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10 Inexpensive Automotive USB Adapters Tested -- Are They Any Good?

The Quest For Ubiquitous USB Power

If you own a motorized vehicle and take any number of mobile devices along for the ride, you may have found yourself wishing for some form of on-the-go charger (if you don't already own one) in the form of a plug-in adapter or USB power bank.

As with most accessories, 12V to USB power adapters come in a wide variety of shapes and a range of prices starting from about a dollar for generics on eBay and Amazon to over 20 dollars for major brands at authorized retailers.

When it comes to shopping for PC power supplies, the rule of thumb is to buy a high-quality one, since cheap PSUs are more likely to take other components with them when they fail, have shorter lifespans, fail to power loads that should be covered by their specifications, or are blatantly not designed to satisfy those ratings in the first place. The same guidance should apply to USB power supplies too, right?

Over the past two years, I accumulated some of those inexpensive adapters as order padding for the very purpose of digging deeper. And now, I finally get to write about how much (or little) quality and safety you get for the price. Will I find any that I deem good and safe to use? My expectations are low.

The Crop

My sample group consists of:

  • Three small generic bullet-shaped adapters rated at 1 A output. The purple one comes from a local store and cost $3. The black one came from Gtmax on Amazon.ca and cost $1.88. I completely forgot where the pink one came from.
  • A Sakar unit with two ports (the slightly curved one with a bulge) from a local store. It's only rated for 1 A and cost $4.
  • An unbranded triple-output unit with blue anodized aluminum trim and a total output rating of 5.1 A.
  • An LDNIO brand triple-output unit with a golden-orange anodized aluminum cap, also with a 5.1 A total rating.
  • A Supnova unit with dual outputs on opposite sides and a built-in voltage indicator rated for 2.1 A total output. It was purchased from Landfox on Amazon.ca for $8.28.
  • Two more somewhat bullet-shaped adapters sharing identical shell designs with two USB plugs each, both rated for 2.1 A total output. One is branded Fosmon and came from Amazon for $6.04, while the other is an unbranded promotion freebie from an engineering convention.
  • A Wagan unit with two USB ports and a 12V pass-through socket purchased from Best Buy. It's rated for 2.1 A on the USB outputs. I do not remember how much I paid, but a similar if not identical Wagan model is listed on BestBuy.ca at $20.

Which ones would you place your bets on for the best and worst units in the bunch? I would hope that the samples with enough material budget for fancy cosmetic aluminum components also set enough aside for better internals, that Best Buy is not selling utter garbage for $20, and that sponsors of an engineering convention know better than to hand out time bombs to attendees. At the other end of the spectrum, I expect the cheap bullet-shaped adapters to easily be the worst. There is only one way to find out for sure though: try them out.


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  • Achoo22
    I really enjoyed this piece. Thank you.
    Reply
  • daglesj
    I bought a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Anker PowerDrive+1. Works great.
    Reply
  • SpAwNtoHell
    Tho have the knoledge to test all of that myself i never bothered as my intuition always pointed that generic are beter next to nothing only. Genuine branded is what i always used for the all explained and revealed in your article; like samsung charger, htc charger and so on... and i always used 12 spliters... with the incovenience of the space...
    Reply
  • tom10167
    No Anker in the review is a bummer, still, thanks for doing this!
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    very interesting read. never thought it through this much but always assumed the $1 adapters were junk and generally bought name brand adapters for around $10 or so.

    but now i wonder and almost feel like taking one apart just to see what's inside. :)
    Reply
  • Daniel Sauvageau
    18542197 said:
    No Anker in the review is a bummer, still, thanks for doing this!
    18542229 said:
    but now i wonder and almost feel like taking one apart just to see what's inside. :)
    At least one of Anker's Amazon listings has a 3D render showing the internals. At a glance, it seems quite similar to the LDNIO.
    If I do another one of these roundups, I'll try to get my hands on one.
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    i have a couple of the belkin and griffin brands in my cars. they are common adapters found at walmart for $10-15 depending on the model. seems like a decent trade off form the super cheap ones and the super expensive ones.

    but now you got the topic started, i wonder if they are worth the price and better than the junk ones i avoided.
    Reply
  • Daniel Sauvageau
    Well, throw adapter models/brands at me and I'll look around to see which ones I can grab for a reasonable price for Round 2.
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    my next trip to walmart/target i'll make some notes. they carry roughly the same type stuff as best buy as far as brands go. will look for the midrange models i'd likely buy and post some for you :)
    Reply
  • turkey3_scratch
    All of these have really high ripple. The ATX spec alone (and I know these don't have to follow that) defines 50mv max for the 5VSB rail. These all chill above 100mv.
    Reply