eXtensions - Wednesday 18 January 2017

Not all Electrical Devices are Created Equally: Apple Charger and a 3rd-party Device Bought in Bangkok (Bangkok Post, Life)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Apple's accessories are often high priced when compared with similar devices in the market. Although some of these devices may look similar on the outside, the components and materials inside are not the same. Cheap may not be good.

Last week was the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs' iPhone introduction. I was there covering the event for the Bangkok Post (Database). I did handle a prototype iPhone the day after that memorable keynote, but at that stage it was still under development. During the next 6 months up to its June introduction, there was much misinformation about the device from commentators who had never seen it, including a widely-copied theory about the ineffectiveness of the touch keyboard. It continues today.

We recently heard a lot of indignation about what disasters would follow with the loss of the 3.5mm headphone jack. When the iPhone 7 was released, and the headphones were indeed connected via the Lightning port, no one really noticed. There was a free adapter for those who still wanted to use older headphones.

EarBuds and adapter

Many have complained over the years about the cost of Apple products. They are not in the bargain basement, that's for sure. Prices here are consistent with those in the US, where they are quoted with no taxes included. When VAT is added (7% here), there is rarely more than a few hundred baht difference, usually down to shipping costs and currency fluctuations.

The Illinois (IL) state sales tax rate is currently 6.25% and city taxes - Chicago is 10.25% - may make the price for products in the shops higher than in Thailand. A 13" MacBook Pro at a basic $1,999 bought in Illinois will actually cost $2123.93 (74,975 baht), while in Thailand the price with VAT is 74,900.00. Buy it in Chicago and the Thai price will seem a bargain.

Looking around in Bangkok at products from other high end manufacturers, there may be markups of several thousand baht, so Apple fares quite well here.

iMac Prices of Apple computers and accessories are usually high to start with, but my experience is that they last quite well. It is an unusual example, for sure, but my 2002 iMac is still running, as are Macs I bought several years ago and have since passed on to friends.

With the arrival of the new MacBook Pro computers, I have spent a fair amount of time in the last month or so, wandering the malls looking for USB-C-capable accessories, without much luck. Apart from the Apple adapters and a LaCie hard disk, there was little more unless I ordered from online sources. I saw two new disks this weekend. It would be nice to spend my money in stores here, but I can find almost nothing I need. Some more Belkin adapters were spotted in the Paragon store, Siam, floor 4; but not in iStudio outlets, although a couple more USB-C hard disks are now available.

In a well-known store I saw accessories that appeared identical to Apple's own devices, like earbuds and power adapters. I bought a couple of these and compared them. To be fair, there was nothing that suggested they could be used with an iPhone: "for Smart device" was all that was printed on the package. The price was 290 baht. The Apple one is 790 baht ($19). I checked Apple's US site and the only power accessories shown there are from Belkin, Mophie, Solpro and Twelve South.


On the face if it, this Pisen-branded adapter looks just like the one for the iPhone. Specifications are in dark grey on the Apple product. The similar white one had the details in easy-to-read black. They were identical: 100-240v; 50/60Hz; 0.15A; 5v=1A. Side by side, it was easy to see that the Chinese-made product was slightly larger, but examined separately some might not notice. Or not care.

3rd party charger USB test device

I compared outputs using a neat device a colleague lent me that plugs into the USB port. The Apple device produced 5.1v while the other connector only put out 5.01v. I asked a graduate student - a qualified electrical engineer - to help with tear-downs of both. She uses Asus and Android, so is not an Apple user. Both devices were destroyed in the testing.

Opening up Opening up

Disassembly of Apple 5v Charger

The Apple adapter was quite hard to break open. It was also difficult to remove components. The circuit had three main parts in the single unit. These were designed to fit perfectly within the external plastic container. Unlike the Pisen unit, it was almost impossible to remove solder. It had a higher melting point, suggesting that the material was an alloy (Lead melts at 327.5 deg C). Disassembly was hard and the circuitry in the Apple adapter was found to be more complex.

Opening up Opening up

Disassembly of Third Party Charger

Although both units have the same basic function of charging, the Pisen circuitry was quite basic. The major difference between the two is that the Apple device has some additional components that appear to compare (or filter) between the primary side (220v) and the secondary (5v) side of the adapter. Both units had two capacitors, two resistors and a transformer. It was easy to see with the naked eye that these components were not the same.

Disassembly of Apple charger

In the opinion of the engineer, with the different materials and components, it suggested that Apple had more concern for the user, with the use of components for rechecking current and voltage. The Apple unit has better design, components and built-in protection. The Pisen unit will work effectively in normal situations, but may have some risk if used with an iPhone because it is simple and does not have the same protections as the Apple one.

Not all devices are created equally.

Disassembly of chargers

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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