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One cell phone charger for all: Coming, if not soon

Consumer Reports News: April 27, 2009 04:40 PM

There’s renewed drive in the cell phone industry to eliminate the multiplicity of cell phone charging connectors that results in almost every manufacturer—and sometimes every model line or even model— requiring its own charger.

That lack of standardization is a confusing hassle for multiphone families—and for engineers here at Consumer Reports, who test phones by the dozen for our Ratings of cell phones and smart phones (available to subscribers).

It’s also a growing environmental issue. Chargers discarded due to switching phones create an estimated 50,000 tons or more of landfill every year, according the Global System for Mobile Communications Association, a trade group representing some cell phone carriers.

The good news: The CTIA, the primary trade association for U.S. cellphone carriers has endorsed an initiative to standardize the multiplicity of cellphone connectors to one design. According to PCWorld, that design will likely be based on the micro-USB connector now used in the Motorola Razr, several phones from HTC, and the BlackBerry Storm and Curve 8900. The proposal also calls for charging at a standardized voltage, using chargers that are themselves more green—by, for example, being more efficient in standby mode than some chargers used by today's cell phones.

Companies on board for the effort so far are AT&T, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and T-Mobile. The CTIA endorsement will bring in support from CDMA carriers Verizon and Sprint, as well as phone makers such as Research in Motion.

But—we’re moving to the bad news here—that’s still leaves some manufacturers, some of whom may never join the effort. Topping that list, according to Wired and others, is Apple. Switching to a new a USB-based charging port would make iPhones incompatible with the billions of Apple-dock-equipped accessories already on the market, which isn't likely to make anyone very happy.

Then there’s the planned date for the transition: 2012. By then, the choice of a micro-USB connector may seem a little quaint. The upcoming Palm Pre, for example, uses something much cooler: a magnetized inductive charging platform called a touchstone, which charges the Pre when it rests on it. Such platforms have been available for some time as aftermarket devices, but haven’t yet been offered by cellphone manufacturers as the standard charger for a phone.

For more coverage of green electronics, check our previous posts, and visit Consumer Reports' —Mike Gikas

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