Xiaomi has pushed out several mobile hardware boundaries in 2022, including launching the first phone with an uncropped 1-inch sensor, the thinnest foldable phone by some distance, and very recently, 210W fast charging in a smartphone, which can apparently top up a 4,300 m. mAh battery in just nine minutes.
While I think the first two launches are great innovations for the mobile industry and bring real-world benefits, my reaction to the extremely — perhaps scarily — fast charging was to ask: do we really need this?
Fast charging is great, but only to a point
To be clear, I am not dismissing the usefulness of fast charging entirely. The technology itself has been immensely beneficial, particularly in the early days when it was a niche enthusiast feature offered by Chinese brands. In North America, OnePlus was the brand that pushed the tech forward, introducing a proprietary 20W “Dash Charge” charger that topped up the phone from 0 to 65% in just a half hour and about 70 minutes from dead battery to full. Those numbers look pedestrian now, but back in 2016, it was significantly faster than the competition, with the iPhone 6s taking two and a half hours to charge from 0 to 100, and the Galaxy S7, using Qualcomm’s own “Quick Charge” technology, needing 88 minutes.
Those who follow the mobile scene closely knew OnePlus’ fast charging technology was actually a rebranding of Oppo’s VOOC (Voltage Open Loop Multi-step Constant-Current) charging, and the two brands would keep pushing the limits of what was possible. In the North American phone scene, that meant OnePlus phones consistently charged faster than the newest Apple or Samsung phone.
In 2020, OnePlus introduced a 65W charger for the 8T that could top up the phone from 0 to 100 in 39 minutes. This year’s OnePlus 10T could be charged at either 150W or 120W, depending on the region, which helps the phone’s sizable 4,800mAh battery go from 0 to 100 in 19 or 21 minutes, respectively.
This was when fast charging became “fast enough” for me. When you can fully charge a phone in 20 or so minutes, this means even a seven-minute charge would pump enough juice into a phone to solve midday battery anxiety. To me, that’s the biggest benefit of fast charging; it helps us quickly top up in those late afternoons or early evenings to make sure our phone can last through the night.
Xiaomi’s 210W fast charging seems to be stepping into pointless flexing territory. I suppose there are extreme situations where such fast charging speeds can be useful. Maybe you’re about to board a plane you know has no outlet, and you just realized your phone is about to die. In that case, even three minutes of charging (which would, in theory, add about 30-35% of battery) could help your phone last throughout most flights.
But how often are we in such extreme situations? Usually, if you have time to plug in a phone for four minutes, you can probably spare a few more minutes and leave it plugged in for eight or 10 minutes. And that would be enough time for 120W, 80W, or even 65W chargers to rescue you from battery anxiety.
Better battery life is more important instead
Phone battery life used to suck, so there was a time when Chinese phones’ faster charging speeds went a long way toward improving usability. Samsung’s Galaxy phones, particularly from S6 to S8, had below-par battery life that could barely survive nine hours, let alone a full 13-14 hour day. The iPhone X, too, had mediocre battery life that had me looking for a charger well before dinner time, which made its 20W maximum charging speeds all the more frustrating. In fact, you could only achieve the maximum 20W charging if you paid extra for a USB-C to Lightning cable and had the right charger (the former wasn’t widely used at the time). With the iPhone X’s included 5W charging brick, it took almost three hours to fully charge the phone.
To no one’s surprise, Apple hasn’t bothered to chase fast charging technology too much. Even today’s top-of-the-line iPhone only charges at 30W speed, which still needs about 70 minutes to fill up an iPhone 14 Pro, and 90 minutes for the larger iPhone 14 Pro Max. This still slow charging speed means those midday eight-minute charges wouldn’t add enough juice to make a meaningful difference. The iPhone, by 2022 metric, still charges slowly, but it is not the annoyance it was a few years ago, because the iPhone 14 phones offer tremendous battery life. I have been using the iPhone 14 Pro Max over the past two months, and I have never once ran out of battery before my day ended. As long as I start my day with a 100% battery, I don’t need to worry about charging it again until bedtime.
The same can be said for recent top Android phones, albeit to a lesser degree. Phones like the Google Pixel 7 Pro, OnePlus 10T, and Xiaomi 12S Ultra can all generally last me a full day of use too, just not as confidently as the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
As long as a phone can consistently last a normal day’s use, how fast it charges becomes a moot point. For example, I recently jumped from a Xiaomi 12S Ultra (which charges at 67W speed) to a Pixel 7 Pro with 23W charging, and it hasn’t impacted my day-to-day life at all. If the phones only need to be charged once, and it happens overnight when I’m asleep, charging speeds doesn’t matter.
With that said, I want to reiterate that I am not completely dismissing Chinese brands’ pursuit of faster charging technology. The technology served the smartphone industry very well, and fast charging technology can be applied to other gadgets that still require constant topping up, such as laptops and electric bicycles. The technology should continue to be explored — but I think for a relatively small battery in a phone, current speeds are more than good enough.