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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?

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Explainers

The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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Your MagSafe Questions Answered

Do you really need it?

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If you’ve ever owned an old MacBook before, you’ll know that those chargers magnetically snap onto place. That particular technology is called the ‘MagSafe’.

After the MacBook Pro touch bar and USB-C overhaul last 2016, everyone thought MagSafe ended for good. Not until they announced the new MagSafe for the iPhone 12 series four years later.

The MagSafe technology might not be new but the implementation for the latest iPhones makes the technology even more usable. Other than the securely-placed phone for wireless charging, there are a plethora of case manufacturers who continuously work on future accessories that support MagSafe existing ecosystem.

But is the Apple MagSafe more than just a gimmick? And do you really need it?

Watch our in-depth Apple MagSafe explainer here.

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Here’s how India is trying to be China in the smartphone game

The world’s second-largest smartphone market has more to offer

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China is practically the world’s production powerhouse. And India wants to follow the same path. India’s Central government has approved three schemes to enable large scale electronics manufacturing and attract fresh investments worth almost INR 50,000 crore (US$ 6.3 billion) in the sector.

The government aims to provide companies a production-linked incentive of 4 percent to 6 percent on incremental sales for locally made goods over a period of five years. This not only includes mobile phone manufacturing but also assembly, testing, marking and packaging.

The other policy offers a 25 percent financial incentive for capital expenditure that goes towards “the manufacturing of goods that constitute the supply chain of an electronic product”. With these incentives, the government is optimistic that companies will come to India, contribute to progressing infrastructure, and make export-quality goods.

Inauguration of Samsung’s Noida Factory in India

According to their estimates, domestic value addition for mobile phones is expected to witness 35 to 40 percent jump by 2025, from the current 20-25 percent.

So far, companies have focused on assembling equipment like smartphones in India. A huge chunk of the components are still imported. These policy changes could act as a stimulant to locally source electrical components, semiconductors, as well as develop production clusters.

Bangalore and Hyderabad are infamous for their IT Tech Parks that house thousands of employees from IT service firms like TCS, Infosys, Accenture, and many more. Similarly, the government wants to create production clusters that can develop an eco-system of their own. These clusters can create a seamless supply chain when paired with proper land, air, and shipment infrastructure.

The timing of the announcement is what matters the most. China is embroiled in a trade war with the US for quite some time and we’ve seen how a giant like Huawei got caught in the cross-fire. Companies are skeptical about depending too much on China for production and sourcing. Hence, countries like Vietnam have witnessed a huge inflow of foreign investment from the likes of Nintendo, Foxconn, and even Samsung.

India is very much like Vietnam. A developing economy that’s on the look-out for foreign investment and enhances local production capabilities. This not only helps the government increase its tax revenue via taxation, but also provides employment. Considering the current Coronavirus crisis, it’s obvious that these plans may not materialize soon. But, as soon as the storm is gone, companies would want to find an alternative to China.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi with Apple CEO, Time Cook

It’s reported that the alleged low-cost iPhone from Apple has been delayed due to the pandemic. Irrespective of the current health crisis, Apple has been trying to ramp up its local production in India and has done so, cautiously. India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market and every brand wants a piece of the cake. Realme and Xiaomi have been intensely fighting for supremacy, Samsung continues to lead via the offline market, and OPPO and Vivo have flooded all commercial banners with their products.

Xiaomi currently has seven plants in India, major ones being at Sri City and Sriperumbedur. It also makes its televisions in Tirupathi. Manu Kumar Jain, Vice President, Xiaomi, and Managing Director, Xiaomi India said that 95 percent of Xiaomi’s phones are made in India with 65 percent of a phone’s value being sourced locally. The government has been successful in compelling companies to make in India because it consistently kept on raising import duty on smartphones.

Samsung already has the world’s largest mobile phone factory in India that assembles top-tier variants, ready for export. We don’t know the volume it churns out right now, but their long-term investment is a precedent for other brands to take the market seriously. OnePlus has a research facility in Hyderabad where it makes software products intended for the Indian market.

Samsung’s factory in Noida, India

According to industry ICEA, the NOIDA region (a part of Delhi NCR) has close to 80 mobile manufacturing factories that provide employment to approximately 50,000 people. It’s normal today to see companies release press notes announcing new facilities across the country that’ll employ thousands of people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted the “Make in India” campaign five years ago to encourage foreign companies to invest and build in India. While its effects are debatable in a few industries, there’s no doubt that the mobile industry has picked up exponentially. State governments of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu have played a major role in establishing these clusters that symbolize progress.

Engineers are widely available in India, the country has developed multiple ports under the private-public model, and numerous airports are under construction. India is already the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, but the gap is huge. It’s about briding this. Obviously, the scale at which China produces is unmatchable. But that cannot undermine India’s efforts to be more relevant on the global stage. From a purely consumption-based economy, it’s slowly trying to turning into a production backed state.

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