Chargers have gone from “nice to have” to “essential companion” as a mobile device accessory. With that rise in popularity has come a general reduction in the quality of the offerings, as each strives to be the lowest priced charger on the block.
However, as with all things that have circuits and batteries, people should be cautious when they choose to save dollars by waiving essential safety features.
A charger is comprised of two main hardware components; a battery and a printed circuit board (PCB). The cheapest batteries are the ones that are made from Lithium-Ion, are packed into a cylindrical tube, and come in capacities of between 2,000 mA and 2,600 mA.
First of all, Lithium-Ion is volatile. That is another word for explosive. It can catch on fire, if it is not protected properly while charging or being charged. If you buy chargers that use Lithium-Ion batteries, they are shipped by sea from China. The airlines classify them as dangerous goods and won’t carry them.
The PCB controls how the battery receives energy from an outside source, and how it passes that same energy to a connected mobile device. The PCB should have redundant battery protection and power management IC’s that make these transfers of energy safe for the user.
If a charger does not have a CSA/UL safety certification, it means that it has not undergone critical safety testing and verification. Safety certification is not awarded if the charger does not have built-in over-voltage, over-current and over-temperature circuits. (You don’t want the charger to keep sending energy out if the destination device is full. This just causes overheating and a potential fire hazard.)
Also, if the charger experiences a problem while charging, or being charged, the unit has to have an automatic shut-off if it wants a CSA/UL safety certification. We keep reading about the low cost chargers that are catching fire, destroying mobile devices during the charging process, and have no local support when issues occur (a very recent example of this can be found here). One way to avoid these is to make sure your charger has a complete CSA/UL safety certificate, not just a symbol on the casing.
The Chinese Government has been accused of ignoring safety violations by charger manufacturers for too long. It has now instituted a series of strict laws that dictate how chargers are made and sold which will be taking effect soon. In the meantime, the Chinese manufacturers are sending their non-compliant stock over to North America to be sold at fire-sale prices.
Unfortunately, the reference to fire applies not just to price