The tangle of cords that my children and I take with us on vacation continues to grow along with the number of devices we have.
While one purpose of a mountain vacation is to step back from digital immersion, we still make calls and send texts, listen to music, take photos and videos, watch movies on long car trips and turn to mobile applications for specific reasons.
Those devices need to be charged — often and on the go. And in recent weeks, I've found it even more necessary to have external battery chargers on hand to keep these devices charged while away from a power source.
I've written about external chargers before, but I've tried out some new ones recently, made by Powerocks and sent to me for review, and learned a few things about what to look for when buying them.
First, look for power. The higher the number for the mAh (milliampere per hour), the more power the battery can store when it's fully charged. That number then translates to how much power it can give your devices. Some have enough power to charge multiple devices fully several times; some, just enough to give your cellphone a small boost.
The Powerocks Magic Cube that I recently tried has 6000 mAh; the Powerocks Stone3, which can charge two devices at once, has 7800 mAh. Both worked fine, but neither worked as well as one with 8900 mAh from New Trent that I bought a few years ago. A fully charged Stone3 charged my iPhone 4S to 100 percent power while I was using it as a personal hot spot, but that effort nearly drained the entire cube of power, for example. It also had trouble fully charging an iPad 2 that was almost out of power.
The Magic Cube seems to drain somewhat quickly, too. The Stone3 advertises it can charge a standard smartphone five to six times, but that wasn't my experience; I suspect that using the phone while it charges reduces that ability.
Second, look for the number of parts that come with the charger — you'll have to keep track of them to use it. I like another charger that I have, Fatcat's PowerBar, but the included cords and tips are easy to misplace, even though it came with a pouch to contain them. I've also lost the power cord to the 2011 New Trent one (the device has since been redesigned), so until I replace the cord, I can't recharge it. The Powerocks Magic Cube comes nicely compact and self-contained with the cords attached; the Stone3 charges devices using their existing cords and charges itself via Micro or Mini USB cords, which are easily available. To charge your device, plug the USB end of its charger directly into the Magic Cube and the Stone 3.
Third, find one in your price range. The Stone3's suggested retail price is about $100; the Magic Cube starts about $75 for 6000 mAh, and another offering, Powerocks Super Magicsticks, with 2800 mAh, are priced about $50 at powerocksusa.com. However, online retailers sell all three for less (between $35 and $80). Depending on what you're looking for, you can get an external battery at many different price points at electronics retailers, from about $30 on up to more than $100.
Fourth, pick a design and size that you like. There are devices that fit into your pocket or purse or bigger ones that have more power and charge faster. Both Powerocks devices feel good and solid. The Magic Cubes come in a variety of metallic colors; the Stone3 is a white block that's sturdy, too.
These days, there seem to be nearly as many external battery chargers on the market as there are iPhone cases. But as people turn to their devices more and more regularly, they run out of charge faster.
My latest mobile phone, an iPhone 4S, seems to lose battery power more quickly than previous smartphones, but then again in recent weeks I've asked a lot of it as I've used it to get directions on trips, to track Oklahoma's recent severe weather and tornadoes, navigate around the forest fires in Colorado, to turn on a personal hot spot when Wi-Fi reception was unavailable in New Mexico and to tether it to the latest device I've been trying, Google Glass.
And when my power runs low on any of my devices, I've learned that the external charger that I turn to is the one that I have ready to go, fully charged and with all the parts handy.