The next generation of wall chargers

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The tech world is probably sitting on the edge of a charger revolution, and most of us just haven’t realized it yet. No, I’m not talking about USB-C (sadly); I’m talking about GaN (gallium nitride) chargers, a material that’s started to replace silicon in chargers. I’ve had the chance to try out two of the first GaN chargers — RavPower’s 45W slimline design model and Anker’s PowerPort Atom PD 1 — and it’s not just marketing hype: the new chargers really do make a huge leap forward for shrinking down power bricks in a way that’s really exciting to see.

In both cases, simply holding the charger in your hand is enough to make you skeptical. The 30W Anker just flat out seems too small to drive anything bigger than a phone, and the 45W RavPower option, while a bit larger, also pales in comparison to a similarly specced silicon-based charger.

But both work as promised, outputting the charge they say on their respective labels without getting unnecessarily hot or exploding, which is basically all you can really ask of a charger. It’s not magic: as my colleague Angela Chen explains, GaN is much more efficient, meaning that chargers that use it can be much smaller and waste less energy than ones based on silicon. The biggest obstacle is simply that companies are used to working with silicon, whereas GaN is relatively new; in an ideal world, we’ll probably start to see more products taking advantage of the tech in the near future.

It’s not perfect yet: Anker’s 30W Atom PD 1 struggles to power something as large as a 13-inch MacBook Pro — you can charge it while the computer is sleeping, but while actively running, it’ll still struggle to really keep pace with the power drain (although it’ll work in a pinch). And for anything smaller, like a phone, iPad, Nintendo Switch, headphones, or anything else with USB-C, it’s practically a no-brainer for the $29.99 price.

RavPower’s 45W plug is even more impressive — it can actually drive basically any USB-C device, barring the most power-hungry laptops (like Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro). And while I’d wish for that kind of wattage in something a little smaller, we’re still in the extremely early days for GaN chargers, and odds are that we’ll start to see more varied designs soon.

Personally, I’m not quite sure that the design of either of the GaN chargers so far is entirely to my liking: the RavPower charger, while slimmer, is wider than I’d like and won’t do much good on a power strip. The Atom PD 1 is even smaller, but lacks folding prongs, which makes it a bit awkward to throw in a bag. That said, compared to things like the free, terrible 5W charger that came with your phone or even more powerful plugs like Apple’s iPad chargers or the Nintendo Switch’s chunky brick, the GaN chargers clearly win out.

There’s also a lot to look forward to: if today’s silicon USB-C chargers are any indication, better GaN chargers could bring things like more ports, higher wattages, and different form factors. Anker has already announced a few, with a 60W, two USB-C port PowerPort Atom PD 2 charger and a 100W four port (two USB-C and two USB Type-A) PowerPort Atom PD 4 charger planned for later this year.

But in either case, unless the form factors or wattages on offer are really an issue for you, it’d be hard to recommend buying a USB-C charger that isn’t GaN-based right now. They’re thinner, lighter, and in most cases, cheaper than comparable USB-C chargers — what’s not to like? And if products like Anker’s and RavPower’s first GaN offerings are any indication, we’ve likely just scratched the surface of what the future of chargers will look like.

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