If you've got a smartphone, you've been there: just a tiny sliver of battery remaining, and even though your device is plugged into the car's USB port, it's not pumping enough power for you to charge and navigate at the same time. That's because not all USB ports are created the same. Today's devices are hungry for both volts and amps. The ports in your car may not be strong enough to fill up the tank, if your car even has USB ports at all.
Luckily, there are plenty of converters—like our favorite, the RAVPower Mini Dual USB Car Charger(available at Amazon for $9.99)—that plug into the 12-volt socket and deliver the 4.8 volts and 2.4 amps modern devices crave. Some will do even more: Qualcomm's Quick Charge tech "negotiates" the optimal charging level for compatible devices, delivering up to 20 volts and 4.6 amps as needed. If your phone can lap it up at that rate, it'll charge more quickly. Newer USB-C ports are also becoming more common, which is welcome news for early adopters.
We selected a total of eight car chargers to test, representing a wide cross-section of what's currently available. The RAVPower wowed us with compact design, quick charging, and consistent power delivery. It helped that it was also the least expensive charger we tried. Other units have different talents, not least the Scosche 3-in-1—a true multi-tasker that’s a charger, a portable battery backup, a flashlight, and an emergency strobe.
These are the best car smartphone chargers we tested ranked, in order:
RAVPower Mini Dual USB Car Charger
Maxboost Car Charger
Aukey USB-C Car Charger
AmazonBasics Dual Port USB Car Charger
Anker 24W Dual USB Car Charger
Scosche 2600 PBC71R GoBat 3-in-1 Car Charger
Spigen 30W Quick Charge 3.0 Car Charger
Timloon Quick Charge Car Charger
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Touting small size and metal construction as exclusive, standout features seemed odd to me at first, but they indeed turned out to be among this charger's most charming attributes in practice. With a metal body, the RAVPower felt more solidly made than most of its rivals. Its performance was comfortingly predictable, too, fully charging our test phone in just over two hours. Its low profile will work well in almost any automotive interior.
Because it's so small, this is an easy device to tuck in your pocket. That means you'll be prepared in travel situations where you're likely to find 12-volt outlets but less likely to run across a USB port.
Anker has made a name for itself with a huge range of high-quality charging products and electronic accessories. Customers have taken notice, too: this unit is consistently a top seller on Amazon.
While it doesn't support Qualcomm Quick Charge, it does feature Anker's proprietary PowerIQ and VoltageBoost tech—features that give this sleek unit enough oomph to charge two iPads at the same time. Small, mighty, and a consistent performer, the Anker is a good choice, especially at a price that's competitive with more basic chargers. If your needs range from phones, to phablets, and even to full-size tablets, this Anker has got you covered.
I'm Dan Roth. I've made a career helping readers easily understand complex things. With a technical background in film and video production, a career as an advertising creative director, as well as a parallel career as an automotive journalist, I've spent countless hours trying to use all kinds of devices. Since I understand what makes people tick and how technology works, my goal is to advocate for the end user whenever I'm evaluating products.
It's a titanic understatement to say that there are a lot of USB car chargers to choose from. There are dozens of options under $15 that are well-made and up to the task of modern smartphone charging. To find the best of the best, we researched user ratings and professional reviews alike, searching for units that stand out in such a crowded field. Each unit we selected for testing is unique from the others, offering a feature you can't get elsewhere.
While most of the chargers we tested have the muscle to also feed power-hungry tablets, our testing focused on phones. Throughout the test, we used a single device: a Motorola XT1030 (Droid Mini), with a 2000 mAh battery. To avoid the natural variables that come with an automobile's charging system, we used a Tripp Lite 13.8 volt 7 amp bench power supply for all tests. We let the battery run completely empty between each test and re-charged the phone while it was turned off to avoid inconsistent battery drain caused by apps and fluctuating WiFi or cellular reception.
Not all phones are able to take advantage of Qualcomm Quick Charge, but those that do support one of its levels—Quick Charge 3.0 is the most common, and 4.0 is on its way—are able to top up a battery much more quickly than standard USB chargers. Designed to be independent of port or charging cable standards, Quick Charge is compatible with just about every plug and cable out there. It's backward-compatible, too, so Quick Charge outlets can function as standard chargers when non-Quick Charge phones are plugged in.
So what's the upshot? The Quick Charge 3.0 standard can re-charge compatible devices four times faster than regular USB chargers by negotiating the optimal voltage level for the device. It can deliver up to 20 volts and 4.6 amps—far more power than standard USB.
You can find a list of devices that support Qualcomm QuickCharge technology here.
Other USB Car Chargers We Tested
Maxboost Car Charger
Larger than the RAVPower but still acceptably trim, the Maxboost also feels as if it was carefully designed and built using long-lasting materials. There's even a grippy pattern molded into the plastic around the edge of the unit's "head" that makes it easier to yank out of your car's DC socket. Because USB chargers are relatively simple devices, it’s the little touches that make a difference.
The Maxboost also delivered solid performance. Most impressively, it charged the phone more quickly than any other unit, topping it up in less than two hours.
This unit from Aukey had a couple of tricks up its sleeve compared to the others we tested, offering both Qualcomm Quick Charge fast-charging and USB-C. However, those tricks came at a cost. It was also the most expensive charger we tried.
The high price may be due in part to using more expensive internals designed to support Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, but other Quick Charge units we tested cost less. Regardless, performance was respectable but unremarkable, consistently charging our test phone in 130 minutes. With a "normal" (non-Quick Charge) phone, this unit’s charging time was merely on par with other chargers.
The brand name says it all. AmazonBasics is meant to provide good value for everyday items. Appropriately, this is a charger—no muss, no fuss, and average numbers across the board.
The price, performance, and quality were all right in the middle of the road for units we tested, and there’s not a whole lot more to say. It charged consistently and didn't take too long. While not the cheapest unit we tested, it also wasn't the most expensive. All in all, it's a good choice for a buyer who just wants a charger that will work and doesn't want to spend much time thinking about which one to buy.
This charger is notable primarily because it's really three devices in one. Sure, it'll plug in to your 12-volt outlet and top your phone off, but it also functions as a 2600 mAh battery pack for mobile top-ups and an LED flashlight with safety strobe function. That could be legitimately useful if you need to change a tire after dark, or need to alert rescuers to your position after a natural disaster.
While it's larger than all the other devices we tested, the Scosche charger still manages to pack its battery into a relatively sleek form factor. It may be too bulky to comfortably tuck in a pocket, but it'll fit easily inside a backpack or purse. As a charger, it’s fine, but its extra talents are the real reason to consider buying it.
If your phone supports Qualcomm Quick Charge, this is the best option we tested. It's more compact and less expensive than the Aukey, and it focuses on more common legacy USB ports instead of newer USB-C. That means it works with more devices. While only one of the ports is Quick Charge-capable, this charger will work with any device on either port.
Without Quick Charge, charging times were unremarkable, so only those that can take advantage of QC capability will reap the most benefit. If that's you, the Spigen is a great deal at half the cost of the Aukey unit.
Want to see exactly how much voltage is being delivered to your phone? This Timloon charger can do that, thanks to a built-in LCD display. That said, it’s a little hard to glean much from the information presented, since the display and documentation are both cryptic at best. At the end of the day, it’s a charger with a gimmick, and the price you pay for an on-board voltmeter is cheaper materials. This charger is shiny and feels cheap.
It's also on the bulky side, and charging times stretched out half an hour longer than other chargers when charging non-Quick Charge phones. The Timloon does support Quick Charge 3.0, which may mean faster replenishment of compatible devices, but we still think you should avoid this one unless you really like the display.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.