The average home has a plethora of battery powered portable gadgets; everything from phones, to tablets, to smart watches. The average person could be charging 3 or 4 devices each night, multiply that by all the people in a family home and there are an awful lot of devices to charge, and every last one of them needs a USB cable to charge. This all leads to one heck of a tangle of USB cables and wall adaptors, not to mention extension leads to provide enough wall sockets.

There is a solution to this charging nightmare though, USB wall sockets.

USB wall socket photograph

USB wall sockets are now available from every electrical wholesaler at price points and designs to suit every taste and budget. Whether you want flush metal, walnut effect, or just traditional plastic as pictured above, the convenience of a USB port in your wall is a reality for all.

Advantages of USB sockets

The advantage of a USB wall socket is obvious, convenience. With a regular socket the sockets are used up by wall adaptors, with the addition of USB sockets to the wall those regular sockets can be freed up and your electrical gadgets connected directly to the wall rather than through adaptors and extensions leads.

Another advantage is potential energy savings, the USB outlets on most USB wall sockets automatically turn off when nothing is connected, many cheaper USB adaptors don't do this and continue to draw small amounts of power even when they are not charging. This advantage though has a flip side.

Disadvantages of USB sockets

The biggest disadvantage is actually also an advantage, when there is no current being drawn through the USB outlets the USB socket turns off. What this means is that once you're phone or other mobile device is done charging the socket turns itself off thus saving energy.

The problem here is that once the USB socket is turned off the phone essentially believes the cable to be unplugged, the phone will then run on battery for a while, until such a time as the battery has dropped low enough that it begins charging again. What you then have is a situation where a mobile device is being charged many times through the night by tiny amounts. In the case of an iPhone this most likely means that all through the night the phone is going to be vibrating and beeping to confirm charging has begun (as iPhones like to do by default), and the vibration occurs even when in silent and "Do not Disturb" mode.

This behaviour is even worse with an Apple Watch which makes a chime noise when charging begins, and the Apple Watch is even more persistent often going from charging to fully charged repeatedly every few minutes. Perhaps a side effect of the inductive charging technique of that particular device.

Good or bad?

The general idea of a USB wall socket is a good one, the implementation however appears to be very simple. With the USB outlets constantly turning on and off your gadgets are getting tens if not hundreds of tiny charges through the night, and depending on device keeping you awake with "helpful" confirmation noises whenever charging begins, thus keeping you awake.

This behaviour isn't seen with the supplied chargers that come with iPhone and Apple Watch so one must assume that it is simply a case that the supplied charges are more advanced than a simple on/off when charging completes.

The sockets do work though, they are neat and tidy and for the most part charge a device quickly and without all the tangle and mess of having wall adaptors and cables trailing all over, but in a bedroom environment and depending on your device they may be irritating.

My advice would be to hold off buying USB wall sockets until the technology in them has improved to be more intelligent and advanced like the charges supplied by mobile device manufacturers.

Considerations when purchasing

If you choose to go ahead and install USB sockets anyway are generally very easy to install, but there are a few things to watch out for and consider when purchasing and installing.

  • Depth of the back box is the main consideration, the transformer to produce the 5V USB voltage is quite large and makes the depth of the socket greater than that of a regular socket. You're going to need a 25mm deep box, ideally even deeper than that.

  • Cable entry point is another consideration, the cables feeding your existing socket may not be the ideal length of position to connect to the terminals on the USB socket. This can mean that your cables won't reach if for example the cable comes from below the socket and the terminals are at the top, or if the live and neutral terminal are spaces further apart and you can't split the existing cables far enough apart to connect them.

  • The amperage of the charger is important also, depending on what you need to charge you may need higher amperage, for example an iPad requires a 2A USB socket, if you need to charge more than a single iPad then your socket will need to be capable of delivering twice that total. A lot of sockets say 2.1A but that is total shared between all USB sockets on the wall socket.

  • Finally, the most important of all considerations is safety. There are many very cheap (possibly Chinese) sockets out there, and some of them are lethal to the point they could kill someone. You should make sure the socket you choose is purchased from a well know supplier and is manufactured by a well known electrical manufacturer, the one shown at the start of this article is made by MK.

If you're interested, check out the YouTube video below showing a dangerous USB socket.