CHARGE: Power-related gift ideas for the holidays

While battery technology makes slow advances, at least we have other ways of keeping our gadgets up and running when either at home or on the road.

Holiday gift guide 2012

A quick guide to Network World's favorite gifts

The following are some recommendations of power-related gadgets from the 2012 Cool Yule Tools holiday gift guide.

Note: Products are listed in no particular order or preference. Prices are also rounded-up estimates from either the product's website or Amazon.com. Better deals may be offered online during the holiday season.

PowerCup 200 Watt Inverter with USB Power Port

$35 (Amazon)

Shaped like a large-size cup of coffee that you'd get at Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, the PowerCup fits nicely into your car's standard cup holder slot. But instead of coffee, tea or hot chocolate coming out of the cup, instead you get power for your mobile devices.

The PowerCup lets you power up two regular "household devices" through its regular power ports (basically you could power a laptop, DVD player, blender, fan), as well as one USB-powered device (think iPod, iPhone, iPad) The PowerCup itself is charged via your car's cigarette lighter adapter, so as long as your cup holders are near the cigarette lighter port, you're good to go.

Just be careful that you don't accidentally grab the PowerCup on your morning commute instead of your hot beverage.

- Keith Shaw

Verbatim AA Power Pack

$17 (Amazon)

Verbatim markets its rechargeable device as a way to talk longer, listen to more music, play more games, watch more videos without worrying about running out of battery life. The company says the AA Power Pack can add up to 8 hours of additional talk time, 24 hours of music time or 6 hours of additional video play.

Well that may be true, but I tested the charger on my Bluetooth headset. Did it let me continue to talk as my battery ran out? No. Even though the power pack weighs less than 1 pound, it's unlikely I could keep my headset in my ear to continue talking while attached to the battery pack.

So there is a practical question. When would you use it? Sure, if you were stuck in the desert without an electrical outlet in sight, then yes, the power pack would come in handy. Aside from that, it comes down to the use of battery (which, by the way, are not included). Unless you have rechargeable batteries, you are stuck buying batteries and hoping that your device is recharged enough before the batteries die. The AA Power Pack charges devices such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Samsung Galaxy, but does not work with the iPad, Nook tablet or Kindle Fire.

- Ryan Francis

Verbatim Dual USB Power Pack

$50

While most of my day I seem to be near an electrical outlet for recharging devices, many travelers often find themselves searching for an outlet. Even airports that may have outlets available seem to be crowded with people who guard them like the last available donut on the planet.

The Dual USB Power Pack lets you power up your iPad and iPhone at the same time, giving you some additional talk time or Internet data time for that device. A full charge of the power pack can add up to 42 hours of additional talk time, 120 hours of music time or 30 hours of additional video viewing, Verbatim says.

You can charge the power pack through your laptop, but doing it this way takes 15 hours for a full charge. You can cut that time in half by using an AC adapter, but it's not included with the package. Weighing less than a pound, the unit is very easy to take on the road with you. The worthiness of this product comes down to a matter of whether you are going to be away from an electrical outlet for a long period of time.

- Ryan Francis

MyCharge Sojourn 1000 rechargeable power bank

$40

The Sojourn 1000 is a portable 1000mAh rechargeable battery with built-in cords that help you recharge an iPod or an iPhone (ones with the Apple Dock Connector, not the new Lightning port). With a fully charged battery, the device can offer up to an additional four hours of talk time on a 3G phone, or up to three hours of Web browsing time.

The device itself is recharged through a built-in USB cable that you attach to a computer - unfortunately you can't recharge this through a regular power outlet. An LED battery level indicator tells you how much battery power is left on the Sojourn 1000. When connected by USB to the computer and to an iPhone/iPod via the Dock Connector, you can synchronize data between the iOS device and the computer with the press of a button.

The device is small enough to throw into a laptop bag for travelers, and can be a life-saver if you need some additional juice for your phone before you can get back to your regular power recharger.

- Keith Shaw

MyCharge Summit 3000 rechargeable power bank

$80 (Amazon)

The Summit 3000 is a 3000mAh lithium polymer rechargeable battery that can recharge several different portable devices. It includes a built-in cable for Apple devices like the iPhone, iPod and iPad (at least the older Dock Connector models, not the new ones with the Lighting port). Another built-in cable is for micro-USB devices, which include several Android phone models. A USB port also allows for recharging devices if owners also have their own USB cable for recharging (this could be used, then, in theory, for iPhone 5 and iPad fourth-generation owners).

In fact, you can recharge three devices simultaneously (via the Dock Connector, USB port and micro-USB cable). However, there's a small caveat - if three high-powered devices are connected at the same time, the Summit 3000 assigns priority charging to the Apple Dock Connector, then the USB connector, then the micro-USB cable. If you plug in lower-powered devices (such as an iPod nano or iPod classic), simultaneous charging can occur.

While the unit comes with its own USB cable for recharging the device off a laptop (like the Sojourn 1000 model), the extra cool part here is a fold-out power outlet prong, which lets you plug the Summit 3000 into a wall or power strip for super-fast recharging of the battery pack. Also cool is the voice notification feature - when you plug the unit into the wall, a pleasing voice tells you that it's charging. The voice also can tell you how much battery life you have on the recharger - press a button and it will say things like "Battery is almost full". Cool!

Fully charged, the device can offer up to 13 extra hours of talk time for a phone (over a 3G network), and up to 10 hours of data time (again, over 3G - Wi-Fi usage is likely less). If you want to use this unit as a synchronization bridge between an iPhone/iPod and a computer, you can do that as well.

At $80 it might seem a bit pricey for a rechargeable battery pack, but the ability to charge many portable devices at the same time (including a Bluetooth headset, eReader, to name a few) make this a great device to have in your laptop bag of gadgets.

- Keith Shaw

MyCharge Trek 2000 rechargeable power bank

$60

The Trek 2000 is a 2000mAh lithium polymer rechargeable battery that can provide power for an iPhone or iPod (via a built-in dock with the Dock Connector adapter), as well as a micro-USB cable for devices like an Android smartphone, BlackBerry or other mobile device with a micro-USB connection (like a Bluetooth headset, for example).

The unit itself is recharged through a built-in USB cable that connects to a computer's USB port (unfortunately, no plug-in wall adapter here), and there's a battery-level indicator that tells you how much juice you have left in the Trek 2000.

Fully charged, the unit can provide up to 9 additional hours of talk time (over 3G), or up to 7 hours of web data time (again, over 3G). The combination of the Apple Dock Connector and the micro-USB port means you can charge two devices at the same time, which can be convenient if you need to recharge an iPhone and the Bluetooth headset (or a BlackBerry) that are both depleted of their batteries.

The fold-out dock is also a nice little stand for the iPhone or iPod - when connected to a computer via USB, you can use this to synchronize data between the device and computer.

For mobile workers that need an extra battery pack for multiple devices, this can be a nice little tool for their bag of tricks.

- Keith Shaw

Aleratec Charge-Glo Sync Cable

$20

Here's a cool stocking stuffer for the owner of an iPhone, iPod or iPad - this charging cable is basically a USB cable that connects to the Universal Dock Connector (the older one, not the new iPhone 5 Lightning connector) to provide charging and synchronization features. The "cherry on top" feature of this, however, is a little light inside the connector that indicates whether the device is charging or if the unit is fully charged. If it's red, it's charging. If it's blue, it's fully charged.

This basically saves you a few seconds of having to go to the device and powering it on (or out of sleep mode) to see if you have a full charge. Since I use one cable to charge multiple devices, it's always good to know that I can switch from one device to the next without needing to check.

- Keith Shaw

Newer Technology Power2U AC/USB Wall Outlet

$25 (list); $19 (Amazon)

At first glance, the Power2U device is one of those smack-yourself-in-the-forehead, why-didn't-I-think-of-that kind of products - a replacement electrical socket that includes two USB charging ports.

It's inexpensive, and can eliminate the need for those bulky wall wart cube transformers that take up so much space. The Type-A USB connectors on the socket are behind little spring-loaded doors that shut off power to the transformer when closed, so energy usage should be less than with a cube transformer case.

While installation is likely not a problem for regular Network World readers, it's important to note that it involves AC power. You need to be absolutely certain to attach the right wire to the right terminal, or, as stated in some poorly translated user manuals I've seen, you might experience a "large occurrence" that would then require the relatively high cost of a licensed electrician.

I've also seen numerous reports of the unit not fitting into older electrical wall boxes, so you may need to check this out before you buy. Both of these potential challenges limit the value of the Power2U (especially as a gift), and a simple multi-outlet AC power strip with a few short AC pigtails might be a simpler, albeit clunky, alternative.

However, if you know what you're doing with electrical outlet installations, or if you're building a new house or renovating a room to add techie features, this is a clever product for those purposes. And the inexpensive price is nice, too.

- Craig Mathias

Energizer Portable Smartphone Charger

$55

There's nothing earth-shattering about this device, which gives you extra battery power for your smartphone when it's low on juice. But that's not a bad thing - it does what it says it does and that can be very important for users who need that extra kick during the end of a long day or if they're not around a power outlet.

The device comes pre-charged, which is also a nice benefit - if you're buying this in an airport, for example, you can immediately start to recharge your phone without needing to fully charge the battery. I mean, if you could find a spot to recharge the charger, why wouldn't you just recharge your phone, right?

A micro-USB cable is included if you need to recharge a smartphone with that port (the micro-USB is also used to recharge the charger, via USB port on your computer or a wall-charger unit if you have one (not included). For iOS devices, you need to use your own cable in order to grab the juice from the charger.

If you connect your iPhone cable to the charger, then the charging cable to a computer, you can charge both units, but it doesn't charge them simultaneously. The phone will be recharged first, then the charger. Still, this is a nice overnight option that will give your iPhone and charger a fresh battery when you wake up. Also, the 2500 mAh Lithium-ion battery inside the charger has 5W output, which can recharge an iPhone but not an iPad (an iPad needs a 10W cable and charger).

One nice additional touch - the USB cable for recharging the charger has two small magnetic clips. This lets you wrap the cable around the charger and then clip it to the base, meaning you won't lose the cable like you could with other charging units (trust me, I have tons of cables that are separated from their appropriate charger.

- Keith Shaw

Celltronix Lady Power 3-in-1 Adapter

$20

This is a useful little stocking stuffer, even if its a little gimmicky being pink (although it does come in a variety of colors, including black). Its a charger that can be plugged into the wall or into a car jack (the AC prongs can fold into the device when not in use). It comes with five cords so it can be used on LG, Motorola, Blackberry, HTC, Nokia, Sanyo, and Samsung phones. Two of those connectors are a mini-USB and a micro-USB, so those can be used on anything else you might have that would use those more universal connections.

I think this is a great idea; you can use one charger driving on the road and in hotel rooms so you dont have to focus on bringing multiple items. If you bring all of the cords and go on say, a girls weekend, you have a good chance of being able to help any of your friends out if they forget a charger, unless they have an Apple product, then they are on their own.

That would be the only improvement I would make to this item: have an Apple charger. If I could charge my phone and my iPod with the same cord, it would be perfect. Otherwise, its a really useful product and perfect for anyone in your life who travels or often needs a charger.

- Jen Finn

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

Tags smbConfiguration / maintenancegift guideamazon.comhardware systemsData CenterCool Yule ToolsSMB Networkingcharging stationsstarbucks

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