Power banks and USB-C hubs are two convenient but vastly different gadgets. However, they share something in common: pass-through charging. Here’s why it matters and how it can be helpful to you.
Letting Power Pass Through
Pass-through charging is a feature that allows a device that is connected to a power supply to send power to other devices for charging. Essentially, the device connected to the wall outlet lets power pass through it to charge the other devices. It’s most commonly found in power banks (portable chargers) and USB-C hubs or docks but is not limited to these two types of devices.
While in the case of a power bank, both your device and it get charged simultaneously, USB-C hubs keep some power for their own operation and pass the rest to the connected device for charging.
In all its implementations, the primary benefit of pass-through charging is convenience. For example, ports are scarce on many modern laptops. So USB-C hubs with this feature use a single Type-C port for transferring data or video signal in addition to charging your laptop. All other ports on your laptop remain free for connecting to other devices.
Similarly, suppose you have to charge your power bank and your phone, but there is only one power outlet, or you only have one power adapter. In such a situation, thanks to pass-through charging, you can connect your phone to the power bank and the power bank to the wall outlet. And both devices will get charged simultaneously.
How Does Pass-Through Charging Work?
As mentioned, pass-through charging is typically available in power banks and USB-C hubs. However, as these two are very different devices, the implementation of the pass-through charging is also different.
Power banks with pass-through charging have a series of power regulating circuits that are responsible for matching the power needed to charge the connected mobile device and the power coming from the wall adapter. Using a process called prioritization, the required amount of energy is moved directly from the wall adapter to the connected device via the power bank. And depending on the power needed to charge the connected devices and the power coming from the wall outlet, the power bank will continue to charge at its regular speed or slower.
On USB-C hubs or docking stations, pass-through charging uses the USB power delivery (USB PD) feature to negotiate and deliver the required power to the connected laptop, tablet, or smartphone. However, it only works when the power supply connected to the USB-C hub and the device being charged both support USB PD technology. Otherwise, while the hub may work, it won’t charge the connected device.
Additionally, all USB-C hubs with pass-through charging come with a specified maximum power that they can offer to the connected device and need a power supply capable of delivering higher power than that to work as intended. For example, the HP USB-C Mini Dock supports pass-through charging and can deliver up to 60W of power to a connected device. But for the pass-through charging to work correctly, it requires a 90W power supply.
Are There Any Downsides?
Pass-through charging is a handy feature on both power banks and USB-C hubs. But it’s not perfect, particularly on power banks.
According to RavPower, a power bank and charger manufacturer, excess heat is an enemy of the lithium-ion batteries used in power banks. As a power bank, which is being used to charge other devices, takes significantly more time to juice itself, it risks more heat build-up. And more heat can reduce the lifespan of the battery. So, it’s a good idea to use pass-through charging only when you have no other option and prefer power banks from reputed brands over no-name brands.
The feature is also not as energy-efficient as directly charging your device from a wall adapter. Plus, if your mobile device supports fast charging, you will not get the top speed charging speed unless the power bank supports the same fast charging protocol. Some power banks even limit the output to the connected device.
Do All Power Banks or USB-C Hubs Have It?
Unfortunately, pass-through charging is not available on all power banks. Because of the possible risks and the extra costs required, many power bank manufacturers don’t offer this feature. It’s comparatively more common in USB-C hubs or docking stations. Not all support it, though, probably because of the extra cost involved in implementing USB-PD technology.
All-in-all, pass-through charging is a helpful feature that makes life convenient on every device that supports it. If you want a power bank with pass-through charging, don’t forget to check out our best portable chargers guide.