Why do Android phones kill chargers?
November 14, 2021 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Is it just me or do my phones kill my chargers? Over time, fewer and fewer chargers work with my phone until none do and I have to replace my phone. This is true with USB-C chargers, but it was true when I had older Android phones that used the older style chargers. WTF is happening?
posted by latkes to Technology (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have never experienced a "killed" charger across any of my Android devices. I'm pretty sure my primary charger hub is 6+ years old. I don't believe I've ever had a charger quit on me.

What does happen at least once a year is that I drop my phone while it's plugged in and it hits just right to bend the pluggy part on the cable itself, necessitating a new cable.
posted by phunniemee at 8:24 PM on November 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

What model is your phone, and what Android version is it running? Are you using name-brand (like Anker or Aukey) chargers, or $4.99 Amazon bargain ones? Cheapo chargers are not built with the same rigor as the more expensive ones, and often don't meet regulatory standards for how a charger should deliver power.

I don't know the answer to your question, but as a piece of anecdata, I'm using the same original-equipment Google charger I got with my Pixel 2XL on my Pixel 5, I use it almost every day, and have had exactly zero problems with it with either phone.
posted by pdb at 8:30 PM on November 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

The charger that comes with your phone is the correct soecificafion for charging the phone even while using it. I've had cheap gas station chargers that don't meet the requirements end up dying because while using the phone the charger can't handle the output. I also have a problem putting cords in my purse where any number of things render it useless like a wayward safety pin or key ring might bend into it and sever the cord. But the phone itself doesn't kill the charger. Maybe its dropping it, slamming the port end into the car door, stepping on it or even getting water in the port that runs the connection. At any rate the phone should come with insurance or a warranty that covers the charger
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 8:39 PM on November 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

In my experience, it has nothing to do with the charger. Dirt and dust and lint are building up in the charging port on your phone, typically from carrying it around in your pocket. The same thing happens to my husband's phones. This year he got a wireless charger so he doesn't have to plug it in anymore.
posted by muddgirl at 8:43 PM on November 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

Apologies if my last comment was too presumptive or harsh, I didn't mean to sound accusatory or anything but on rereading it might come off that way. I should have said that lint builds up in my husband's phone from carrying it around in his pocket and that causes the port to stop working.
posted by muddgirl at 8:57 PM on November 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

USB-C ports kinda suck, in my experience. My last phone had to have the port replaced in it entirely after awhile. This phone, not so much, but C ports don't seem to stay in as well anyway. I don't have the cords die as much as I have port problems usually.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:23 PM on November 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Weird. I have mostly purchased cheap gas station chargers but they do consistently die after a while. Or after some months of use I get an error message saying check the power level or something when I plug them into a USB port on my computer to charge. I don't even understand how I would purchase an 'official' charger for like, a Samsung, after I lose the original charger.
posted by latkes at 9:27 PM on November 14, 2021

Do the chargers still work with other devices that aren't your personal phone? Or does replacing the cable only help? Because a friend has that perennial problem with his phones and it's because he plugs them in carelessly, often twisting things out of alignment in the charging port. He gets a new phone and like clockwork six months later he starts complaining that he can only charge it at specific angles or the charger suddenly stops charging. What helped him was getting a wireless charging pad, since happily his phone supports it - slower charging than QuickCharge standard, but it works and he hasn't broken it in a year now.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:06 PM on November 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't even understand how I would purchase an 'official' charger for like, a Samsung, after I lose the original charger.

The same way you buy the phone itself, preferably from the same vendor? Back when visiting Real Shops was still a thing they usually had shelves or racks with chargers for the various brands as a replacement or extra. Internet sellers (the ones that sell you a SIM card with a phone around it) will usually have accessories listed somewhere on their pages, often linked from the phone model you're looking at.

Electronic parts shops and computer shops like newegg will have them too. Even AliExpress offers decent chargers, but you have to filter the wheat from the chaff by looking at the seller ratings, amounts sold for that charger or cable, and sample some reviews that say more than just "Arrived OK/quickly".

You can also get an USB-A to USB-C cable and charge the phone off your computer or laptop. The advantage of that is that when the thing you're hooking up is actually drawing more power than allowed it shuts down the port with a notification on screen.
posted by Stoneshop at 10:21 PM on November 14, 2021

Is it just me or do my phones kill my chargers? Over time, fewer and fewer chargers work with my phone until none do and I have to replace my phone.

You have to replace your phone, not your charger?

This kind of sounds as if the charger(s) may be killing the phone rather than vice versa.

The way I think that could happen is that when you unplug a charger from the phone when a current is passing through it to the phone, a spark jumps the gap as the charger is being unplugged, and that spark erodes the contact on the phone over time until it's nonfunctional, and then you have to replace the phone.

I’ve often wondered whether chargers have some fancy circuit to suppress that sparking, and if it’s happening only with cheap chargers, I’d have to guess the original equipment chargers do.

But you could circumvent sparking at the phone/charger connection altogether by unplugging the brick from the wall or power strip before unplugging the charger cord from the phone.
posted by jamjam at 11:13 PM on November 14, 2021

While contact erosion through sparking sounds plausible, it would in my estimate take a number of disconnects that's well beyond the rated number of plug insertions as it will only affect the very tip of either of the current-carrying contacts, and inserting it fully will offer contact area well past that damaged tip.

What's more likely is that the contacts in a cheap charger's plug are only thinly and shoddily plated, causing it to wear off quickly. After that those contact pins oxidize which also affects the pins in the phone's socket, as well as causing a larger voltage drop over the contacts. Running the charge current through such a degraded contact will cause it to get hot which will degrade both the plug and the socket even quicker.
posted by Stoneshop at 11:49 PM on November 14, 2021

I have never heard of this problem before and have used Android for more than a decade.

Also, I buy legit chargers and cables (current faves are Rolling Square's InCharge cables).

If I had to guess, what's really going on is dust and lint accumulating in the charging port of the phone. This was mentioned above. The solution is to take a pair of thin tweezers and scrub the shit out of it. Don't try a toothbrush or something like that -- go in there with something stiff and use it around the outer perimeter of the port, doing your best to avoid the metal pin in the center. If that doesn't work and you're going to have to replace the phone anyway, attack the metal pin as well.

In my experience, there is always more gunk in there than you imagine.

Lastly, please do not buy gas station charging cables and wall warts. Cables and ports that haven't passed proper inspection and can be fire hazards.They're probably not delivering sufficient power to quick charge modern phones.
posted by dobbs at 12:26 AM on November 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

the metal pin in the center.

... is suggesting a barrel plug. Which has disappeared with the advent of micro-USB as the phone's combined charge and data connector which again has been superseded by USB-C. Those don't have a metal pin in the centre, rather a row of contact fingers on one side (micro-USB) or both sides (USB-C) of the socket cavity. Getting any object in there to scrub dirt and lint off the contacts is just about impossible.
posted by Stoneshop at 12:55 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Are you sure it's the charger, and not the cable or charging tip?

I use a magnetic cable. The tip stays with the phone, and cable mates with the tip magnetically, so excessive force just disconnects the cable, with little force on the port itself. My phone is running on 4th year, and is still charging fine, being charged multiple times a day. I used to work as a delivery driver and charge the phone several times every HOUR. Never a problem.
posted by kschang at 1:37 AM on November 15, 2021

If I were you, I'd invest in some name-brand fast-chargers. They're not super-cheap, but neither is replacing your chargers every so often. I've found a few offbrand fast-chargers that I use in places where I don't really have to depend on a charger but could use a boost now and then, namely my daily carry bag. My travel bag has the reliable chargers.

I agree it's likely your cables that're going bad, but fast-chargers are a godsend for big-battery phones and tablets.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:32 AM on November 15, 2021

Getting any object in there to scrub dirt and lint off the contacts is just about impossible.

I easily did it a week ago with a Note 8 and a Note 20 Ultra.
posted by dobbs at 4:14 AM on November 15, 2021

A good squirt of CRC CO is safer than digging around inside a tiny connector with instruments ill-adapted for the purpose, and often works better too.

Once it's clean, keep it clean by plugging it permanently with the detachable end piece from one of these knockoff MagSafe cables.
posted by flabdablet at 4:49 AM on November 15, 2021

A charger is such a simple device it's hard to know why one might fail. Do you have any other indications that your electrical power might have spikes of the kind that a surge protector is supposed to protect you from?
posted by SemiSalt at 5:13 AM on November 15, 2021

A charger is such a simple device it's hard to know why one might fail.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "There are two types of components: those that have failed, and those that haven't yet."

Cheap chargers are even simpler than simple, and tend to lack the components that keep its output stable, within specs, and to make them fail safe when they fail. Which they will do. Never mind that switching power supplies (which those chargers all are) aren't quite that simple.

Plus, cheap and substandard components usually fail earlier and may well do so in ways that make the charger go haywire. Which an attached phone being charged will not like at all.
posted by Stoneshop at 5:40 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Here’s another vote for lint. I have an iPhone, and whenever it starts charging inconsistently I know it’s time to dig a surprising amount of pocket lint out of the Lightning port with a plastic toothpick.
posted by ejs at 5:55 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

My first thought was also lint etc in the charging hole. I had an iPhone that began to get flaky with some chargers and not others, as if those chargers weren’t working.

When I had the battery replaced I mentioned it to the guy who was about to take the phone apart. He had a look, said there had been a lot of lint in there, and he’d cleaned it out.

The chargers that previously “didn’t work” now worked again.
posted by fabius at 6:08 AM on November 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

> Getting any object in there to scrub dirt and lint off the contacts is just about impossible.

I clean my phone's USB-C port pretty regularly. Either cut a little strip of plastic from the edge of a clamshell container, or turn your phone off and then use a normal pin. Every time I do this, there's a noticable difference in how well the cable fits in the port.

I'm not convinced that that's what's happening in this question, but it might be, and it's certainly unlikely to hurt anything if you're careful about it.
posted by wesleyac at 7:49 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I had this problem too and cleaning out the charging port and then switching to a magnetic swappable charging system has been a game-changer (plus now every device I have is automatically compatible with whatever cable I happen to be sitting nearest in my house or car, which is excellent). I think the port just gets dirty, worn, and loose over time. Magnetic chargers reduce the exposure to dirt and the physical strain on the connection.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 7:51 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Re: cleaning the port, give it a good few minutes. Sometimes lint is pretty well compacted and trapped in there and it can take a good bit of seemingly fruitless rooting around with a toothpick or whatever before it finally gets dislodged. (At the same time, you also want to be gentle.)

And to reiterate a point made above, it's very often the cable that starts flaking, not the actual charger.

If this is a constant problem for you, maybe for your next phone get one with wireless charging.
posted by trig at 8:32 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

The magnetic cables also solve the other perennial problem with phone charging ports, which is that all of them rely on connectors so ludicrously tiny that the moulded strain relief between the cable and the actual mating connector parts acts like a crowbar devoted to the task of wrenching both itself and the phone socket to pieces given any significant degree of sideways force.

With the magnetic cables, any sideways force that would otherwise come close to damaging the charging socket or the cable's own strain relief section just makes the magnets detach instead. The extent to which this winds up being annoying is a good indication of the extent to which the standard cables they've replaced had been regularly if unintentionally subjected to forces capable of inflicting progressive damage.
posted by flabdablet at 9:06 AM on November 15, 2021

Cheap power adapters are made from cheap components and are usually poorly assembled at that. A poorly made adapter will generate a lot of waste heat that goes into degrading its shoddy manufacturing that much faster. Buying a good gallium nitride adapter is an excellent investment in both charging capacity and reliability. Gallium nitride (often abbreviated GaN) adapters run cooler than silicon because the substrate material is just better suited for that application, and they're likely to last much longer because they don't run as hot.

Nth-ing making sure you don't have an accumulation of lint in your phone's charging port because that could contribute to cable failure (usually) or port failure (rare but possible) if the power contacts start to oxidize.
posted by fedward at 10:37 AM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think that there is some confusion in this thread between USB charging cables and USB power adapters (the box that plugs into the wall). The sense I get is that OP is asking about the cables themselves.

My strong belief here is that this is due to an issue with the physical connection between the phone and the contacts on the charging cables. This has definitely gotten worse with USB-C but it has always been something that has been worse on Android than Apple (Apple has relied on proprietary connectors for so long because they realize, per flabdablet, that the physical design of micro-USB and USB-C was so bad!)

Keeping dust out of USB-C ports is an absolute must, but once the dust gets in you can clean it out with a pin as others have suggested. If you don't, the cable has a hard time getting into the port far enough to make good contact. This can definitely manifest as fewer and fewer charging cables working with a given phone, because the exact dimensions of different USB-C connectors vary enough that one can often work when others don't. The other tip-off to this is your phone coming unplugged more often than it used to.
posted by goingonit at 1:37 PM on November 15, 2021

I am very skeptical that your phone is causing the actual USB power adapter—the "wall wart" that takes the 120V AC electricity from the wall and produces 5V DC, usually with a USB female plug on the front—to fail. They do burn out occasionally, especially very cheap ones, but it would be odd to have many of them fail serially.

I have had very good luck with the Anker-brand multiple-outlet USB power bricks like this one. I keep one on my nightstand at home, and one on my desk at work, and have all my USB gadgets plugged in to them. They do their job, which is all I really care about them doing.

USB/Lightning cables do wear out. This is (supposedly, I have been told) somewhat by design; the cable/male end is designed to be more fragile than the phone/female end, so that the cable wears out and stops working before the jack on the phone does, since the latter effectively means the death of the phone. So the cable going from the power adapter to the phone should be considered a somewhat consumable item, and replaced when they start getting wonky.

I have yet to find a reliable supplier of USB cables, with the exception of the OEM ones that used to actually come with phones and OEM chargers (e.g. the actual no-shit Apple ones that came with the iPhone are pretty good, same with Samsung). But most of the ones you find on Amazon, seemingly regardless of price or external appearance, are a crapshoot. I've bought cheap ones and I've bought expensive ones, and had them all fail seemingly at random. As a result, I don't think they are worth splurging for—just buy a pack of 10 or so, in the lengths you need, and when they start to get fussy they go in the trash (or become craft supplies or cat toys or whatever).

It certainly is possible to wear out the female USB (or Lightning) connector in a phone; they are rated to a certain number of plug/unplug cycles on average, although this number is supposed to be relatively high compared to normal use. I've only ever had one phone wear out on me, and that was back in the MicroUSB days. Not to say you might not get a defective unit now and then, but USB-C in particular is supposed to be particularly robust on the jack side.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:33 PM on November 16, 2021

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