During a recent business trip, my companions and I made the not-so-shocking discovery that a morning of heavy emailing and app usage had left many of our smartphone batteries almost completely tapped out.
What was a bit surprising was that I was the only one in the group wandering around that day with a portable USB phone charger. Inevitably, as the power pack got passed around, it became less effective, though, fortunately, it did give many of us the “jump” we needed for just one more achingly insightful tweet.
Why, I began to wonder, would anyone leave the house without one of these nifty little recharging gizmos? Being as these chargers have been saturating the travel gadget market in recent months, it was time for a quick round-up of four portable phone chargers that stand out from the pack.
My charger of choice for a while was an inexpensive and now discontinued Energizer model ($4.99 through a reseller) that I loved at first, but came to realize that it drained the life from its two AA batteries almost as fast as I could load them into the charger.
With that in mind, I set my sights on chargers that were themselves rechargeable, and a good all-purpose model for domestic travel is the Duracell Instant Charger ($29.99) which you can recharge with your laptop via the included USB cable. Once the charger is juiced up, you can then charge various smartphones and devices using the provided cable's mini-USB plug. Cords that come with many Apple, Blackberry, and Motorola models also work with the charger. Perhaps the Duracell’s best feature, other than its rechargability, is its power-saving on/off switch, which the Energizer lacked.
Another rechargeable power pack is the Powermonkey Classic ($69.00), useful for international travel because it's rechargeable via USB port and a universal AC adapter that works in more than 150 countries. The charger also comes with a sack of adapter tips that will work with many phones and gadgets. Additional Powermonkey models, available through other retailers as well as the manufacturer, have enough juice to comfortably power tablets and other heavy-duty gadgets during long flights, but if keeping your phone charged remains your priority overseas, the classic is enough of an investment.
For travelers who are outdoorsy or routinely enjoy attaching gadgets to their pants with carabiner clips, the Etón American Red Cross Clipray Charger ($15.00) has no batteries to recharge because – get this – it powers up with a few turns of a hand crank. This action will in turn generate enough juice to charge your phone as well as the charger's on-board LED flashlight.
Why include in this group an iPhone case modified to deliver the take-down power of a 650,000-volt stun gun? Because the Yellow Jacket – so named because the effects of its sting are “loud, painful, and disorienting,” according to inventor Seth Froom – also doubles as an external source of power, providing your iPhone 4 or 4S with 20 extra hours of battery life. Froom’s encounter with an assailant inspired the unusual invention, which, for good measure, has a safety switch, as well as an electrode cover to avoid an accidental voltage discharge.
I’ll let you decide what travel scenario best calls for the Yellow Jacket, but, if like me, you have daughters who are permitted to leave home every now and then, you might be the target audience for this one.
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