What Is mAh, and How Does It Affect Batteries and Chargers?

Estimated read time 4 min read


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When you’re shopping for a phone or a portable charger, you’re sure to run into the term milliamp hours or the abbreviation mAh. Unsure of what this means? It’s a simple concept, and figuring out what you need is relatively easy.

What Are Milliamp Hours?

Milliamp hours is a unit that simply measures power over time, with the abbreviation mAh. To get a better idea of how this works, we can look at what milliamps are.

A milliamp is a measure of electric current, specifically one thousandth of an amp. Amps and milliamps measure the strength of an electric current. Add hours to this, and you get a measure of how long this current can flow at that strength.

Think of a battery as an example. If that battery can maintain a current output of one milliamp for 1 hour, you could call it a 1 mAh battery. A milliamp is a tiny amount of power, so this battery wouldn’t be very practical.

Practically, we see mAh used in any electronic device with a battery, from phones to Bluetooth speakers. These devices range from hundreds of milliamp hours into the thousands in terms of capacity, but they’re all measured the same way.

One thing to note here is that milliamp hours are only a measure of capacity. They don’t dictate how fast your charger will charge a given device. This varies across chargers depending on a number of factors, like whether they support fast charging.

Milliamp Hours and Charger Capacity

The average smartphone these days has a battery capacity ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 mAh. These are much bigger batteries compared to flip phones and older smartphones. But as phones have gotten more advanced, demand on batteries has increased, thus diminishing battery life overall. This means portable chargers are more popular than ever.

To be of any real use, you’ll want a portable charger that has at least as much battery capacity as whatever you’d like to charge. After all, an older charger with a 2,000 mAh capacity isn’t going to do much for an iPhone 13 Pro Max with a 4,352 mAh battery.

A charger with roughly the same capacity as your phone or tablet is better than nothing, but in this case, bigger is almost always better. Even if you don’t use the maximum capacity of your charger, it’s often better to have the extra juice and not need it than find yourself missing it.

That said, needs can vary greatly between people. If you want to charge your smartphone while camping, you’ll want a charger with higher capacity, since you’ll likely have fewer (if any) opportunities to recharge. Look for something in the neighborhood of 20,000 especially if you’re planning on longer trips.

If, on the other hand, you just occasionally find yourself needing to top up a little at the end of the day, a charger with 10,000 mAh will be plenty for your needs.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Capacity?

Charger capacity continues to rise as our devices’ batteries are growing larger. With that in mind, is it possible to have a charger with too much capacity for the devices you’re charging?

While there are some downsides to larger charger capacity, there aren’t many, and none of them are dangerous. Having a charger with many more milliamp hours of capacity than you require won’t damage your devices.

Instead, the main downside of a charger with more capacity than you need is size. More capacity means larger batteries, which sometimes require more space for cooling, so you end up with a much larger charger. This can be inconvenient if you’re taking a charger on a backcountry hike, but smart packing can solve this problem.

The other downside to a battery with a larger capacity is that it can take longer to recharge. This often isn’t as bad as you may assume, but if you’re using a charger daily, you’ll probably want it to charge quickly.

If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to look up the battery capacity for your phone to choose a charger, just take a look at our roundup of the best portable phone chargers. While you’re at it, you might want to make sure your wall charger is up to snuff as well.


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