A recent power usage survey details the many ways that we use (and abuse) our chargers and batteries on the road. For instance: 8 percent of people have charged their phone in a public bathroom—an obvious health, theft and water damage risk. And considering that 70 percent of travelers bring a laptop along, it’s important to know things like the fact that leaving your laptop in your backpack is an easy way to overheat and damage your battery. (See our survey methodology at the end of this post.)
Users are compromising the longevity of a device’s power source or even damaging the device in the long-term because of mismanagement. It’s evident that travelers are not well aware of the “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to traveling with gadgets. But the need is there, as a majority (31 percent) of people would rather go the DMV to wait in line than go without a charger for a day and risk losing power on their devices.
To address the most common of these “don’ts” that people “do,” here a few tips on how consumers can treat their gadgets to ensure optimal performance while traveling.
Not in your backpack
When traveling, it comes naturally to store laptops or other portable devices in a backpack. But trapping devices in confined and insulated spaces—especially when on—is the easiest way to make it overheat and, in turn, damage the battery. Moreover, even if a device is off, heat from a warm battery can get trapped in a backpack, lead to thermal runaway and end in a potentially dangerous situation. The potential fires and explosions that have resulted from lithium-ion batteries overheating have actually even been a cause for recall in the past.
What you should do is always make sure your battery is cool before storing devices in a closed bag, even if not powered on. And if you could do without a backpack, transport devices so that batteries don’t overheat due to body heat or sun exposure.
Charging on the go
Preparation is key to all aspects of travel, from budgeting to what portable electronic devices you’re taking with you. People want to be connected at all times, but poor planning could mean charging in odd locations. Respondents to the study reported charging in gas stations, retail store outlets, at restaurants with help from waiting staff and even in public restrooms. Charging in these offbeat locations could lead to unwanted trouble and in some places won’t even be possible.
To make sure you’re always connected, pack extra batteries—stored appropriately to prevent shortages—or carry portable charging devices that can be of use when outlets are hard to come by.
Charge in bursts
Don’t charge devices overnight, let it die sometimes, make sure you charge to 100 percent before using. There’s lot of advice on the best way to charge devices and knowing what’s right could mean the difference between a live or dead device.
The truth is that most traditional advice is wrong, as most portable devices have made the crossover to lithium-ion batteries. For example, letting batteries completely discharge actually shortens the overall lifespan of a battery, but a third (33%) of people let it reach less than 10% before changing. If possible, avoid frequent full discharges in favor of charging more often and keeping it somewhere between 40 to 80 percent. Also, leaving devices plugged in is not necessarily a bad thing as most devices are smart enough to stop charging once the battery is full. Lastly, keep things cool and stop charging if the battery gets too warm.
When to turn it off
There are two camps in this issue: turn it off or risk wearing through components and batteries a lot faster because a device is always working, or keep it on because turning it off and on will wear through components and batteries a lot faster.
The truth is that in modern components can easily turn on and off with no significant damage. The only time it matters is when charging a lithium-ion battery powered machine. In those cases, turning off your device while charging lets it reach a low saturation current when full so the battery doesn’t experience continued stress. But for the most part charging devices bypass batteries and power the machine directly when it’s full. In short, when and how often you shut off your machine doesn’t matter.
Survey Methodology: Zolt polled 597 adults in the U.S. and internationally via SurveyMonkey and a private database of 25,000 people in the tech, sports and mobile spaces between March 10 and March 25, 2015. The margin of error is +/ 4 percentage points.
Chris Loeper is senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing at Zolt, maker of the Zolt device charger.