It’s the thing all of us worry about with cheap Chinese handhelds and for one user, that fear turned into a reality when their Powkiddy RGB10 exploded while playing a game.
Writing via Reddit, user larj_Brest (groan) noticed the console’s battery began swelling around 30 minutes into playing the Game Boy Advance version of Final Fantasy 4.
After becoming hot to the touch, the console then shut itself off. Normally this is where the story should end, but instead things got a lot worse.
“I could hear the plastic straining and popping”, says larj_Brest. “Flames and smoke started pouring out of it. I got the fright of my life and dropped it between my couch squabs by accident.”
The user says they then grabbed a tea towel to try and take the console outside but it burned right through the towel. Yikes.
“I grabbed a tea towel that was nearby and used it to grab the console to take it outside, it burned through the tea towel, and burned the sides of my couch squabs. It absolutely filled my lounge with smelly white smoke.”
What Caused It to Explode?
As of writing, there isn’t anything to link Powkiddy quality control with the explosion.
You see, lithium batteries contain two electrodes. Each of these electrodes are separated with a sheet of microperforated plastic that stops the two points meeting.
Still with us? Good. The science behind charging a lithium battery is as so: Electricity goes through the microperferation sheet and onto each electrode. This in turn charges the whole thing. It’s kind of like filling a drum with hot and cold water.
When a device needs to take the charge for itself, the same thing happens but in reverse.
The process of power transference both into and from the device is supposed to be gradual. Going back to the water drum analogy, if you turn on a tap the water trickles out. But what would happen if the water decided to come out of the barrel all at once? Now imagine that but it’s electricity instead of water.
So, what causes lithium batteries to explode? This normally comes down to some pretty specific reasons.
The first is poor manufacturing. All batteries expand – that’s how they store power. But if the battery expands and ends up knocking the electrodes, suddenly you’ve got a positive and negative charge touching one another.
The other issue is all about heat. Anything that generates heat has the chance to cause a battery to explode. That includes things like over-charging, leaving it near a heat source, and the weather, but also things like dropping it, which causes a kinetic energy spike, can cause it to overheat.
Lastly, and the least likely of three scenarios, cheap chargers have been known to generate too much heat for the battery housing unit to handle.
How to Prevent Li-ion Batteries from Exploding
There’s very little you can do if there’s a manufacturing problem, but as a general rule with anything that uses batteries, always check them at least once a month for swelling. This goes doubly so for older retro consoles like the Game Boy Advance, PSP, and PS Vita.
Other ways to avoid any potential explosions include:
- Not charging devices while inside a case
- Avoid leaving them in direct sunlight or near a heat source
- Try not to damage the device and avoid ever puncturing the battery
- Never charge a device while it’s inside an enclosed area
As we’ve said, there isn’t anything directly tying Powkiddy’s manufacturing as the culprit. That said, it’s always worth holding off on purchases for the time being while it’s investigated. There’s every chance human error caused the explosion but until that’s proven, safety first and all that.
Lastly, close this site and go check the batteries on every single one of your retro devices right this very second!