How to shop in an impossible category
For those of us consumers who are committed to weaning ourselves off of reliance to communist China, one of the most frustrating things is a category like this one: cables and power banks to extend battery life for smartphones. It’s something we all use, something we all need, and something that is almost completely dominated by China manufacturing.
Some may argue that this is just how the free market works. A brand goes to multiple subcontractors to find the lowest bid to produce a product, and if a manufacturer in China can beat the lowest bid of one in the United States, what’s wrong with the company in China winning the bid? Everyone’s happy, right? Consumers get cheap products, brands get higher profit margins, and even the losing manufacturer can use this as a way to make themselves more efficient so they can win the next round.
The problem is, free markets only work when all players adhere to what Adam Smith called “moral sentiments”, or a basic set of natural morals. “Morals” is not the first word that comes to mind when you think about the Chinese Communist Party. Just as 80-100 million people who were murdered by them, and countless more who have been forced into slave labor, imprisoned, surveilled, and “re-educated”.
The real fools in this story are the American executives and politicians who deliberately looked the other way at questions or morality if it meant getting fabulously rich. When America granted Most Favored Nation status to China, China promised to reform. Did they? Ask yourself this. Who is the #1 polluter on earth, who has shut down civil liberties in Hong Kong, who is systematically wiping out an entire culture or Uyghurs, and who is threatening the free nation of Taiwan? As long as American corporations see their next quarter earnings rise, their stock options soar, and the politicians they bribe through lobbying fat and happy, all you hear is complete silence.
And this corruption ends up affecting the products that come out of China. In order to become the lowest bidder, China manufacturers are encouraged to cut every corner they can in abusing their labor force, exploiting their natural resources, and cheating on inspections. Every China company has a member of the CCP watching their every move. As long as the company boosts up the Communist Party, they are rewarded through favorable treatment. But if the company dares to cross the CCP, they are destroyed.
Why To Avoid Anker
Anker is the poster child for a company that crossed the rubicon. While most China-based companies were happy to remain in the background, manufacturing goods for well-known American brands, Anker did something smart. They hired a whole bunch of marketing people and customer service people in America who turned Anker into a powerhouse brand of its own. I had been an Anker customer for years before I realized that they are a 100% China-owned company. In other words, for every Anker battery, cable, or accessory you buy, 40-50% of the money you pay goes straight to the coffers of the Chinese Communist Party.
And it took me years of being an Anker customer before I realized that despite the pretty outside, their products are crap. I owned an Anker PowerCore 26800 that I used everywhere, until the USB-C port completely snapped off one day. I called Anker’s customer service and they sent me a new one. But just recently that stopped taking a charge (and of course, I can’t get another replacement). And it’s no different with cables: I’ve bought at least 10 Anker LIghtning and USB-C cables, and every last one of them ends up fraying or not working.
Of course, Apple cables–also made in China–are even worse. Since they stopped packing cables with iPhones, you need to buy one for $19 from Apple, and it’s not a question of whether it will eventually fray, but when.
And sadly, when you search on Amazon for alternatives you’ll find hundreds of no-name choices, all of them made in China, all of them destined for the landfill. And don’t get me started on Amazon Basics. By putting its brand name on China-manufactured cables, Amazon is grabbing what’s left of the market all for them.
So are there even any power banks or cables not made in China?
Sadly, not many. Which is why it is CRITICAL that everyone who feels this is important to them SUPPORT these few remaining companies that have refused to bow a knee to China. The more of us who will buy from them, the more it will send a message to them and to Amazon that yes, we care where our products are made and where our dollars are going. But I have a bad feeling that these companies are hanging by a thread as the sheer volume of business that Amazon is throwing at China is helping China monopolize supply chains, develop raw materials, and create efficiencies of scale that are impossible to compete against.
Here are the few options I’ve found.
I spent hours searching for power banks not made in China, and all my searching came down to two options: Mediasonic and Samsung. I ended up purchasing a Mediasonic for myself.
9/15/22 Update – It looks like this product has completely disappeared from Walmart’s site, which is a bad sign that Walmart has decided to stop merchandising this product so they can double down on cheap China brands–ironically at much higher price points. The good news is that Mediasonic is still selling this on their official eBay store, where the power banks are still very much available as of this writing, at the same low price point and even in different colors (brown, red, silver, white). Here’s a link to the old Walmart page, in case they ever decide to bring it back in stock.
The Mediasonic ProBox Power Bank is an example of a product that I didn’t think could exist anymore. It’s made in Taiwan, using Japan-made Sanyo battery cells inside.
Here’s what’s sad. You can’t find this on Amazon at all. My guess is that Mediasonic just gave up among the literally hundreds of competitors made in China that Amazon forces users to see over product like this. But it is available on eBay.com and as a bonus its price is competitive and affordable at under $20, and it ships directly from the manufacturer, meaning you’ll avoid counterfeits that litter Amazon.
I bought one for myself and immediately upon opening I could see the quality of the manufacturing. It’s beautiful, solid, and functional. With my Anker unit, I was constantly worried that the USB ports would snap off (and as I said before, that’s happened to be before). Just looking at this unit, I can tell that I can plug a USB-A plug into either of the ports (one is 1.2A and the other 2.1A), as well as the micro-USB charging port, and it’ll remain solid. The unit is comfortable to hold, the LED on the unit is slick, giving me a “Kit on Knight Rider” sort of vibe, and the capacity easily lets me charge my phone fully twice (or my wife’s and my phone simultaneously). And I have the same confidence in the batteries within as my Japanese-made rechargeable AA batteries (many of which I purchased years ago but which still hold a full charge).
I had a really nice chat with a representative from Samsung. They were transparent with me in saying that they currently manufacture their mobile phones and accessories out of six countries: Vietnam, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and South Korea. But he did say that products destined for the USA are made in South Korea. This is great, but it also tells me that you need to be very careful. It’s best to buy directly at a brick and mortar store where you can read the country of origin information on the box; otherwise, if you’re going to order online, make sure you get confirmation in writing that you will not be getting a China-made product.
Here are the best power banks from Samsung:
20,000 mAh Battery Pack – Seems that Samsung is having a hard time keeping this in stock, but keep trying. The 20,000 mAh Battery Pack gives you a ton of capacity that’ll power multiple charges without recharging the battery. Obviously it works best with Samsung phones that support Super Fast Charging, but it can be used to power any phone at a regular charge, including iPhones.
10,000 mAh Wireless Battery Pack – This is a 10,000 mAh pack, which should get you at least two full charges of a completely drained smartphone. This one has a wireless charger pad on it, meaning you don’t have to bother with cables in you have a Qi-enabled phone, headphones, or accessory. This one also seems to be difficult to get your hands on, but Amazon seems to have some sellers who have it (just be sure you don’t get gouged–the retail price for this should be about $80). There’s also a lower priced model that doesn’t have the fast charging.
Moshi is an up-and-coming company with some products that look impressively designed. You can see their products on their official Web site or on their Amazon storefront. They seem to cater directly to Apple customers, probably not a bad move given that Apple customers will routinely pay a premium for good design.
Porto Q Wireless Portable Charger – Like the Samsung Wireless Battery Pack, this battery pack supports Qi wireless charging, so with a wireless-capable phone you don’t need any wires except to charge the unit. It only has a 5,000 mAh capacity, but that should be more than enough in a pinch to breathe life back into a dead phone for a full charge, with some change left over. This one is clearly marked as made in Taiwan.
Javex has become my favorite smartphone cable company. They’re based out of Taiwan, and from what I can tell all their products are still made in Taiwan. Admittedly, it makes me nervous that their Amazon product pages don’t explicitly state this (which always gives them wiggle room to eventually move manufacturing to China), but let’s hope that the 2018 Tariffs and the fact that Xi has missiles aimed at them helps them not repeat the same mistake that so many other Taiwanese companies have made.
As of my most recent purchase with them in October 2022, their packaging clearly states that they are based in Taiwan and that their manufacturing is done in Taiwan.
Here are my favorites:
As you look through the products, read the descriptions of how the cables (particularly the ones with KEVLAR) are made to be super-strong, and how they’re certified to handle the latest capacity requirements. If you offered me an Apple cable, an Anker cable, or a Javex cable, I would choose the Javex in a heartbeat.
But you can see how the deck is stacked. When I search for “Javex” on Amazon and then sort by “Average Customer Review”, Anker with its 20,000 reviews shows up first, and Javex with under 100 reviews is practically invisible, despite being the far superior cable.
Moshi Lightning Cables
We already discussed Moshi above, but it turns out they make cables as well. These are solid cables that will certainly outlast anything you buy from Apple and their China factory workers. If you’re going to pay for a cable, it doesn’t take a Genius to figure out whether to buy an Apple branded product that’ll last until one week after the warranty expires or a product like this which will last for decades.
Belkin USB and Lightning Cables
I was kind of shocked to see Belkin making things other than in China, but after once being the kind of cables and then having its lunch handed to it by Anker, it looks like the Belkin BoostCharge is a step in the right direction. I’m guessing the 2018 tariffs played a part as well–while Anker was forced to eat the cost of the tariffs since as a China-owned company they couldn’t move manufacturing out of China, it looks like Belkin was able to find a Vietnam-based supplier. And while Apple and Anker play the forced obsolescence game, Belkin looks like it’s also getting into the “let’s engineer a cable that lasts” business.
USB-A to USB-C / MicroUSB / Lightning – This is a nifty cable that’s the Swiss Army Knife of cables. Great for households that use both Apple and Android devices, and have accessories that need MicroUSB charging.
Mercedes Benz USB Cables
This is one I didn’t have on my Bingo card. Someone on Reddit mentioned that Mercedes Benz sells USB cables that reportedly are made in the Czech Republic. If you’re a Mercedes owner you can visit your dealer to buy one, and as you might expect there’s a big resale market on eBay (as with all eBay purchases, research your seller and beware of counterfeits).
Best Buy USB Cables
Another Redditor mentioned that Best Buy Essentials brand cables are now made in Vietnam, not China. This is one that you’re going to want to visit a Best Buy store in person to research, but it’s certainly good news if it’s true; it means that China’s grip on cheap manufacturing is getting looser (or that China companies are outsourcing to Vietnam to avoid tariffs, but we’ll save that discussion for another time).