Apple’s iPad charger is a bit pricey at $20, but with that price comes quality, as engineer Ken Shirriff has discovered when he tore open a genuine Apple-branded iPad charger and a cheap, counterfeit iPad charger. Shirriff (who also tore down the iPhone charger awhile back) discovered that not only is the cheaper charger lesser quality, but it’s also less efficient when it comes to charging iPads.
You can grab a cheap, counterfeit iPad charger on eBay for less than $5, and you might be thinking, “what’s the harm in an off-brand charger?” There can actually be a lot of harm, literally. Counterfeit iPad chargers are cheap for a reason. You might no notice a difference on the outside, but on the inside there are two different worlds between the two chargers.
Tearing open both chargers revealed some interesting, but not entirely surprising findings. First off, the real Apple-branded iPad charger is covered with all sorts of insulation, making it safer and more efficient when charging up an iPad. The counterfeit charger, on the other hand, hardly has any insulation and it certainly wouldn’t pass any kind of safety and quality testing, even though it lists certifications on the outside of the charger.
Of course, the construction is much better in the Apple iPad charger, while the counterfeit model’s build quality is rather horrid; some components are clearly crooked or offset. This doesn’t effect the circuits when it comes to charging, but it definitely shows that there is a huge lack of care when it comes to building these counterfeit iPad chargers.
Perhaps the most surprising discovery is that the counterfeit charger was found to only deliver a 5-watt charge, even though it’s advertised as a 10-watt charger. This means that it would take twice as much time to charge up an iPad using a counterfeit iPad charger. With the Apple iPad charger, Shirriff reported that it delivered just over the advertised 10 watts.
However, the most important factor that you should be aware of with iPad chargers is safety. The lack of insulation in a counterfeit charger is extremely troubling and leaves the charger at risk of catching on fire. This sort of thing isn’t something you think about a lot, but if a charger is of poor quality, it has a higher risk of burning up and causing a fire.
This is why there are so many safety and quality tests that a charger must go through before it can be cleared. However, if you buy a cheap, counterfeit charger, these tests are ignored and are immediately sent out and sold to consumers.
Another feature of iPad chargers that Shirriff points out is called “creepage,” and it’s the distance between the high voltage circuitry and the low voltage circuitry inside of the iPad charger. Regulations require that there be at least a 4mm separation between the high and low voltages, and the Apple-branded iPad charger meets this requirement with ease, thanks to a 5.6mm gap. However, the counterfeit charger features only a 0.6mm gap, which is scary and very unsafe. Shirriff notes that if you use this kind of charger “in a humid bathroom and a drop of water condenses across the 0.6 mm gap, then zap!”
What Should You Do?
If you use a cheap, counterfeit iPad charger, we’d recommend tossing it immediately, as it poses a huge safety threat. Then, go yourself a genuine Apple-branded iPad charger. Yes, they’re expensive, but they’re also very high quality. Non-Apple iPad chargers from name brands are good too, so if you’re looking to save a bit of cash, name brands are a good place to look as well.
You can also look for used Apple iPad chargers to save a bit of cash, although you’ll have to be more careful this way, especially if you’re looking on eBay. Usually, common sense goes a long way, but if you’re not sure if the iPad charger you have is counterfeit or not, take a look at the text on the charger. Most counterfeit chargers will have “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China” missing from the text, as well as “FoxLink.”
What About Lightning Cables?
Just like with iPad chargers, Lightning cables are easy to counterfeit too. Luckily, we have you covered.
It’s really easy to differentiate between a fake and genuine Lightning cable. The easiest way to tell is by looking at the Lightning connector end. On genuine cables, the white piece will be perfectly rounded in the corners, while the fake one will be squared off somewhat. Furthermore, the entire metal piece of the genuine connector is one single metal piece, while the knockoff is made out of several metal pieces pressed together.
As for the USB end, the only difference is a pretty big one. The knockoff’s metal USB connector will usually be a lot more grainy than the genuine one. This most likely has something to do with the type of metal that the USB plugs are made out of; it’s more than likely that the knockoff cable uses a cheaper metal or manufacturing process, thus leaving a rough, grainy surface to the metal.