Tag Archives: power

New Trent iCarrier IMP120D External Battery Review



The fast processors and large screens of modern day smartphones draw power like it’s going out of fashion. A battery that would have lasted several weeks in the Nokia 6210 now struggles to get through a day of calls, email and web surfing. And that’s before starting to play Ingress.

Desktop chargers have their place but sometimes it’s not possible to get back to a power outlet to plug in. External battery packs and chargers fill this space and on review here is the New Trent iCarrier IMP120D external battery and charger. With a 12,000 mAh battery, it’s roughly 6 times the capacity of a smartphone battery and 3 times the size of a 7″ tablet’s. Physically, it’s around 9 x 9.5 x 2.5 cm and there’s bit of weight to it at 280g / 10 oz but it fits comfortably in the hand, especially with the soft curved edges of the iCarrier.

New Trent IMP120D

As the pictures show, it’s not unattractive for a battery pack and gets away from the standard rectangular brick. The black plastic enclosure has a blue central band with just four features – an on-off button, a power input socket and two USB ports. The on-off button lights up when charging  and a short press of the button briefly shows the iCarrier’s charge level using three blue LEDs for low, medium and high.

New Trent IMP120D - front

Two USB sockets obviously allow two devices to be charged at once. One socket is rated at 1 A and the other at 2.1 A, which practically means that you can charge a phone and a tablet at the same time. In the box along with the iCarrier, there’s an AC wall charger, a USB to microUSB charging cable, a charging cable for Samsung devices and a soft carry pouch. Contrary to the “i” moniker, the iCarrier will charge anything that will charge from USB, not just Apple devices.

Unlike some other devices, it’s possible to charge both the iCarrier at the same time as it charges other devices, which means that when travelling, only the iCarrier’s charger needed to get everything charged up overnight – the battery pack plus two other devices. The iCarrier does take a good few hours to get itself charged up, which given the larger than average battery isn’t to be unexpected. There are some other handy features too. For example, the iCarrier automatically shuts off once attached devices are fully charged.

In use, the iCarrier can be simply used as a backup battery pack to recharge phones or other devices when their internal batteries get low. More usefully, the iCarrier can be used to extend the life of portable equipment such as personal wireless routers. My MiFi can run for a couple of hours on its own battery, but connect it up to the iCarrier and I can get a whole day of use out of the hotspot without any trouble at all.

Overall, the iCarrier is a very handy gadget, essential for any heavy smartphone user or frequent traveller. It’s competitively priced at around $70 in the USA or £40 in the UK. Recommended.

Disclosure – The iCarrier IMP120D was a personal purchase.


Making Solar Pay



I have always been fascinated by the idea of generating my own electric power. Back in late 1998 I installed a solar power system that has sixteen 75 watt solar panels, along with a 4,000 watt power inverter/charger and a bank of expensive deep-cycle batteries.  Mention solar power, and most people think that all of these elements are necessary, including the expensive bank of batteries.

It turns out there is a much better way to think of home solar energy – use solar energy equipment strictly to push power back into the electric company utility grid. Batteries should never be considered to be part of a solar installation unless utility power just isn’t available, say in a remote location. Battery technology is an albatross when it comes to being able to store enough power to meet real-world needs.

If electric grid power is available, there are only two elements necessary – the arrays of solar panels, and what are called grid-tie inverters. In this battery-free scenario, the math of pushing power back to the utility to offset electrical use becomes much more interesting.

Power companies in the United States are required by law to “buy back” consumer-generated power. A grid-tie inverter takes the DC power being generated by the solar panels, inverts it into AC power, and then sends it back directly into the grid via a standard AC power plug plugged in to a regular 110 volt outlet. It is possible to have more than one grid-tie inverters, which also come in different sizes.

The relatively high-end inverter that I have is capable of producing 4,000 watts sustained output. So, if I wanted to push 4,000 watts back into the electric company utility grid, I would need at least two more arrays of solar panels feeding DC current into the inverter.

In my case, the batteries died within about the first three to four years. I simply turned the equipment off and my youngest brother sold the battery carcasses to a battery recycler. The equipment sat dormant until yesterday. A friend that does solar as a hobby helped me check the inverter and get it up and running again. I contacted my electric company and they sent a man out this afternoon to look over and approve my system, an absolutely necessary step. So the net effect is that now whenever there is daylight, the inverter is pushing power back into the grid. Obviously the maximum amount of power is generated when the solar panels are in direct sunlight.

The electric company performed a test of the inverter to make sure that if there is a grid power failure that the inverter automatically cuts off its own output. This is quite critical to the power company, because they want to be absolutely certain that in case of a grid power failure, no user-generated AC current is being fed back into the downed power lines.

I was able to verify that my inverter was pushing power back into the grid by turning off all internal breakers in my house so that no power was being used. At that point I looked at the power meter out on the utility pole and it was actually running backwards! Of course, in normal operation with different things consuming electricity in the house it is unlikely it will run backwards much, but it will be slowed somewhat.

My local electric company is a rural electric cooperative and they actually encourage customers to set up these types of “selling” consumer-generating power systems. It helps them reduce peak demand, thus reducing the need for more electrical generating capacity on the utility’s side. Solar panels are generating electricity at peak capacity when peak demand is likely to occur when air conditioning demands are at their highest.

Can a system like this ever pay for itself? It depends on the initial cost of the equipment, installation expenses, and how long of a payback period you are able to live with. If you can do most of the installation work yourself, then obviously the math works better. Eliminating the batteries really helps the cost come down.

An HQRP 1,000 watt grid-tie inverter sells for $287.95 on Amazon.Com. Aleko brand 75-watt solar panels sell for  $149 dollars each. Sixteen of these solar panels multiplies out to $2,384 dollars. With brackets, wiring and installation let’s estimate a total package price of $4,000, which may or may not be wildly off one way or the other. The 1,000 watt electrical output of the inverter would have to offset $4,000 dollars worth of electricity over a period of years before it would pay for itself, which is likely a long period of years. If the price of the equipment and installation can be brought down, then the payback period shortens.

My electric company will only allow this type of setup to function as an offset. So, let’s say that someone was putting more power back into the grid than they were actually consuming. My power company will never issue a check for the power, so it’s really just an offset for how much I consume. With enough equipment feeding power back into the grid, it would be possible to bring electrical grid usage down to zero.

Many local and state governments offer tax rebates for new solar equipment installations, which could also help mitigate the cost.

The beauty of a battery-free grid-tie solar user-generated power system feeding into the electrical grid is that once it is initially set up, everything happens automatically. Since I already have the equipment and it is long since paid for, I might as well be utilizing it to offset a portion of my power usage.


More Juice for your Apple iPhone



All smartphones drain batteries like electricity is going out of fashion but many external battery are bulky, fiddly or both. Gosh!‘s new Parallel battery for the iPhone 5 might be the first that’s both sleek and convenient.

The Parallel comes in two parts, the battery pack itself, and a matching iPhone case that makes connecting the phone to the battery an absolute doddle. The iPhone 5 can stay in the case when you don’t need the extra power, but as soon as the main phone battery starts to fall, whack in the extra battery and it’s good to go. The additional 2,500 mAh is a huge increase over the iPhone 5’s standard 1,440 mAh.

The Parallel battery has smooth lines that fit the iPhone 5’s taller size and the case comes in a choice of 5 colours too.

Gosh! Parallel iPhone 5 case and battery

The Parallel is on show at CES, North Hall, iLounge Pavilion, Booth 6723.

 


Power Sockets with USB Charging



Last week I was at a trade show for electrical wholesalers and I came across these single and double power sockets with a USB charging point built-in.

Power Sockets with USB

As soon as I saw them, I thought, “Those would be handy…” and then I saw the price…£62.74 for the single and £76.60 for the double socket and they’re trade prices too (ex VAT). In US money that’s $99 and $120 respectively. As Todd would say, “Are these guys smoking crack!?” Who in their right mind would pay that kind of money for a built-in USB socket and a single USB socket at that? I can only hope that it’s a pricing error or a multi-pack.

With a bit of searching, I subsequently found another company that charges a far more reasonable £15 for a single socket and there are doubles going on ebay for £30 which is still pricey enough.

From the specs, it would appear that 1A is the rated current which will be fine for most phones and mp3 players, but tablets will take their time to charge.

For those who despise wall warts and power bricks, it’s a neat way to go, but make sure you aren’t paying over the odds.


IDAPT i1 Eco Universal Charger Review



The Idapt i1 Eco is the portable member of Idapt’s family of universal chargers: by using the same interchangeable tips as the dual and triple versions, the usefulness of the system is extended from the home to the car and travel.

Idapt i1 Eco Universal Charger

If you aren’t familiar with Idapt, their system offers a wide selection of charging tips that are snapped into a charging station which has anything from one (i1 Eco) to three (i4) changeable charging points. The benefit is that the charging station can be uniquely customised to your mobile device usage. For example, your phone might have a micro-USB connector, your iPod has an Apple connector and your Nintendo DSi has its own connector. By using the relevant tips, all three devices can be charged at once. Geek News Central reviewed the Idapt i4 earlier in the year.

Within this context, let’s take a look at the i1 Eco. Out of the box, you get a the i1 unit itself, a mains power connector, a USB power connector, a car USB adaptor and three charging tips – mini-USB, micro-USB and Apple.

Idapt Charging Tips

The main unit takes only one of these at a time, but there’s an additional full-size USB port on the side, so two devices can be charged simultaneously.

The i1 Eco can be powered either from the mains or from a USB power source: the cables interchange at the lime green coloured multi-connector. As you can see from the picture below, these are standard connector types, namely micro-USB and IEC “shotgun”.

The power transformer is incorporated into the body of the Eco 1 so there’s no “wall wart”, only an ordinary plug on the end of the cable. The advantage of this will become clear shortly and when buying the i1 Eco, UK, USA or Euro mains plugs can be specified.

Power cable

At the other end of the Eco 1 is the socket for the charging tips. These pop in and out and are exactly the same as the ones used in the tabletop models, which is handy if you have invested in a range of tips.

Tip Socket Tip Inserted

The USB socket on the side is used to charge a second device via a cable, which is best used for tablets or other larger devices which can be unwieldy to connect on the end of the i1 Eco.

i1 Side Shot

As might be guessed from the name, it’s intended to be a green charger. The packaging is all recycled cardboard and the body of the i1 Eco is made from recycled plastic. Even more unusual is the presence of a power button on the side of the i1 Eco, which is there to help save energy.

Most consumer electronics chargers don’t have an on-off switch and most gang extension sockets don’t have on-off switches either, which means that to fully turn off a charger, it has to be pulled out of the socket, which is pretty inconvenient and most of us don’t bother. The chargers continue to consume power even when there’s no device being charged and this power is completely wasted.

The i1 Eco eliminates this problem by having an on-off switch and by automatically powering off when the recharging gadgets are fully charged. This is a great feature and as a result, no power is wasted when gadgets are connected but fully charged and the Eco 1 can be safely plugged in all the time.

Overall, it’s all very clever, useful and green to boot!

Are there any downsides? There are a couple but nothing too serious. First of all, the USB car adaptor that goes in the cigarette lighter socket is a bit flimsy and lets the overall package down. For comparison, the Griffin PowerJolt is a far better adaptor.

Secondly, the auto-power off feature is sometimes a bit over-enthusiastic. On occasion I’d connect up my tablet (Motorola Xoom 2 ME) to charge and I’d come back later to find that the i1 Eco had switched off while the tablet was still only part charged. Other times it worked perfectly with the tablet and I had no problems with other devices (Bluetooth headset, mp3 player, ereader). To be fair, the included literature does mention that some smartphones can be incompatible with this feature so I guess this includes tablets too.

Update: Idapt contacted me to say that with troublesome devices, simply hold the on-off button down for about a second when turning the charger on and this reduces the auto-off sensitivity. I carried out some further testing of the i1 Eco with the tablet and can confirm that this solution works so problem solved. Thanks, Idapt.

The i1 Eco is a clever and flexible portable charging solution that will particularly appeal to those who have already bought into the Idapt way and have a full set of charging tips.

The i1 Eco is available from Idapt for £19.99 and extra tips are mostly £5.95.

Thanks to Idapt for providing the i1 Eco for review.


Veho Mobile Gear at The Gadget Show



Pebble Power PackVeho probably isn’t the first name that springs to mind when thinking about gadgets but they have a sizeable range from miniature video cameras to digital photo frames and Bluetooth headsets. In the UK, their products are sold in the main big boxes – PC World and Currys.

On Veho’s stand at Gadget Show Live, I played with a USB microscope which showed magnified images on the PC screen. Perhaps a little limited with just two magnification levels (20x or 200x) but good fun nevertheless.

In this interview, James Farmer from Veho takes me through some of the Veho range, including their Muvi miniature DV cameras, Pebble portable battery packs and Mimi wireless speakers. I really liked their Pebble range of battery packs as they had a lovely smooth shape, like the original Palm Pre.

 


Verbatim Demos LED Bulbs at The Gadget Show



Verbatim LED LightsVerbatim are best known for their data storage products and I can remember having piles of Verbatim floppy disks back in the day, as it were. Younger readers will know the company for blank DVDs, memory cards and USB memory sticks but Verbatim have recently launched an LED lighting business.

Offering direct plug-in replacements, the goal is to encourage consumers to replace existing incandescent lights with LED-based equivalents. The power savings can be considerable with 60 W bulbs being replaced by LEDs closer to 10 W in power.

Verbatim LED Lighting Demo

At The Gadget Show Live, Ian tells me more about Verbatim’s LED lighting products and why we should all switch over.


IDAPT Universal Multichargers at The Gadget Show



The need to charge today’s mobile gadgets on an almost daily basis is one of the downsides of faster processors and bigger screens. Although companies like Palm have tried to introduce inductive charging, most gadgets need to be simply plugged in. This leads to the proliferation of wall chargers and a mess of cables.

IDAPT‘s solutions bring order to the chaos with multi-device chargers that have interchangeable charging tips to suit the device being charged – smartphones, portable game consoles, tablets, digital cameras, even rechargeable batteries.

The i4 can charge three devices on top with a fourth on the side (right) and the i2+ takes two on top (bottom left). The i1 eco is a portable charger (middle) and only charges one device but is made from recycled plastic.

IDAPT Charging Units

The bright yellow IDAPT S1 Universal Speaker is shown below with an iPad but it’s device agnostic and uses Bluetooth rather than the device connector to transmit the music. I’ve been looking for a decent speaker dock that works with something other than an Apple device so I’ll be taking a hard look at this one.

IDAPT Loudspeaker Dock

I chat with Myles Pomfret, IDAPT’s country manager at The Gadget Show Live to find out more about these versatile chargers.


Fulton Innovation’s Wireless Charging



Fulton Innovation logoThe great thing about CES is that every now and then an unknown shows off something cool. I’d never heard of Fulton Innovation but they have smart products based around wireless power transmission. Todd learns more about eCoupled from Dave Baarman.

Fulton Innovation have developed an inductive coupling solution that scales from simply making a magazine cover light up as you walk past to being able to charge a whole bag of devices without taking them out of the bag. Electric cars could be recharged by parking in the right spot and not by plugging them in.

Not all of these products are ready for market just yet, but inductive charging efficiencies are on a par with plug-in chargers though economies of scale are needed to bring the prices down to a point where it’s built-in as standard. Palm’s Pre range of smartphones used inductive charging with the Touchstone and the Motorola Droid 4 has inductive charging as an option. As a Pre 3 owner, it’s brilliant not having to fiddle with cables and I hope more devices come to the market with inductive charging in 2012.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network, and Dave Lee from Waves of Tech.

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Green Plug Brings Control to AC-DC Conversion



Green Plug LogoAs energy prices rise and green credentials come under scrutiny, each step in the energy path is being examined for inefficiency. Andy and Courtney listen to Paul Panepinto from Green Plug on their technology.

Green Plug have developed a digital controller to optimise the conversion of electricity between AC and DC. For the non-engineers, AC (alternative current)  is what is in your wall socket and DC (direct current) is what most of your gadgets use. All those power bricks and wall warts are transformers combined with AC to DC converters to change 110 V AC to 12V / 5V DC.

Green Plug has pioneered the use of intercommunicating digital power and load processors to optimise the AC-to-DC power conversion and increase efficiency. It’s an area that has been typically overlooked in power management but Green Plug has reduced the implementation cost to make the inclusion of the technology cost-effective. Over the next few years, it’s likely that this technology will start to appear laptop and phone chargers, so keep an eye out for it.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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