Dell's USB-C hybrid power bank has a modular design, high price

Dell makes a wide range of accessories for its lineup of laptops, and to extend battery life in devices that keep getting slimmer, there's a corner carved out for a decent selection of external power banks. The one I have here (model number PH45W17-CA) is a hybrid piece, with a 45W adapter attached to a 43Wh battery pack designed to charge laptops with USB-C.

For this review, I put it through a number of different tests to determine how well it will work for you, how well it will hold up with regular use, and ultimately whether or not it's worth the $140 price tag.

Adapter and battery: Dell PH45W17-CA hybrid power bank

See at Dell

Starts at about $140

Bottom line: It'll match your Dell laptop's branding while it delivers about six extra hours of life, but the price doesn't seem to match the product.

Pros

  • Smart modular design.
  • Comes with adapter included.
  • One-year warranty.

Cons

  • Questionable quality.
  • Only one USB-A port.
  • Relatively expensive.

What you'll love about Dell's hybrid power bank

Dell's USB-C hybrid power bank has a modular design, high price

The whole idea of adding a power pack to your laptop's repertoire is to extend the overall life of your device when away from any outlets, and in that sense, the PH45W17 succeeds. I used Dell's Latitude 7390 2-in-1 business laptop for most of my testing (the power bank came with the review unit), which has inside a sizeable 60Wh battery that nets about 10 hours of regular use, including video streaming, web browsing, and word processing. The power bank comes depleted, and it took about three hours to completely charge. If you're in a time crunch situation, you can get up to about 75 percent in half that time.

Starting with the laptop completely dead, I plugged in the fully-charged power bank and went to work. It took about an hour and 15 minutes for the 12,800mAh power bank to completely deplete, delivering an average of about 30W with the Latitude 7390's ExpressCharge enabled (otherwise you're looking at an average of about 17W). With the power bank depleted, the Latitude 7390 had charged to about 50 percent. Remember, I was using the laptop during the entire time it was charging, with brightness at 60 percent and performance at the halfway mark. In this sense, having the power pack with you for emergencies should get you enough time to hit a deadline.

Category Spec
Battery type Lithium-ion (four-cell)
Capacity 12,800 mAh (43Wh)
Power delivery 19.5V (2.3 amps)
Weight 1.54 pounds (0.7 kg)
Dimensions 3.1 in x 6.8 in x 0.9 in (78.74 mm x 172.72 mm x 22.86)

For the next test, I took the fully-charged power bank and fully-charged laptop to see how long I could work in an airplane situation where I don't have access to any sort of plug. The laptop draws off of the power bank first when both batteries are full, and streaming video at maximum brightness and maximum performance (while also occasionally browsing and writing) drained the power bank in about 5.5 hours. If I'd had brightness down and wasn't constantly streaming video, I could no doubt hit and surpass the six-hour mark. With the Latitude 7390, that means altogether about 16 or 17 hours of battery life.

The hybrid aspect of the power bank is the detachable 45W power adapter. It's used to charge the battery pack itself, but thanks to the smart modular design of the USB-C cable (and really the whole product), it can also be used as a charger straight into your laptop. Dell's idea here is that the added weight of the power bank won't make as big of a difference when you can leave your regular adapter behind. It's compact, lightweight, and at 45W it can deliver a good amount of juice even if you're used to the benefits of a larger adapter when you're at home or at the office.

Batteries can be finicky things, so you want to make sure you're getting a decent warranty to cover any failures. Here, Dell offers one-year limited coverage. As long as you don't run over or stab the battery with a knife, Dell should repair or replace it if you get a dud.

What you'll hate about Dell's hybrid power bank

The power bank is designed to be about as slim as possible, with rounded sides that allow it to easily slip in and out of the pockets of your laptop bag. Because it all comes apart, it easy to stow away wherever you have space, and since you have the option to leave your standard adapter behind, it will overall take up less space. However, build quality is questionable. The black adapter piece has two pressure points that are intended to release it from the battery, but they're useless. You can pull the two pieces apart quite easily without pressing anything, and I can imagine a scenario where you're running out of time and realize that the battery hasn't been charging because the two pieces came apart.

On the bottom of the battery are five small LEDs that show remaining power, a button to display the LEDs and to "wake" the battery pack, and a single USB-A port with 10W of charging power. Yes, you can charge your phone while also charging your laptop — though capacity will be split — but it would be nice to see two USB-A ports, especially when most people have more than one extra gadget when traveling.

The price of the PH45W17 must be taken into consideration, especially when up against some of the competition. Yes, you're also getting a 45W USB-C adapter with the battery pack, but you could technically get something like the 26,800mAh Anker PowerCore+ with three USB-A ports for about $70 and bring your original adapter along with you. This scenario would only work if the laptop you're using is compatible, which is another whole dilemma on its own.

Dell's product page has a list of devices that the PH45W17 is compatible with, including the XPS 13 and some Latitude and Inspiron models. Though it's likely just a matter of not updating every page with refreshed laptops, the Latitude 7390 I tested with is not listed. I also plugged the power bank into Lenovo's ThinkPad X280 and received a low charge power warning. The battery pack kept the X280's internal battery from discharging, but it wouldn't charge at the same time. Before buying, be 100 percent sure the power pack is compatible with your specific laptop.

Dell PH45W17-CA hybrid power bank bottom line

Other than the fact that the power bank can pull apart from the adapter at just about any time (it's snug, but not secure), this is a smart piece of hardware. The attached adapter means you don't have to carry all your cables with you when you're on the go, and the modular design allows you to pack everything down into the nooks and crannies of your bag. It does deliver a decent amount of power, perfect if you're on a long-haul flight, but it does take just over three hours to get a full recharge. Likewise, having only one USB-A port on the bottom kind of limits your use, especially in a scenario where your laptop doesn't actually need any extra power.

When you start comparing to the competition, the price seems out of whack, especially up against power packs with about double the capacity. But, if you're buying for use with a laptop listed on Dell's website (which will hopefully be updated soon), you don't have to worry about it not being compatible. If you love Dell and want accessories to match, this is likely near the top of your list, but be sure to put some extra time into research before making a final decision.

See at Dell

Decent

3/5