Five iPhone security settings you should check today

One of the winning features about iOS is that, even out of the box and without any tweaks, it’s a really secure platform. There’s rarely a shady app that makes it into the App Store, and Apple has struck the perfect balance between too much an too little security.

Must read: I wish I’d found this iPhone accessory years ago

#1: Make sure you have a strong passcode

Don’t be that person who’s relying on 000000 or 123456 to protect their information. You are better than that. Much better.

Go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode on older iPhones), enter your existing passcode, and then tap on Passcode Options to get a set of options. Choose between Custom Alphanumeric Code (the most secure) or Custom Numeric Code (second best option), or 4-Digit Numeric Code (I don’t recommend this last option).

#2: Control leakage

Data leakage that is.

Take control how much — or how little — information you want to be accessible on a locked device.

iOS 13 gives control over the following:

  • Today View
  • Notification Center
  • Control Center
  • Siri
  • Reply with Message
  • Home Control
  • Wallet
  • Return Missed Call
  • USB Accessories

I have everything disabled except for Home Control and Wallet.

The bottom line is that the more you lock down, the more secure your device and data will be. The USB Accessories feature is especially useful, because it will prevent the Lightning port being used to connect to any accessory if your iPhone or iPad has been locked for more than an hour.

Go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode on older iPhones), and enter your existing passcode to take control of this.

#3: Have you been naughty and been reusing passwords?

If you use the iCloud Keychain to store web passwords, you can now use this to check for password reuse (which is bad, so don’t do it!).

Go to Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Website & App Passwords and authenticate with either Face ID/Touch ID or your passcode.

You will see a grey triangle with an exclamation mark next to any entry that is reused. To change the password, tap Change Password on Website.

#4: Reduce lock screen timeout to a minimum

The shorter you set the lock screen timeout setting (there are options ranging from 30 seconds to never), the faster your iPhone or iPad display will require authentication to access it.

My advice — never set it to never.  Never!

You can change the auto-lock time by going to Settings > Display & Brightness Auto-Lock.

#5: Hide notification previews

Prevent random snoopers from seeing your data by hiding notification previews.

Go to Settings > Notifications, then tap on Show Previews and choose When Unlocked.

Bonus tip #1

Reboot your iPhone every week or so. Not only will this improve performance, but it’s also a simple way to protect yourself from remote exploits.

Bonus tip #2

Download and install iVerify.

iVerify is a security scanner that makes sure you are making use of the basic security features such as Face/Touch ID, Screen Lock, and are running the latest iOS version. It also runs a device scan that looks for security anomalies and gives you a heads up if something seems out of place.

The app also gives you a very — and I mean very — comprehensive list of tweaks and changes you can carry out to keep your device safe. Many of these are probably overkill for the average user, but for the power user or security-conscious, the app is a goldmine of information.

iVerify is not free — it costs $2.99 — but it’s truly worth the money if you take security seriously. I know my way around iOS very well, and even I learned a few new things from going through all the guides contained in this app.

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Here’s what sleep tracking in WatchOS 7 tells us about the next Apple Watch

In late June, Apple held its annual Worldwide Developer Conference where the company announced several software updates for its entire hardware lineup, including
WatchOS
7 for its smartwatch lineup. 

One of the new features that will debut this year is something many users have been asking Apple to add for years: Sleep tracking. ZDNet’s sister site CNET has a terrific story with Apple VP Kevin Lynch, detailing the company’s approach to sleep tracking. I strongly recommend you take a few minutes to read it.

Also: Apple Watch, Fitbit data can spot if you are sick days before symptoms show up 

The gist of Apple’s approach is this: The company wants you to focus on getting into a bedtime routine, going to sleep and waking up at the same time throughout the week. Instead of providing sleep scores or breaking down your night’s sleep by different sleep stages like Fitbit does, Apple is only going to give you the amount of time you were asleep. 

It’s an interesting approach, and one I’m still trying to decide if I like. I don’t really know what to do with the sleep scores I get when I wear a Fitbit to bed, and I haven’t always found that a higher score means I feel more rested. But at the same time, I like being able to look at how restless I was during a given night’s sleep — if for no other reason than I find it fascinating to look at. 

apple-watch-watchos7-sleep-duration-goal-06222020.jpg

Apple, Inc.

Whenever the topic of sleep tracking and the Apple Watch comes up, battery life follows. And rightfully so. Right now, the Apple Watch battery lasts long enough to get through a full day of use, or roughly 18 hours. The current charging regimen is to wear the watch all day, then charge it while you sleep at night.

That means when you go to bed each night you have to place the watch on its charger. The following day, you can work out and use the watch as you need, without missing out on activity, calorie or stand tracking to close your rings. 

Also: Best smartwatches in 2020: Apple and Samsung battle for a spot on your wrist 

But with sleep tracking, the charging routine gets a little more complicated. In order for sleep tracking to work, the Apple Watch has to have 30% battery life left when you go to bed. If you went on a hike or an extended workout during the day, odds are by the time you get close to your bedtime, your watch will let you know it needs to be charged to that 30% threshold in order to track your sleep.

Depending on how low your watch is, charging to the 30% limit can take awhile, leading to either missed activity tracking or waiting up past your bedtime just so you can track your sleep. 

If your battery can survive the night, or you topped off before bed, you still have to place it on the charger in the morning to get through the next day. It can take 2.5 hours to fully charge the watch, which, again, means you’re missing out on tracked activity — not to mention all of the other reasons to actually wear Apple’s smartwatch. Placing the watch on your charger while you get ready in the morning sounds good, but unless you take over two hours to get ready, you’re going to have to go without your watch until it’s charged. 

apple-watch-watchos7-sleep-health-app-06222020.jpg

Apple, Inc.

WatchOS 7 won’t be officially released until this fall, giving beta participants and Apple time to work through any issues and, hopefully, improve battery life. But, I can’t help but think because of the addition of sleep tracking to the Apple Watch, turning it into a device you’re incentivized to wear for 24 hours a day, that the next Apple Watch is going to include better battery life. Maybe Apple will include the faster charging, too. 

There’s only so much room inside the Apple Watch, so any battery increases will likely come at the cost of other parts and pieces. WatchOS 7 officially gets rid of Force Touch, requiring developers to move to a long-press method for accessing additional menus and features. The lack of the pressure-sensitive hardware may free up some extra space, giving Apple the room it needs to increase the overall battery size and, in turn, battery life.

At least, that’s what I hope happens. What do you think? Will multiple daily charging sessions for your Apple Watch be enough to turn you off from using sleep tracking, or are you hoping, like me, that the next Apple Watch has vastly improved battery life? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Best iPad in 2020: Apple’s tablet lineup continues to go unmatched

Apple’s iPad lineup is arguably something that’s unmatched by any other platform or device maker. The tablets all consistently turn top performance and have 10 hours of battery life, clear and crisp displays, and access to countless apps in the App Store. 

And with Apple’s announcement of iPadOS last year, the company has slowly and methodically released updates with features that differentiate it from the iPhone and push it closer to being more like a Mac. 

Below you’ll find Apple’s iPad lineup and details about what differentiates each model.

10.2-inch display | A10 Fusion chip | Up to 128GB storage | Touch ID

apple-new-ipad-new-seventh-generation-091019.jpg

Apple

Apple’s tried-and-true tablet, the base model iPad, is arguably the best value out of the group. You get all of the same features as the more expensive Pro and Air models, including a larger 10.2-inch display.

Inside is the Apple A10 Fusion chip, either 32GB or 128GB of storage, and either standalone Wi-Fi support or Wi-Fi and Cellular connectivity.

Apple hasn’t expanded its facial recognition hardware beyond the iPad Pro, so the iPad still has a home button with Touch ID. There is, however, a Smart Connector to add Apple’s Smart Keyboard, turning the iPad into more of a laptop than a tablet. And, of course, it supports the Apple Pencil.

Better yet? The iPad starts at $329. It’s incredibly powerful and even more affordable. 

$329 at Apple

10.5-inch | A12 Bionic | Up to 256GB of storage | Touch ID

The third-generation iPad Air

In the middle of the iPad pack is the iPad Air. Apple mixes and combines some of the features from the standard iPad and the iPad Pro, bringing specs like a 10.5-inch display, but leaving the home button in place. 

Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support is available, and storage space is double that of the standard iPad, with 64GB and 256GB options available. Powering the iPad Air is an A12 Bionic processor, bringing some of that power that the iPad Pro lineup has to a slightly smaller, and less expensive, device. 

Starting price for the iPad Air is $499 for 64GB or $649 for 256GB. You can add cellular to it for an extra $130.

$399 at Apple

11- or 12.9-inch | A12Z | Up to 1TB of storage | Face ID

iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The iPad Pro is the most expensive, and the most capable tablet in the lineup. It boasts a completely different design when compared to the standard iPad or iPad Air. Instead of a Lightning port for charging, syncing and accessories, you’ll find a USB-C port.

The Home button is gone, replaced by Apple’s Face ID facial recognition tech. And, unlike on the iPhone, you can use Face ID with the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientation.

There are two sizes: 11-inch or 12.9-inch, with storage ranging from 128GB all the way up to 1TB. Pricing also has a wide range, of $799 for the 11-inch 1218GB model, up to $1,499 for the 1TB 12.9-inch model. Add cellular connectivity to either model for $150 more. The Pro uses Apple’s A12Z processor, making it the most powerful iPad currently available.

The Pro also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil, with a magnetic spot on the side to charge it. The Smart Connector is on the back of the iPad Pro, giving you the option to use it with the recently launched Magic Keyboard that includes backlit keys and trackpad, or Apple’s Smart Keyboard.

The iPad Pro, combined with iPadOS, is as close as you can get to a laptop without actually buying a laptop. 

$799 at Apple

7.9-inch | A12 Bionic | Up to 256GB of storage | Touch ID

ipad-mini.jpg

Image: Apple

If you want something smaller and more manageable, the iPad Mini fits the bill. Powered by the A12 Bionic processor, the 7.9-inch tablet comes with all the same bells and whistles as the rest of Apple’s tablet line thanks to a fairly recent update.

The Mini will work with the first-generation Apple Pencil, so you can draw or jot notes in supported apps. With the upcoming release of iPadOS 14, Apple Pencil support is expanding thanks to a new Scribbles feature that lets you write in text boxes, with the tablet converting your handwriting into actual text.

You have the option of 64GB or 256GB of storage, with the former priced at $399 and the latter $549 for the Wi-Fi-only models. If you want to add cellular connectivity, you’re looking at a $130 increase. 

$399 at Apple

9.7-inch | A10 Fusion | Up to 128GB | Touch ID

2020-07-02-at-4-44-43-pm.jpg

Apple

For those who still have one of the original 9.7-inch iPad models, with cases and accessories aplenty, then check out Apple’s refurbished store, where you’ll find the sixth-generation iPad still on sale. It was first released in March 2018, but don’t let that fool you, it can still run the latest OS and do all you’d need a tablet to do.

Inventory in Apple’s Refurbished store fluctuates all the time, but as of right now, the 128GB model with Wi-Fi and Cellular is available in silver, space gray, and gold for $439, marked down from the standard prices of $529.

Apple will support the sixth-generation iPad with iPadOS 14, so you’ll be able to take advantage of all of its new features, and some of the more recently added features like mouse and trackpad support.

Some of the nerdier specs about the sixth-generation model is an Apple A10 Fusion processor, with 10-hour battery life, a Touch ID sensor, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a 2048×1536 resolution display. 

$439 at Apple

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iOS 13.5.1 suffers from a horrible battery drain issue

Have you noticed that since installing iOS 13.5.1 that you need to charge yup your iPhone’s battery more often? You might have even noticed that the iPhone is feeling warm — or even hot — even when it’s not doing anything.

Yes, it seems like this release suffers from yet another battery drain issue.

iOS 13.5.1 was released June 1st, and seemed to contain little more than a fix for the Unc0ver jailbreak. This seemed odd since there was a lot of negative chatter from iOS 13.5 users about a whole raft of bugs, ranging from an irritating battery drain bug, MP4 playback being broken, and some people’s devices are stuck in endless reboot loops.

After working with a number of Hardware 2.0 readers, the problem seems to come down to apps running in the background.

Must read: I wish I’d found this iPhone accessory years ago

Are you affected by this issue? To check, go to Settings > Battery and then look at the Screen Off activity. If this is over an hour, it’s likely to be an issue. Close to an hour and that may be having quite an adverse effect on battery life.

You can also tap on Show Activity next to Activity By App. This will show you if any apps are consuming battery while in the background. A small amount of activity is normal, but many tens of minutes or hours is not good.

A suspect amount of background activity

A suspect amount of background activity

Another symptom of the problem is that your iPhone will feel warm, or possibly even hot, when not seeming to do anything.

Is there anything you can do about it?

Short of throwing away your iPhone and switching to Android, deleting the apps in question, or disabling background app refresh (Settings > General > Background App Refresh and either disabling the feature for certain apps, or disabling it globally), there doesn’t seem to be anything that that the end user can do.

The good news is that Apple is working on iOS 13.6, which is currently in beta (beta 3 was released the other day). I’ve spoken to several people running this beta on a range of devices and the feedback I’m getting is that it’s an overall improvement on the current release.

We can but hope.

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USB Power Delivery is the fastest way to charge iPhone and Android devices

With the current generation of smartphones and their much faster processors and vivid, high-resolution displays, and always-on connectivity, demands on battery performance are now higher than ever.

You may have noticed that, while you are on the road, you’re quickly running out of juice. If you have this problem, portable batteries and faster wall chargers than what may have come in the box with your device may be the solution.

But not all portable batteries are the same, even though they might use similar Lithium Polymer (LiPo) and Lithium-Ion (Lion) cells for capacity and look very much alike. Plus, modern smartphone hardware from Apple and various Android manufacturers support faster-charging rates than what was previously supported.

If you use the charger that comes in the box of the current-generation iPhone hardware, or if you buy just any portable battery pack on the market, you’re going to be disappointed. Ideally, you want to match your charger, battery, and even the charging cable to the optimal charging speeds that your device supports.

There are three different high-speed USB charging standards currently on the market. While all will work with your device using a standard legacy charge mode, you will want to match up the right technology to optimize the speed in which you can top off your phone, tablet, or even your laptop. Let’s start by explaining the differences between them.

Legacy USB-A 2.0 and 3.0 charging

If your Android device or accessory still has the USB Micro B connector (the dreaded fragile trapezoid that’s impossible to connect in the dark), you can fast-charge it using an inexpensive USB-A-to-USB Micro B cable.

If the device and the charger port both support the USB 2.0 standard (pretty much the least common denominator these days for entry-level Android smartphones), you can charge it at 1.5A/5V. Some consumer electronics, such as higher-end vape batteries that use the Evolv DNA chipset, can charge at 2A. A USB 3.0/3.1 charge port on one of these batteries can supply 3.0A/5V — if the device supports it.

If you are charging an accessory, such as an inexpensive pair of wireless earbuds or another Bluetooth device, and it doesn’t support either of the USB-A fast charging specs, it will slow charge at either 500mA or 900mA, which is about the same you can expect from directly connecting it to most PCs.

Mode Voltage Max Current Connector
USB PD Variable up to 20V 5A USB-C
USB Type-C 3A 5V 3.0A USB-C
USB Type-C 1.5A 5V 1.5A USB-C
QC 4.0 (USB-PD Compatible) Variable up to 20V 4.6A USB-C
QC 3.0 Variable up to 20V 4.6A USB-A/USB-C
QC 2.0 5V, 9V, 12V, 20V 2A USB-A
USB FC 1.2 5V 1.5A USB-A
USB 3.1 5V 900mA USB-A
USB 2.0 5V 500mA USB-A

Many of the portable batteries on the market have both USB-C and multiple USB-A ports. Some of them have USB-A ports that can deliver the same voltage, while others feature one fast (2.4A) and one slow (1A).

So, you will want to make sure you plug the device into the battery port that can charge it at the fastest rate, if you’re going to top off the device as quickly as possible.

USB Power Delivery

USB Power Delivery (USB PD) is a relatively new fast charge standard that was introduced by the USB Implementers Forum, the creators of the USB standard. It is an industry-standard open specification that provides high-speed charging with variable voltage up to 20V using intelligent device negotiation up to 5A at 100W.

It scales up from smartphones to notebook computers, provided they use a USB-C connector and a USB-C power controller on the client and host.

image-12-13-19-at-9-32-am.jpg

USB Fast-Charge Standards


Image: Belkin

Batteries and wall chargers that employ USB PD can charge devices up to 100W output using a USB-C connector — however, most output at 30W because that is on the upper range of what most smartphones and tablets can handle. In contrast, laptops require adapters and batteries that can output at a higher wattage.

Apple introduced USB PD charging with iOS devices with the launch of the 2015 iPad Pro 12.9 and with OS X laptops in the MacBook Pro as of 2016. Apple’s smartphones beginning with the iPhone 8 can rapidly charge with USB PD using any USB PD charging accessory; you don’t have to use Apple’s OEM USB-C 29W or its 61W power adapters. 

In 2019, Apple released an 18W USB-C Power Adapter, which comes with the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. Although Apple’s charger works just fine, you’ll probably want to consider a third-party wall charger for the regular iPhone 11 or an earlier model. The regular iPhone 11 and the iPhone SE only come with a 5W USB-A charger, which is woefully inadequate for getting your device charged up quickly.  And the current rumor mill seems to indicate that the iPhone 12 may not even ship with a charger in the box at all.

Fast-charging an iPhone requires the use of a USB-C to Lightning cable, which, until February 2019, needed Apple’s OEM MKQ42AM/A (1m ) or MD818ZM/A (2m) USB-C to Lightning cables. Unfortunately, they’re a tad expensive at around $19 to $35 from various online retailers such as Amazon. 

apple-usbc-to-lightning.jpg

Apple OEM USB-C to Lightning Cable.

There are cheaper third-party USB-C to Lightning cables. I am currently partial to USB-C-to-Lightning cables from Anker, which are highly durable and MFI-certified for use with Apple’s devices.

It should be noted that, if you intend to use your smartphone with either Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto, your vehicle will probably still require a USB-A to USB-C or a USB-A-to-Lightning cable if it doesn’t support these screen projection technologies wirelessly. You can’t fast-charge with either of these types of cables in most cars, and there is no way to pass-through a fast charge to a 12V USB PD accessory while being connected to a data cable, either.

Qualcomm Quick Charge

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs are used in many popular smartphones and tablets. It’s fast-charging standard, Quick Charge, has been through multiple iterations.

The current implementation is Quick Charge 4.0, which is backward-compatible with older Quick Charge accessories and devices. Unlike USB PD, Quick Charge 2.0 and 3.0 can be delivered using the USB-A connector. Quick Charge 4.0 is exclusive to USB-C.

Quick Charge 4.0 is only present in phones that use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8xx, and it’s present in many North American tier 1 OEM Android devices made by Samsung, LG, Motorola, OnePlus, ZTE, and Google.

ravpower-26000.jpg

RavPower 26000mAh with Quick Charge 3.0


ZDNet

The Xiaomi, ZTE Nubia and the Sony Xperia devices also use QC 4.0, but they aren’t sold in the US market. Huawei’s phones utilize Kirin 970/980/990 chips, which use its own Supercharge standard, but they are backward-compatible with the 18W USB PD standard. Similarly, Oppo’s phones have SuperVOOC, and OnePlus uses Warp Charge, and issue its compatible charger accessories if you want to take advantage of higher wattage (30W/40W/100W) charge rates.

Like USB PD, QC 3.0 and QC 4.0 are variable voltage technologies and will intelligently ramp up your device for optimal charging speeds and safety. However, Quick Charge 3.0 and 4.0 differ from USB PD in that it has some additional features for thermal management and voltage stepping with the current-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs to optimize for reduced heat footprint while charging.

It also uses a different variable voltage selection and negotiation protocol than USB PD, which Qualcomm advertises as better/safer for its own SoCs.

And for devices that use Qualcomm’s current chipsets, Quick Charge 4.0 is about 25% faster than Quick Charge 3.0. The company advertises five hours of usage time on the device for five minutes of charge time.

However, while it is present in (some of) the wall chargers that ship with the devices themselves, and a few third-party solutions, Quick Charge 4 is not in any battery products yet. It is not just competing with USB Power Delivery; it is also compatible with USB Power Delivery.

Qualcomm’s technology and ICs have to be licensed at considerable additional expense to the OEMs, whereas USB PD is an open standard.

If you compound this with Google recommending OEMs conform to USB PD over Quick Charge for Android-based products, it sounds like USB PD is the way to go, right?

Well, sort of. If you have a Quick Charge 3.0 device, definitely get a Quick Charge 3.0 battery. But if you have a Quick Charge 4.0 device or an iOS device, get at USB PD battery for now.

Which battery should you buy?

Now that you understand the fundamental charging technologies, which battery should you buy? When the first version of this article released in 2018, the product selection on the market was much more limited — there are now dozens of vendors currently manufacturing USB PD products. Still, ZDNet recommends the following brands and models:

Anker: One of the largest Chinese manufacturers of Apple-certified accessories

RavPower: Similar to Anker, typically more price competitive

ZMI: Accessories ODM for Xiaomi and one of China’s largest smartphone manufacturers

Aukey: Large Chinese accessories manufacturer and value pricing

Mophie: Premium construction and Apple Store OEM accessory

Zendure: High-end, ruggedized construction, and high-output ports

Goalzero: Similar to Zendure

OmniCharge: High-end, enterprise, vertical-industry targeted, advanced metering, and power flow control

Otter Products: Known for its OtterBox rugged cases for iPhone and Android devices; now in the premium accessories market

Which wall/desktop charger should you buy?

As with the batteries, there are many vendors providing USB PD wall charging accessories. Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology, in particular, is something you should seriously consider in a wall charger if you are looking for maximum space efficiency in your travel bag and power output. ZDNet recommends the following brands and products:

Anker

Aukey

RavPower

Zendure

  • SuperPort 4
  • 45W Wall Charger
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    I wish I’d found this iPhone accessory years ago

    One of the great things about owning an iPhone is that there just no end to the accessories available for it. Now, while I’m the first to admit that many are junk, some are so good and useful that they transform the way I use my iPhone.

    Despite buying an iPhone 11 Pro Max, I still cheaped out when it came to storage and bought the 64GB model.

    This is how I roll.

    I may be happy to pay over the odds for a phone, but I can’t bring myself to pay over the odds for storage, and most of the time I get away with it because I make do with cloud storage a lot.

    But lately I’ve started taking more photos and video. A lot more. And to make things worse, I’ve begun experimenting with 4K video, and let me tell you, that stuff burns through storage.

    There are a lot of external drives out there for iPhones, but I’ve found that it’s hard to get one that will fit into the Lightning port if you have anything but the thinnest case. Many are also fragile, and I’ve had a few break apart in use.

    Not the kind of backup storage I’m looking for, if I’m being honest.

    Must read: Independence Day: The best tools for working safely from anywhere

    img-5508.jpg

    Then I came across the RAVPower iPhone Flash Drive. Coming in 64GB and 128GB capacities, this MFi Certified USB 3.0 flash drive that allows you to access the data on the drive and charge your iPhone simultaneously.

    Basically, it’s a Lightning connector joined to a USB-C connector using a thin, flexible ribbon cable. The Lightning connector is a very compact design, and that means I can still use the flash drive when my iPhone is in a bulky case.

    The two ends are held together using a magnet. It’s a small, compact, and very neat design.

    The data transfer on the iPhone is handled by a free iOS app called iPlugmate, which while being somewhat basic, gets the job done acceptably.

    $35 at Amazon (128GB)


    Amazon (64GB)

    The only downside for me is that I use a Mac that only has USB-C ports, so I need a dongle or dock to be able to transfer files from the drive, but this is only a small negative because so many of my other devices also need a dongle or dock.

    This is now a part of my everyday carry, and it means I have tons of free space on my iPhone for shooting video.

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    Batteries not included: USB Power Delivery is the fastest way to charge iPhone and Android devices

    With the current generation of smartphones and their much faster processors and vivid, high-resolution displays, and always-on connectivity, demands on battery performance are now higher than ever.

    You may have noticed that, while you are on the road, you’re quickly running out of juice. If you have this problem, portable batteries and faster wall chargers than what may have come in the box with your device may be the solution.

    But not all portable batteries are the same, even though they might use similar Lithium Polymer (LiPo) and Lithium-Ion (Lion) cells for capacity and look very much alike. Plus, modern smartphone hardware from Apple and various Android manufacturers support faster-charging rates than what was previously supported.

    If you use the charger that comes in the box of the current-generation iPhone hardware, or if you buy just any portable battery pack on the market, you’re going to be disappointed. Ideally, you want to match your charger, battery, and even the charging cable to the optimal charging speeds that your device supports.

    There are three different high-speed USB charging standards currently on the market. While all will work with your device using a standard legacy charge mode, you will want to match up the right technology to optimize the speed in which you can top off your phone, tablet, or even your laptop. Let’s start by explaining the differences between them.

    Legacy USB-A 2.0 and 3.0 charging

    If your Android device or accessory still has the USB Micro B connector (the dreaded fragile trapezoid that’s impossible to connect in the dark), you can fast-charge it using an inexpensive USB-A-to-USB Micro B cable.

    If the device and the charger port both support the USB 2.0 standard (pretty much the least common denominator these days for entry-level Android smartphones), you can charge it at 1.5A/5V. Some consumer electronics, such as higher-end vape batteries that use the Evolv DNA chipset, can charge at 2A. A USB 3.0/3.1 charge port on one of these batteries can supply 3.0A/5V — if the device supports it.

    If you are charging an accessory, such as an inexpensive pair of wireless earbuds or another Bluetooth device, and it doesn’t support either of the USB-A fast charging specs, it will slow charge at either 500mA or 900mA, which is about the same you can expect from directly connecting it to most PCs.

    Mode Voltage Max Current Connector
    USB PD Variable up to 20V 5A USB-C
    USB Type-C 3A 5V 3.0A USB-C
    USB Type-C 1.5A 5V 1.5A USB-C
    QC 4.0 (USB-PD Compatible) Variable up to 20V 4.6A USB-C
    QC 3.0 Variable up to 20V 4.6A USB-A/USB-C
    QC 2.0 5V, 9V, 12V, 20V 2A USB-A
    USB FC 1.2 5V 1.5A USB-A
    USB 3.1 5V 900mA USB-A
    USB 2.0 5V 500mA USB-A

    Many of the portable batteries on the market have both USB-C and multiple USB-A ports. Some of them have USB-A ports that can deliver the same voltage, while others feature one fast (2.4A) and one slow (1A).

    So, you will want to make sure you plug the device into the battery port that can charge it at the fastest rate, if you’re going to top off the device as quickly as possible.

    USB Power Delivery

    USB Power Delivery (USB PD) is a relatively new fast charge standard that was introduced by the USB Implementers Forum, the creators of the USB standard. It is an industry-standard open specification that provides high-speed charging with variable voltage up to 20V using intelligent device negotiation up to 5A at 100W.

    It scales up from smartphones to notebook computers, provided they use a USB-C connector and a USB-C power controller on the client and host.

    image-12-13-19-at-9-32-am.jpg

    USB Fast-Charge Standards


    Image: Belkin

    Batteries and wall chargers that employ USB PD can charge devices up to 100W output using a USB-C connector — however, most output at 30W because that is on the upper range of what most smartphones and tablets can handle. In contrast, laptops require adapters and batteries that can output at a higher wattage.

    Apple introduced USB PD charging with iOS devices with the launch of the 2015 iPad Pro 12.9 and with OS X laptops in the MacBook Pro as of 2016. Apple’s smartphones beginning with the iPhone 8 can rapidly charge with USB PD using any USB PD charging accessory; you don’t have to use Apple’s OEM USB-C 29W or its 61W power adapters. 

    In 2019, Apple released an 18W USB-C Power Adapter, which comes with the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. Although Apple’s charger works just fine, you’ll probably want to consider a third-party wall charger for the regular iPhone 11 or an earlier model. The regular iPhone 11 and the iPhone SE only come with a 5W USB-A charger, which is woefully inadequate for getting your device charged up quickly.  And the current rumor mill seems to indicate that the iPhone 12 may not even ship with a charger in the box at all.

    Fast-charging an iPhone requires the use of a USB-C to Lightning cable, which, until February 2019, needed Apple’s OEM MKQ42AM/A (1m ) or MD818ZM/A (2m) USB-C to Lightning cables. Unfortunately, they’re a tad expensive at around $19 to $35 from various online retailers such as Amazon. 

    apple-usbc-to-lightning.jpg

    Apple OEM USB-C to Lightning Cable.

    There are cheaper third-party USB-C to Lightning cables. I am currently partial to USB-C-to-Lightning cables from Anker, which are highly durable and MFI-certified for use with Apple’s devices.

    It should be noted that, if you intend to use your smartphone with either Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto, your vehicle will probably still require a USB-A to USB-C or a USB-A-to-Lightning cable if it doesn’t support these screen projection technologies wirelessly. You can’t fast-charge with either of these types of cables in most cars, and there is no way to pass-through a fast charge to a 12V USB PD accessory while being connected to a data cable, either.

    Qualcomm Quick Charge

    Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs are used in many popular smartphones and tablets. It’s fast-charging standard, Quick Charge, has been through multiple iterations.

    The current implementation is Quick Charge 4.0, which is backward-compatible with older Quick Charge accessories and devices. Unlike USB PD, Quick Charge 2.0 and 3.0 can be delivered using the USB-A connector. Quick Charge 4.0 is exclusive to USB-C.

    Quick Charge 4.0 is only present in phones that use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8xx, and it’s present in many North American tier 1 OEM Android devices made by Samsung, LG, Motorola, OnePlus, ZTE, and Google.

    ravpower-26000.jpg

    RavPower 26000mAh with Quick Charge 3.0


    ZDNet

    The Xiaomi, ZTE Nubia and the Sony Xperia devices also use QC 4.0, but they aren’t sold in the US market. Huawei’s phones utilize Kirin 970/980/990 chips, which use its own Supercharge standard, but they are backward-compatible with the 18W USB PD standard. Similarly, Oppo’s phones have SuperVOOC, and OnePlus uses Warp Charge, and issue its compatible charger accessories if you want to take advantage of higher wattage (30W/40W/100W) charge rates.

    Like USB PD, QC 3.0 and QC 4.0 are variable voltage technologies and will intelligently ramp up your device for optimal charging speeds and safety. However, Quick Charge 3.0 and 4.0 differ from USB PD in that it has some additional features for thermal management and voltage stepping with the current-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs to optimize for reduced heat footprint while charging.

    It also uses a different variable voltage selection and negotiation protocol than USB PD, which Qualcomm advertises as better/safer for its own SoCs.

    And for devices that use Qualcomm’s current chipsets, Quick Charge 4.0 is about 25% faster than Quick Charge 3.0. The company advertises five hours of usage time on the device for five minutes of charge time.

    However, while it is present in (some of) the wall chargers that ship with the devices themselves, and a few third-party solutions, Quick Charge 4 is not in any battery products yet. It is not just competing with USB Power Delivery; it is also compatible with USB Power Delivery.

    Qualcomm’s technology and ICs have to be licensed at considerable additional expense to the OEMs, whereas USB PD is an open standard.

    If you compound this with Google recommending OEMs conform to USB PD over Quick Charge for Android-based products, it sounds like USB PD is the way to go, right?

    Well, sort of. If you have a Quick Charge 3.0 device, definitely get a Quick Charge 3.0 battery. But if you have a Quick Charge 4.0 device or an iOS device, get at USB PD battery for now.

    Which battery should you buy?

    Now that you understand the fundamental charging technologies, which battery should you buy? When the first version of this article was released in 2018, the product selection on the market was much more limited — there are now dozens of vendors currently manufacturing USB PD products. Still, ZDNet recommends the following brands and models:

    Anker: One of the largest Chinese manufacturers of Apple-certified accessories

    RavPower: Similar to Anker, typically more price competitive

    ZMI: Accessories ODM for Xiaomi and one of China’s largest smartphone manufacturers

    Aukey: Large Chinese accessories manufacturer and value pricing

    Mophie: Premium construction and Apple Store OEM accessory

    Zendure: High-end, ruggedized construction, and high-output ports

    Goalzero: Similar to Zendure

    OmniCharge: High-end, enterprise, vertical-industry targeted, advanced metering, and power flow control

    Otter Products: Known for its OtterBox rugged cases for iPhone and Android devices; now in the premium accessories market

    Which wall/desktop charger should you buy?

    As with the batteries, there are many vendors providing USB PD wall charging accessories. Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology, in particular, is something you should seriously consider in a wall charger if you are looking for maximum space efficiency in your travel bag and power output. ZDNet recommends the following brands and products:

    Anker

    Aukey

    RavPower

    Zendure

  • SuperPort 4
  • 45W Wall Charger
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    Google’s Android answer to Apple AirDrop: Nearby Share beta aims for easy file sharing

    Google has released a beta of its long-awaited Android answer to Apple’s AirDrop for sending and sharing files wirelessly between devices. 

    At the moment, the Android service dubbed Nearby Share, is in a limited trial for users who opt in to the Play Services beta. 

    Apple’s AirDrop allows users to share files between iOS and macOS devices if they’re on the same Wi-Fi network or within Bluetooth range. 

    As per XDA Developers, Nearby Share allows files to be shared using mobile data, Wi-Fi only, or without the internet. Users need to setup Nearby Share so that the device is visible to all contacts, some contacts, or hidden. Nearby Share requires Bluetooth and Location to be turned on. 

    Nearby Share differs from AirDrop in that Android users are offered a file for sharing via an app that supports it. For example, sharing a tweet would open up in recipient’s Twitter app, while Photos would open in a photo app.  

    That it’s rolling out through Play Services means that Nearby Share should support most Android devices. 

    Google told Android Police the feature is rolling out in a limited beta but said it should support all devices running Android 6 or newer. Google also hopes to support “other platforms”. If that means support for Windows 10, Nearby Share would become a better rival to Apple’s AirDrop.  

    “We’re currently conducting a beta test of a new Nearby Share feature that we plan to share more information on in the future. Our goal is to launch the feature with support for Android 6+ devices as well as other platforms,” Google said. 

    Google has been working on Nearby Share for some time, with details leaking at the beginning of the year, as CNET reported at the time. 

    As that leak revealed, Nearby Share has a quick settings tile on devices that have it. Tapping it makes the device visible to others with the feature, so users can start sharing content.  

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    Arm benchmarks: Apple silicon trounces Microsoft’s Surface Pro X in first tests

    Developers taking part in Apple’s preview of its Arm-based Apple silicon hardware have run Geekbench benchmarks, with the results suggesting it considerably outperforms Microsoft’s Arm-based Surface Pro X. 

    The Geekbench results show that Apple’s Mac mini-like desktop Developer Transition Kit (DTK) with the A12Z Bionic SoC from the 2020 iPad Pro has a single-core score of over 800 and a multi-core score of over 2,900. 

    That’s significantly less than the latest iPad Pro, which could be because the benchmarks for Apple’s developer kit is running through the Rosetta 2 translation layer and only uses four ‘performance’ cores, as Macrumors points out. 

    SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic)    

    But even running through Rosetta 2, Apple’s developer kit scores come in significantly higher than Geekbench results for Microsoft’s Arm-based Surface Pro X, which runs on the SQ1, an Arm processor co-developed by Microsoft and Qualcomm. The Surface Pro X scores are around 600 in a single-core benchmark and over 2,600 in a multi-core test. 

    As well-known developer Steve Troughton-Smith points out, the results don’t look good for Microsoft and Qualcomm, given that the A12Z is based on the two-year-old A12X. 

    “So the DTK with a two-year-old iPad chip runs x86_64 code, in emulation, faster than the Surface Pro X runs it natively. Oh boy Qualcomm, what are you even doing?,” he wrote.  

    Apple plans to release its first Arm-based Mac later this year, and by then its benchmark scores should be even higher since the chips will be based on the newer A14 chip for this year’s new iPhone but designed for the Mac.  

    The company expects the move to Apple silicon to “take about two years”, Apple CEO Tim Cook said last week. The company plans to continue to “support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for years to come” and still has new Intel-based Macs in the pipeline.



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