As we gear up for this year's first smartphone flagships, we expect "quick charging", alternatively known as fast or turbo charging, to be an increasingly common feature. But what exactly is quick charging? Is it worth going out of your way to make sure your next smartphone has it?

Let's establish a basis for comparison by describing how usual charging works. Typical chargers power up your phone at a controlled, consistent pace, because power flowing in too quickly could damage the battery and, if things go truly awry, fry your phone.

Quick charging changes that by increasing the upper limit of voltage that can flow into your phone. It sounds risky with incidents like exploding Galaxy Note 7 batteries still in recent memory, but some form of quick charging technology has existed for several generations of smartphones now (and it didn't have anything to do with the Note 7 fiasco). Quick charge is designed to be safe, despite the influx of charge, though you may have to take measures like turning off the device in order to use it.

There seems to be no threat to human health and safety, but what about that of your battery? Many are concerned that frequent use of quick charging exhausts overall lithium ion battery life more quickly. This is a logical conclusion – after all, quick charging generates more heat than normal, and heat is known to fizzle fuel cells.

Can quick charge hurt my smartphone's battery?

Qualcomm (the leader in pioneering this aspect of mobile technology) answers this question in an FAQ. Its bottom-line answer is opaque, to say the least: "Traditional battery charging technology does not come close to the full power requirements of today's large batteries. Quick Charge is designed to allow device manufacturers to achieve the full rated capability of the batteries they choose while still meeting the performance and safety standards set by the battery manufacturer."

In other words? Maybe, but probably not much more than typical use wear-and-tear would. And if the fairly rapid spread of quick charge technology is any indication, then manufacturers seem to believe that the benefits of quick charge outweigh any drawbacks. In a nod to this concern, however, some makers (like Samsung) include an option to turn fast charging off.

Is all quick charging created equal?

Not necessarily, but it all operates on the same fundamental principle described above.

Qualcomm – the same corporation behind most of the processors found in Android phones – first introduced the technology in 2013. According to the company, Quick Charge 1.0 charged phones up to 40-percent faster than older phones. Qualcomm has released a new version annually ever since; most of the fast charging devices currently on the market have incrementally better Quick Charge 2.0 or 3.0.

Qualcomm announced Quick Charge 4.0 last November, which will start appearing on 2017 flagships. Quick Charge 4.0 adheres to the latest USB-C standard (the charging standard preferred by Google) and claims to be 20 percent faster than the previous 3.0 technology. Its biggest boast? That it affords five hours of battery life in five minutes of charging.

Qualcomm does have some competitors. OnePlus, for example, offers its own proprietary fast charging called Dash Charge. Instead of using higher voltage to power the battery faster, which heats up the phone, Dash charge uses higher current – which heats up the charger. In this system, the charger does the bulk of the work and allows the phone to stay a little cooler. According to OnePlus, thirty minutes of Dash Charging yields enough power for a day.

Numerical claims of charging speed can be a little misleading, however. Current quick charge technology is much more rapid at the beginning of a charge, when a battery is most depleted. When the battery's charge rises to a certain saturation point (usually around 60 percent power), the charging slows down. That's part of the reason why companies use down-to-the-minute claims instead of any based on 0-100% charge times – the stats sound so much more impressive.

Still, it's clear that quick charge is convenient. When your phone is on its last leg and you need to rush out the door, it's a relief to know you won't have to wait for a significant power boost. When evaluating a phone's quick charge capabilities, check which version of the technology it uses and know that its stats may be a little inflated.

If your phone is not quick charge-capable (ahem, Apple) you'll have to keep your battery full using other methods. Check out New Atlas' guide on extending iPhone battery life.

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