Tested: Omnicharge Ultimate review

 

Date reviewed: April 2021 | Tested by: John Milbank | RRP: $399 | www.omnicharge.co

 

If you’re travelling in remote areas away from power sources, charging your kit can be a pain. While you’ll likely have a USB outlet on the bike, a serious adventure could require power not only for a phone, but also action cameras, maybe a video and a stills camera, plus a tablet or laptop.

The Omnicharge Ultimate is designed to offer the largest possible capacity in a portable form, and while it’s not cheap, it’s a pro-level device that could be a solution for many. It is usually available in the UK, but at the time of writing it was out of stock at the usual Amazon source, however Omnicharge says that it’s expected back soon, so check this unaffiliated link if you’re looking for one (don’t get caught out by over-priced marketplace options that sometimes appear).

I’ve been using the Omnicharge Ultimate, as well as the Mobile 12,800 and Omni 20+ for the past two months, cycling them constantly to find out whether they’re worth buying…

 

For and against
  • Quality build with LG cells
  • High power output
  • Versatile
  • Might be more highly featured than you need
  • Cables supplied separately
  • High power comes at price of bulk

 

Omnicharge Ultimate features

The Omnicharge Omni Ultimate is available in 120 V and 230 V output options – I’m testing the 230 V European version…

  • European mains outlet (EU to UK adaptor included) capable of supplying 230 V AC at 120 W
  • 150 W DC output for PC or Mac laptop power, selectable to 20.0 V (7.5 A), 15.0 V (8 A), 16.5 V (8 A) or 12.0 V (8 A). Press and hold the power button when selecting and you can also adjust the output voltage of any of the four presets from 5 V to a massive 60 V (at 2.5 A), and the current down from 8 A to suit your requirements in 0.1 increments.
  • 60 W USB-C port
  • 2x QC 3.0 USB-A ports
  • 150 W DC-out port (Amass MR30 connector) with cable adaptor to 5.5x2.1mm barrel port supplied
  • Replaceable battery ($149.99 from Omnicharge)
  • Backlit screen
  • Internal cell temperature monitoring
  • Internal battery percentage display
  • Input power, output voltage and output power all displayed
  • Charge multiple devices at once
  • Charge devices while charging the Omni Ultimate
  • Charging brick supplied
  • Weighs 1,415 g

The Ultimate has a silicone skin that helps protect it from knocks, though I did manage to tear mine by the flap on the outlet port side. This doesn’t impair the use at all, but it seems a slight weak point in the design.

 

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The replaceable battery might be attractive to people looking to carry even more power with them (though this unit and one spare battery will likely be the most you can carry on a flight), but you need to remove six PH1 screws to swap it. While not a problem if you’re simply replacing a degraded battery after several years’ use, it seems a missed opportunity for those wishing to quickly swap between packs, though some users just leave the screws out.

You can read the full instructions for the Omnicharge Omni Ultimate here.

 

The Omnicharge Ultimate is configurable via its monochrome OLED display

 

What is QC 3.0?

Both of the side-mounted USB-A ports are QC 3.0 compatible, which is a fast-charging standard by Qualcomm. While these outlets will charge any standard USB device at 5 V, if a QC-equipped device is connected, it can be charged much more quickly.

QC 3.0 is the latest version, but it is backwards compatible with older devices:

QC 3.0

QC 2.0

QC 1.0

3.2-20 V, 18 W

5V, 9 V or 12 V, 18 W

5 V, 10 W

 

In QC 1.0, that 10 W output meant that the maximum charge was 5V at 2A, because P=VA (Power in Watts equals Volts times current in Amps). Newer devices – particularly smartphones – can be charged faster with higher voltages, so while 5 V at 18 W could put out a current of up to 3.6 A, charging a phone at 9 V can be a lot quicker, and that 18 W would still mean 2 A could be delivered.

QC 3.0 allows even higher voltages to be used (though at reduced current due to the same 18W output), which some devices can take advantage of. This standard also includes Intelligent Negotiation for Optimum Voltage (INOV), which adapts the output voltage to suit the needs of the battery being charged – right through its cycle – and is claimed to be even more efficient.

 

Performance

Rated at a huge 142 Wh, the Omni Ultimate should be able to deliver 28,400 mAh at 5V, which means that if it were powering a 5V device, it should be able to deliver 28,400 mA (or 28.4 A) for one hour. Not that anything would pull that much, so put another way, it should deliver 2,840 mA for ten hours at 5V.

Sadly it’s not that simple, and even using inline meters to test the current being drawn, there are too many variables for me to be able to say exactly how much charge it’ll give YOUR kit, so my testing involved charging a Samsung Galaxy S10, a GoPro Hero 5 and Hero 7 (both use the same 3.85/1,220 mAh cells), an iPad Air 2, a 15” MacBook Pro and my Canon EOS 80D battery through a mains charger.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_29

 

It took 18% of the Omnicharge Ultimate’s capacity to fully charge a flat DSLR battery through the mains outlet. While doing this, it’s also possible to use the two USB-A ports to charge other devices.

It should go without saying that you won’t be able to connect this portable power bank to really power-hungry mains devices: the 120 W output is enough for a shade over 0.5 A, which is fine for most chargers but it certainly won’t boil a kettle of water.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_25

 

The three-pin DC output socket on the side only comes live when you’ve pressed the button and selected one of the four voltage outputs; charging my work 15” MacBook Pro, I was able to use 20 V, but it’s very important that you check what your device is capable of to avoid any damage. Be careful of course too if you change these presets, given that you can pump this up to 60 V at 2.5 A.

The DC to Magsafe 2 adaptor is $19.99 on the Omnicharge site, though I did find it at some UK camera stores for as little as £9.99. The adaptor cable for PCs includes tips to suit Dell, Lenovo, HP and universal 5.5x2.5mm Barrel Ports, and retails at $29.99. Of course, more and more laptops are powered by USB-C now, so there’s becoming less demand for these.

There’s also a DC to Surface Pro adaptor available for $19.99, but whichever you use, it’s slightly annoying that they also require the short adaptor cable that comes with the Ultimate, but I expect this is due to a barrel connector not being rated for the maximum output that this Omni can deliver, hence its exclusion from the main unit.

 

The MR30 to barrel adaptor cable is supplied, but laptop cables are bought separately

 

My MacBook’s battery is on its last legs, but the Ultimate took it from a totally dead computer to fully charged with 30% still remaining in the battery.

This will vary greatly depending on the power requirements of your laptop, what software you’re running at the time, and whether any external drives are plugged in, but it’s impressive to know that you could easily charge a large laptop and other devices with this pack.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_27

 

The mains outlet can be used to power any laptops’ own charger, but this is a lot less efficient – in my testing, charging the computer through the mains adaptor used around 25% more power. Thanks to the Ultimate’s size and weight though, you can easily plug a large charger into the mains outlet while still using the connections on the opposite side, thanks to its ability to stand upright.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_31

Even after charging other devices, there’s plenty left in the Ultimate to top up an iPad and then some

 

The Ultimate charged my iPad Air 2 back to full with 74% of its charge remaining, so while it won’t make the claimed five charges of a tablet, there’s plenty there for the tablet, action camera, phone and the DSLR.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_32

 

My Samsung Galaxy S10 takes advantage of the fast-charge capability of the USB ports, and after charging the phone from totally flat in less than an hour and three quarters, the Omni Ultimate had 89% charge remaining. It took the phone to 25% in just 15 minutes, using 3% of its own charge. The phone hit 70% in 45 minutes, with 92% charge still left in the Ultimate.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_26

 

My GoPros provided the best comparison of the Omnicharge devices, and by running them flat with 4K recording then charging them again (after letting them cool), I managed 16 full charges and just under another half. That’s very close to double the performance of the Omni 20+ (which has half the capacity) and I’d consider it pretty much in line with the claims of up to 20 charges of an action camera. Combined with the ability to charge many other devices, it does make this an exceptionally capable power bank.

 

Build quality – what cells are inside the Omnicharge?

The Omnicharge devices use 18650 cells (similar to big, fat lithium AA cells). Just like those in Tesla car batteries, these cylindrical cells might not appear to be making as efficient use of space as the pouch cells found in many cheaper power banks, but they’re less prone to swelling and hence potentially safer. They’re also cheaper to produce.

 

I wouldn’t recommend ripping the Ultimate apart – it’s not easy – but it did prove that LG cells are used inside

 

Early in production Omnicharge used BAK-branded cells, which caused some arguments on forums, but when I asked the company if they’re what’s still in there, I was told that Omnicharge is “very keen on listening to customer feedback, and given the sentiment around the BAK cells, promptly made the switch to LG cells. All of the current product line has been using those cells for some time now.”

But just to be sure, I hacked open up my Ultimate (which was fulfilled by Amazon, so not a ‘special’) and inside were 12 LG INR18650MH1 cells, which are each rated as 3,200 mAh at 3.7 V. That’s a total capacity of 38,400 mAh, or 142 Wh, which is what’s claimed on the packaging.

Over the last two months I’ve had this device cycling numerous times but it’s of course too early to comment on long-term durability. However, I will update this review if anything changes.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_39

 

Unlike the Omni 20+, the main outlet is protected not only by the rubber flap, but also a gate that only opens when both pins of the EU socket are inserted at the same time – an important addition on something that can deliver half an Amp at 230 V.

 

If this is a 142 Wh device, why can’t I get 36,883 mAh out?

Rated at 142 Wh, with the 3.85 V of the GoPro cells that equates to 36.8 Ah (36,883 mAh), or 30 1,220 mAh GoPro batteries. So why did it only charge 16 and a half of them? I asked Dr Thomas Mansfield, a Chartered Engineer, why power banks don’t always deliver what we might expect.

Dr Tom explained that while they’re much more efficient than the old nickel metal hydride (NiMh) technology, lithium ion cells still aren’t 100% efficient, and battery capacity can be claimed in various ways. This could include calculations from first principles (not testing) that may assume the calculation stopping at a lower voltage than a device’s cut-offs, which are used to prevent serious damage to the cells during discharge.

The capacity I as a user can measure will vary a lot depending on the current being drawn, temperature, duty cycles and other variables. Plus, a typical use scenario is not a constant load, which would be required to properly test a battery.

The group of cells that make up the Omnicharge battery go through circuits that regulate the voltage to what’s required by the device being charged – if it’s through USB that means that the 12 3.7 V cells that total 44.4 V in the Ultimate are being stepped down to 5 V to output to the GoPro. The GoPro itself is then taking that 5 V and running it through its own charge circuit in order to juice up the 3.7 V cell inside. That’s a lot of opportunities for inefficiency

The results I got from this Omnicharge were in line with other power banks I’ve used, so if all you want is a basic charging brick, this is probably over-kill, but what you’re paying for is the high power delivery, extra features, the build quality and potential longevity, plus the durability of the good-quality cells inside.

 

 

Charging the Omni Ultimate

The Omnicharge Omni Ultimate comes with a 90 W power brick that can fill it in three to four hours via the 5.5x2.5mm input. However, this alone adds some bulk (and 604 g), so it’s good to know that you can use pretty much any source through the in/out USB-C port on the opposite side.

The 45W charger that Omnicharge offers separately (or in the 20+ bundle) is a good compromise of size and weight, but it takes roughly twice as long to charge the Ultimate. There are higher-power small chargers available, though keep in mind that the USB-C port is limited to 60 W maximum.

You can still use the Omnicharge to power other devices at the same time, though if it’s flat you will of course be limited to the input power of the charger.

 

Can the Omnicharge Omni Ultimate be taken on a plane?

According to the FAA, the largest rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can be carried on an aeroplane with no questions asked is 100 Wh, so with a rating of 142 Wh, the Omnicharge Omni Ultimate will require airline approval. 160 Wh is the absolute maximum that can be carried, so just make sure you’ve checked before you arrive at the airport as in many cases you can only carry this in your hand luggage.

EasyJet and Ryanair allow batteries up to 160 Wh to be carried in the hold or carry-on, while BA says that it gives ‘operator approval’ for packs up to 160 Wh, but that you should print this page and carry it with you. That might well be the case with other airlines.

Virgin Atlantic insists that power banks between 100 Wh and 160 Wh must be approved by them before travel.

For flights with a single carrier, it should be reasonably easy to check that you can carry the Ultimate, and it appears that most will allow it. However, I’d recommend that you print the information from that airline’s website, then carry it with you to show during security. Also be careful if you’re using several different airlines on a trip to more remote regions.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_33

 

Which Omnicharge device should I choose?

I’ve also tested the Omnicharge Mobile 12,800 and the Omni 20+; each has its own advantages, but while I don’t think wireless charging is particularly an essential, it’s surprising not to find it on this unit. Still, this is the most professional-grade power bank the company currently makes, and its focus is clearly on high output and efficiency.

Still, there are small details that make the Ultimate seem a little less developed than the 20+, like the need for a short adaptor cable from the three-pin Amass MR30 to a round socket before you can use any Mac or PC laptop cable connectors, which terminate in the 5.5x2.1mm barrel connector. To be fair though, it’s possible this was necessary due to the much higher power handling of the MR30 connector compared to a barrel.

Also, the 20+ has a ‘charge time remaining’ feature, which is a useful addition that’s missing here. There’s also no 300V HVDC option, though in my testing I found no noticeable efficiency benefits, and none of the buzzing sound that this output can eliminate. Its omission here doesn’t bother me, but it’s worth noting if you’re expecting it.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_35

With a 12V 8A output, the Omnicharge is quite happy powering a charger for even fairly big 3S LiPos

 

On the other hand, the very high DC output of 60V @ 2.5A that the Ultimate is capable of is impressive, and the programmability of the voltage and current make this a particularly useful bench supply, further enhancing its versatility. You could even use it to power a LiPo charger for radio-control car/boat/helicopter etc models while out (I’ve made up an adaptor cable for just this purpose).

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_34

Amass MR30 wiring diagram in Omnicharge Ultimate: If you want to make a lead to work with the Ultimate’s DC output, the isolated pin is the positive, while the two other pins need to both be used as the negative. Needless to say, I used heat-shrink tubing on this connector after photographing it

 

As an advanced portable power bank, I’d say that the Omni 20+ will suit the majority, and it feels like a more accomplished device, but there’s no denying that the Ultimate is a seriously impressive unit that will no doubt appeal to the most demanding users, and those who need something a little more specialist.

 

Omnicharge Ultimate review_04

 

Omnicharge Omni Ultimate review: Verdict

The value of a mains outlet is almost certainly going to dwindle over the next few years with many laptops chargeable by USB-C, and most devices taking some form of USB charge.

Still, for anyone after a solid, dependable power bank, the Ultimate is extremely capable.

While most airlines appear to approve it, the fact that some require ‘operator approval’ adds an extra layer of uncertainty to an airline journey that would concern me. Having said that, a serious adventure rider will likely be either taking a ferry into Europe to start their journey, or having the bike shipped to the States, in which case you could likely leave the battery in the bike’s luggage while you fly over.

The size and weight could be an issue, but if you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere and need power (without using fuel to prevent your bike’s battery going flat at night), the Omnicharge Omni Ultimate would be well worth investing in.

 

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