Almost every aspect of our smartphones and other travel electronics is getting better all the time, with one major exception: battery life. There hasn't been a significant improvement in battery technology in years, and as a result, we're left trying to nurse our devices through long travel days much more often than we'd like.
Right now, the best way to get a full day's use or more from your devices is by using a portable battery. They come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny models that fit into a wallet or pocket and extend your phone's life by a few hours, through to those more appropriate for a day bag that will power multiple mobile devices, or even a laptop.
Not all are created equal, however – across several categories, these are the best portable batteries of the year.
If you're looking for a reliable, budget-friendly portable battery that can handle the power demands of a long travel day, the AmazonBasics Portable Power Bank is hard to beat. It comes in two variants, but the larger, 16,100 mAh version is more useful and provides better value for money.
You'll be able to charge an iPad twice from it, or your smartphone several times, which is enough to get you through even the lengthiest of flights and layovers. Rated to a maximum of 4.8amps, you can simultaneously charge any two devices you like, including tablets, smartphones, cameras and more. Operation is very simple: just hit the power button, check the LEDs to make sure you've got enough juice in the battery, and away you go.
Weighing around 12 ounces, it's not super-heavy, but expect to keep it in your day bag rather than back pocket. Like most higher-capacity batteries, it takes quite a while to charge itself (up to 24 hours) once it does eventually go flat, and you'll need to use the existing charging cables for your devices or purchase spares – it doesn't come with them in the packaging.
For under thirty dollars, however, it's still the best overall way to keep your gadgets powered up on the move.
If all you need is to keep your phone going until you get back to your hotel room, there are dozens of small, lightweight portable batteries that fit into a wallet, handbag or pocket. The advantage, of course, is you're more likely to have them with you when you need them, even if you're not carrying a daypack at the time.
It's not all that easy to find a tiny battery that's robust and has a reasonable amount of juice, but the Lifecard fits the bill. It's an attractive unit, made from stainless steel rather than plastic, and comes with an attached micro-USB or Lightning cable. Billed as “the world's thinnest Powerbank”, it's the same height and width as a credit card, and under 4mm deep, sliding easily into a wallet or pocket.
With 1500mAh capacity, the Lifecard will give your phone an extra 40-80% charge, depending on model. Removing the cable automatically turns it on, with a row of tiny LEDs letting you know how much power is left.
It's relatively expensive for what it is, but you're paying for that sub-4mm thickness and robust stainless steel exterior. Trust me, you're not going to care about the price the first time you avoid a travel emergency with it!
Powering a phone or tablet from a portable battery is one thing, but if you need to work as you travel, you'll wish you could charge your laptop from it as well. Sadly there's no one battery that can charge most laptops -- Apple's patent on the Magsafe connector makes life difficult for other manufacturers, and many laptops just need too much power to charge from any battery. If you've got a 12” Macbook or a recent Chromebook that charges via USB-C, however, the Anker PowerCore+ 20100 is unbeatable.
Often priced as low as $50, the battery has enough juice to fully charge a 12” Macbook, iPad and iPhone once each, or any smartphone several times. As well as the USB-C port, it also includes two standard USB-A ports, and you can charge using all three ports simultaneously (to a maximum out of 6amps).
Sure, at one pound and 7.2 x 2.4 x 0.9 inches, it's bigger and heavier than other portable batteries, but it's not unmanageable if you need to charge your laptop on the move. Backed by an 18 month warranty, it's hard to go wrong.
When you're short on power sockets, or just don't want to carry round yet another adapter, a charger/portable battery combo comes in very handy. The best of these plug directly into a wall socket, then let you connect one or more devices to them. They charge the devices first, then when they're full, automatically switch over to charging themselves. Hook everything up overnight, and when you wake up, everything's powered up and ready to go.
The TYLT Energi 6K Smart Charger has a fold-out two pin plug, and if you buy the international version (recommended), you'll get UK and European/Asian adapters in the box. There's a small Lightning or micro-USB cable at the bottom, plus a USB socket for charging a second device, all in a compact battery made from an attractive, soft-touch material.
The 6000mAh capacity is enough to get a couple of phones through the day, and you can charge from both cables simultaneously. The Energi 6K is small enough to fit in the back pocket of a pair of pants, but I've found it more comfortable in a bag or jacket pocket. It's somewhat more expensive than other portable batteries of similar capacity, but the extra features and convenience easily justify the price difference.
For those who only need to keep their phone going, rather than a bunch of other devices, there's the option of using a phone case with an inbuilt battery. There's always a trade-off between weight, bulk and convenience, but if you pick the right model, you'll end up with a phone that lasts much longer between charges, without having to remember to carry any additional gear.
If you've got an iPhone 6 or 6s, check out Anker's Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case. It's thin and light, gives you one full charge from empty plus a bit more, and is a relative bargain at around $40. When the charge level starts getting low on your phone, you simply hit the power button on the back of the case to start powering it back up again.
Charging and syncing is handled via the included micro-USB cable without needing to remove the phone from the case, and you'll get decent, if not top-of-the-line, protection from drops and knocks as well.
If you're not sporting one of Apple's most recent phones, check out the case range from Mophie. You'll pay more for them, but the company offers a variety of reliable options for several different models of phone.
There are plenty of high-capacity portable batteries out there, but the RAVPower 26800 mAh version is the best of the lot. It'll fully charge an iPhone 6 ten times, or a Samsung Galaxy S6 six times, and has three USB ports that can be used simultaneously at up to 5.5 amps maximum output. In practical terms, that means you can charge a pair of iPads for the kids inflight, and still be able to get enough juice into your phone to request an Uber when you land.
In a nice touch for travel, it comes with its own carry case, and supports rapid charging of itself – an important detail for any large battery like this, as some can take over a day to recharge once they hit empty. Like the competition, though, it's not going to fit in all but the largest pockets. At a pound in weight and an inch thick, you'll likely want to carry it in a daypack.
As we all continue to take more and more electronics on our travels, keeping everything powered is becoming increasingly difficult without something like the RAVPower 26800, and at around $50, it's not going to break the bank.
If you're going to be off the grid for days, or you're traveling with a family or group who are all lugging mobile devices, you just can't have too much power in reserve. Sure, you're going to be carrying around a relatively big, heavy battery to power everything with, but when you really need the extra juice, that will feel like a small price to pay.