were several other antennas in your area, you still experience better speeds while on a 5G network compared to 4G. 5G targets devices directly, instead of spreading the waves across the whole area.

Finally, with 5G connections, more devices have access to the network. Currently, 4G networks still have a cap when it comes to the number of devices simultaneously connected. As more devices connect to the same 4G network, internet speeds tend to get slower. With 5G, however, adding more devices won’t hamper its overall performance mostly because of additional bandwidth and wider coverage.

What’s next for the new generation?

Believe it or not: We’re living in the early-access world of 5G. We hear about major telecommunication companies starting to adopt 5G in their mobile networks, and things are about to get bigger. While their data plans are available to the general public, several improvements to network infrastructure are to follow. We’re talking better signal towers, and more of them across the world.

In the future, 5G may not be limited to just mobile networks. Car companies are looking at the possibility of applying 5G to smart cars, especially for navigation. Cars on the road will be able to share data like traffic situation, road hazards, and other delays. Even things like virtual and augmented reality can make use of 5G for better simulations.

By March 2019, the early deployment of 5G will be finished. Hopefully by then, we can get more information on what 5G can do for the world. The new generation is here, but we still have to wait and see how far 5G will take us.

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Accessories

C is the key: Explaining USB Type-C

What really makes this new standard special

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For years, people have grown accustomed to using USB ports for almost all of their devices. Whether you need to charge your phone using your computer or use a controller to play games, you can always count on a USB port to be readily available for you. But 2018 was the year of change and innovation, and the USB port you know and love welcomed change in a big way.

Introducing: USB Type-C, the newest port added to the family. Its round shape brought many new uses and functionalities to your ports. But, how different is it from its much older brothers? How have companies revolutionized its use in mainstream devices?


What is this USB Type-C port?

The USB Type-C (USB-C) port is a not-so-recent discovery in the world of tech. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) developed this USB port back in 2013, and launched it into mass production the following year. The connector is a reversible oval shape, much different from the usual rectangular shape of the previous generation. Its reversibility allows any orientation of the cable for transferring files or charging your device.

USB-IF developed USB-C following the USB 3.1 standard. Such a standard was particularly used because of its faster transfer speeds and charging capabilities. With a USB-C port, you can transfer an hour-long movie in less than 30 seconds, provided you have the appropriate connector for it.

Computer and smartphone manufacturers have incorporated the USB-C port in most of their devices. One of the early adopters of the new technology was Apple, with their redesigned 12-inch MacBook in 2015. Other computer manufacturers followed in the later years, especially with the release of the Thunderbolt 3 technology used for gaming machines.

It’s the younger, faster and more all-around sibling

USB-C has been around for the past four years, and it has gradually developed into an all-around port for users. Alongside Thunderbolt 3, the USB-C port posts the highest data transfer speed across all the available USB connections in existence. Not only that, USB-C ports these days can now connect your devices to external GPUs and displays, and charge your devices. Most USB-C ports even support fast charging for smartphones.

While the technology behind it is supported by a USB 3.1 standard, it’s still very much different from other USB ports that use the USB 3.1 protocol. For starters, the USB 3.1 standard found in USB-C ports are USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, which offer twice as much performance in data transfer as USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports. Most of the Gen 1 ports also use an older USB Type-A standard, which works for most of your gadgets and peripherals today. However, you would need more adapters for other functionalities, like displaying to a monitor.

But the USB-C port is a far cry from the old USB 2.0 and 3.0 protocols, which have been in existence for 14 years (and counting). Data transfer speeds for those two protocols are significantly slower compared to the USB-C port. An hour-long movie would ideally take around one to two minutes on a USB 2.0 port. Also, older USB protocols don’t really allow you to power up devices that need more electricity. So, charging devices on them might not be as fast.

Supercharged with Thunderbolt 3

So, you’re probably wondering what really makes a USB-C port just that fast. It’s not so much that it’s round, or that it’s new; rather, it’s the technology inside it. Late 2015 saw the arrival of the new Thunderbolt 3 standard specifically for USB-C ports. It first started out in most Windows laptops before making it to the 2016 MacBook Pro and several gaming motherboards.

What Thunderbolt 3 does for USB-C ports is to significantly increase its capacity and capabilities by a mile. We’re talking faster file transfer, heightened gaming experiences, and being able to plug in 4K displays for clearer images. Thunderbolt 3 also allows much bigger devices to be charged at a controlled rate. This is mostly evident with the MacBook Pro, several high-end Ultrabooks, and most recently, the 2018 iPad Pro.

The charging capacity brought about by Thunderbolt 3 deals with a tweak to how USB power delivery works. USB power delivery standards state that each USB standard has specific conditions that must be met to power up devices. Early versions of USB ports only allow a small amount of electricity (2.5W) for delivery, while USB-C allows for the full 100W.  Basically, you went from just powering up your mouse and keyboard to charging your entire laptop.

What’s to come for USB-C?

At this point in time, you’re already living in the future that the USB-C port hopes to achieve. Suddenly, you can simply bring a USB-C cable around, plug it into a powerbank, and you can already charge your expensive MacBook. More and more devices are starting to adopt USB-C because of its potential to enhance your tech experience as a whole.

However, people still find it difficult to switch to USB-C, and for good reason. Most devices continue to use a USB Type-A or micro-USB connector, especially gaming controllers and peripherals. Also, they can argue that the old ports are more accessible. In a not-so-distant future, using a USB-C port could potentially replace a phone’s headphone jack.

The future of USB-C is still uncertain. Companies will iron out the new technology more so it can become mainstream for the future. Let’s just hope that by the time that happens, there won’t be a USB Type-D yet.

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