Today was just another Thursday when my colleague and The Verge’s senior news editor, Richard Lawler, tagged me in a Slack thread. When I opened the thread, I screamed pterodactyl. Behold, the Belkin BoostCharge Pro – a $99.99 10,000mAh power bank with a small divot that lets you fast charging a compatible Apple Watch or second-generation AirPods Pro on the go (and any device that charges via a USB-C cable up to 20W).
That’s expensive? Yes, especially since it’s not available yet and only open for pre-orders. I won’t resent anyone who isn’t a wearables reviewer or smartwatch fan for derision. It’s a reasonable reaction, and I fully understand why you might think I’m a Dingus of the highest order for being this happy for an unproven gadget. I also understand that I may have done the equivalent of flushing $108 (with VAT) down the toilet if this power bank turned out to be a dud.
Here’s why I’m willing to take that risk.
Smartwatches stand out as one of the few types of gadgets that still rely on proprietary chargers. I have a Medusa nest of smartwatch chargers from Apple, Samsung, Fossil, Google, Fitbit, Garmin, Mobvoi, and a dozen other different wearable brands spread across several drawers and bins. While lawmakers can push phone, tablet and other gadget makers to unite around a charging standard, operating wearable technology has unique challenges.
Frustrated with my “collection” a few years ago, I called designer Gadi Amit, who founded the NewDealDesign agency that Fitbit previously used for several products. He told me that any standardized connector, be it USB-C or otherwise, is essentially too big to work with a laptop that would be small enough to wear comfortably. This also applies to wireless charging coils.
Another matter? Smartwatches place health tracking sensors on the bottom so they can sit on your skin, while the display is placed on the opposite side so you can actually see the dang screen. That leaves device manufacturers with very limited options for where to physically place a charging mechanism. Further complicating matters, companies may not use the same sensors or components from one device to the next. Any dramatic overhaul of internal components or design change may then require one brand new charger, although it looks almost identical to the old charger.
Flagship smartwatches also have a reputation for unimpressive battery life compared to the more power-efficient fitness bands of yesteryear. Advanced GPS, always on OLED displays, continuous health tracking, cellular connectivity – these are all battery-zapping features. The more advanced the watch, the worse the battery life will be. Software innovations have improved battery life over the years, but fast charging is a quick, easy and comfortable compromise on the smartwatch battery.
A fast-charging power bank means never wondering if I’ve packed the right Apple Watch cable
The only problem is that fast charging has different technical requirements than normal charging. And that means—you guessed it—adding this feature requires an entirely new proprietary charger. As for the Apple Watch, as soon as Apple introduced fast charging with the Series 7, that meant you needed the new USB-C Apple Watch charger and one power brick that could deliver more than 5 watts of power. Those little dice that came with Apple devices? They won’t work. And for “e-waste reasons,” the newer power brick isn’t included when you upgrade to fast-charge compatible Apple Watches.
And this is why it can be confusing for the average consumer to tell at a glance if they are using the correct smartwatch charger and power brick combination to enable fast charging. As my spouse says, “It doesn’t help that the old and new chargers look pretty much the same.” (Pro tip: always check if it has a USB-C connector and silver back on the puck.) That’s only with Apple’s own chargers, which cost an arm and a leg to replace if you lose them. It can be a free for all in the third party market if you don’t do your due diligence. And even if you just want to stick with Apple chargers, they don’t always work either.
Example: Apple’s MagSafe Duo. While it costs an absurd $130 for the privilege of charging your iPhone and Apple Watch on the go, you can’t use it to fast charge your watch.
Those third-party 3-in-1 charging stands? Only some of them support fast charging for Apple Watch Series 7, 8 and Ultra. Even if you buy them from accessory manufacturers that Apple works with – like Belkin. I made the mistake of asking for a 3-in-1 Belkin charging stand for Christmas and my relatives didn’t check if the one they got me supported fast charging for the watch. Now I’m stuck with it, even though it hasn’t the one thing i need in the morning when I wake up for an hour-long run and my Apple Watch battery is at 10 percent. The result is that my bedside table is a spaghetti pile of labeled cables, so that even half asleep I can select the right charger for the right device to be charged at the right speed.
Forget travel. I do my best to pack the right chargers, bricks and power banks for the three to five portable devices I test when I’m away from home. I have been fooling in spite of myself. Even worse, the magnetic wireless pucks and sticks used by portable chargers aren’t what I’d call secure. You can connect your phone to a regular power bank, throw it in your backpack and be sure that your phone will charge. This does not apply to smart watches. It depends on whether the spirits of your ancestors will bless your magnetic charging puck on any given day, and whether you hustle along the way.
This is a problem for me, for sure. But even if you don’t review wearables and have dozens of cables to choose from, there’s always the risk of leaving a cable behind, grabbing the wrong one while packing, and having the choice of either buying a new charger… or accepting the watch yours is dead by the time you get home.
You can connect your phone to a regular power bank, throw it in your backpack and be sure that your phone will charge. This does not apply to smart watches
I don’t know if this Belkin BoostCharge Pro will live up to its promise. I’ve been burned so many times that I try to temper my expectations. But the idea that this little divot in the picture, the one where it looks like I can attach the Apple Watch securely to it and connect my phone? And potentially eliminating two or three extra cables from my bag? And give me confidence that if I grab this one thing, I will be 100 percent sure it will fast charge my device? And maybe let me ditch my smartwatch cables in exchange for a choice of 3-5 power banks? For once, enough hope burns in my shriveled heart that I pre-ordered the damn thing to test it myself.
Bless Belkin for even trying to conjure this into existence. Bless the army of copycats that are likely to come on board and do so at a cheaper price. Bless the inevitable copycats of copycats who will do this for Samsung, Google, Fossil and other smartwatches.
I will report back as soon as this thing ships.