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5 bags that charge your smart phone

We tested purses and computer cases with built-in chargers, as well as two standalone portable chargers

Published: January 2015

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How did we ever survive without our mobile gadgets? In a recent Consumer Reports survey, respondents who owned mobile devices brought at least one with them on their most recent vacations, and many (64 percent) brought more than one. But it’s frustrating when your smart phone or tablet dies on the road, and you have no way to charge or replace its battery.

One solution is to carry a battery-powered portable charger in your bag. But we wondered whether it was better to have a bag that comes with a built-in battery, or to buy a standalone portable charger. We looked at three pretty clutch-type handbags that have charging batteries built in; they’re made to carry not much more than a phone and a few other small essentials. We also tested two work-ready bags with built-in batteries: a backpack and a messenger bag that can each carry a laptop and several more gadgets. And we tried out two standalone portable batteries that you can bundle into any type of bag you carry. We evaluated the bags and chargers for convenience and usability, as well as their ability to charge mobile devices.

For each product, we list an mAh, or milliamp-hour rating, a measure of how much charge the battery holds. The ratings for our tested products ranged from 1,500 to more than 10,000 mAh. By comparison, a typical smart-phone battery has a rating of 2,200 mAh to 3,000 mAh.

—Carol Mangis

emPowered All-in-One, $175

Battery: 2,800 mAh
Weight: 14 ounces
Size: 10.5 by 7 inches

This leather bag (which comes in lots of colors; including Azure, pictured here) with a removable chain strap is the only one of the three purses we tried with a non-removable battery, which makes it less versatile. The bag has interior card slots and a zippered compartment, which also holds the battery. You can fit a phone in that compartment, but you can’t zip up while it’s charging, as the cable gets in the way. You also get a charging cable with a USB and Micro-USB connector on either end. An optional Apple Certified MFi Lightning Adapter is an extra $20.

Express Tech Haircalf, $50

Battery: 4,000 mAh
Weight: 13 ounces
Size: 10.5 by 7.5 inches

We like the look of this fun leopard-print bag (it also comes in orange; a smaller wristlet bag is $35). A removable pouch holds the battery and has a second compartment for your phone; our 4.7-inch Apple iPhone 6 slid right in, but the plus-size 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 4 was a bit too plus-sized to fit into the pouch. As with the Empowered bag, you can’t zip up while your device is charging, as the cable sticks up too high. There’s also a zippered compartment inside the bag.

Butler Mighty Purse Original Leather Clutch, $100

Battery: 4,000 mAh
Weight: 9 ounces
Size: 7.5 by 4.5 inches

This leather clutch (available in a range of colors; ours was Poppy Pink) with a wrist strap has three card slots and a zippered side compartment. The removable battery, pictured here on top of the bag, takes up a lot of the interior space, with room left over for just a phone, a small comb, and maybe a lipstick. Plus, it's pricey.

You can eliminate a few more cables from your life with wireless charging pads for the home or office.

Powerbag Instant Messenger Laptop Bag, $80

Battery: 6,000 mAh
Weight: 3 pounds
Size: 13 by 20 inches

This nylon bag (in black or gray) has a removable battery and lots of handy compartments for your gadgets, including a 15-inch laptop and tablet or e-book reader. You can charge three mobile devices (but not a laptop) at one time, using its two cables and one of your own, via the battery’s built-in USB port.  

Tylt Energi+ Backpack, $200

Battery: 10,400 mAh
4 pounds
18 by 13 inches

This capacious nylon backpack isn’t lightweight compared to other backpacks, but it’s lugging a large (removable) battery and offers multiple compartments for gadgets of various sizes, including one for a 15-inch laptop. It also features internal pass-through for cords, and padding at the top of the adjustable straps. If you’re traveling and need to pack several devices safely, this bag can carry lots of gear.

Want a belt that can also charge your smart phone? It's one of our picks for 5 stylish wearables you'll actually want to wear.

Motorola Power Pack Micro, $40

Battery: 1,500 mAh
Weight: 2 ounces
Size: 2.5 by 1.75 inches

Motorola’s cool-looking little square charger, available in eight colors, has a USB port on one side and a Micro-USB port on the other; a pop-off lid fits on either side (preferably, the one you’re not using!). It includes a USB charging cable, but its output is a Micro-USB connector – suitable for most non-Apple phones - on the other. Note that its smaller size means it can’t store as much energy.

Anker 2nd Gen Astro Mini, $20

Battery: 3,200 mAh
Weight: 4 ounces
Size: 1 by 3.7 inches

This modernistic cylindrical charger, about 3.7 inches long, will fit into nearly any bag; it comes in black, blue, pink, silver, or golden. It has a USB output on one end, which lets you use any device’s charging cable, and a Micro-USB charging port on the other. It comes with a USB charging cable.

Our take

The clutches are quite nice, but we don’t think you need to buy evening bags with built-in batteries—some aren’t even removable—when you could just as easily tuck in a portable charger that’s lighter and more versatile. Those can be pretty stylish, too.

The utilitarian messenger bag and backpack are more practical for lugging your devices, with their phone-, tablet-, and laptop-size compartments, and multiple charging options—we tested their ability to charge multiple devices simultaneously, and both did so easily. But if you already own a serviceable carryall, then it makes just as much sense to add a separate rechargeable device to your road-warrior arsenal.

Editor's Note:

A version of this story appeared in the February-March 2015 issue of ShopSmart magazine.

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