If you’re glued to your smartphone, you’re probably used to your gadget running out of juice at an inopportune time. And while mobile phones always come with their own chargers, battery and electronics companies are betting that they might not be enough.
Battery makers Energizer (Stock Quote: ENR) and Duracell (Stock Quote: PG), solar-powered device maker Powertraveller and other companies make their own charging devices to power phones on the go, charge them wirelessly or without access to a wall outlet at all.
And while they may not be all the rage yet, according to Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Devices Technology and Trends group, early adopters have been excited about these gadgets and they could prove useful for even everyday tech users as well.
Here’s a look at some of the more popular aftermarket phone chargers out there.
The Duracell myGrid
Pros: In theory, all you do is attach a Power Sleeve or Power Clip to your phone’s power outlet, set it down onto the myGrid mat, and it will charge wirelessly. You can charge up to four devices on the myGrid and they charge just as fast as they would with standard chargers, according to Duracell.
Cons: In practice, if you have a Blackberry, the Power Clip may need to be attached upside down because of your plug orientation, which means you’ll end up having to put your phone face-down on the mat to let it charge.
And that could potentially cause an embarrassing accidental call or at least prevent you from easily checking whether you’ve received any messages. And when we first received our test model, it was missing the vital back clip that helps channel electricity into the cell phone battery and the kit didn’t include instructions either. Not a good sign.
Pros: Like the myGrid, the Powermat Charger is a long mat that charges phones wirelessly. It comes with a power supply and eight different power tips that make the charger compatible with hundreds of different devices, according to the manufacturer, Alternative Wireless.
Plus the mat has one benefit that your traditional charger doesn’t have. “The technology in the mat itself stops charging after the device is fully charged, which a normal charger doesn’t do,” Eisenstein adds. “It gives you the right amount of power for the right amount of time.”
Cons: While the Powermat might be more attractive than the Duracell myGrid, and the cases fit around the back of your phone so you can charge it right side up, the Powermat it can only charge three devices at a time while the myGrid can charge four. Also, the Powermat is pricier. For the mat and three phone receivers, you could easily end up paying $220.
Price: $99.95 for a home office mat and between $29.99 and $39.99 for a receiver.
The PowerMonkey eXplorer Solar Charger
Pros: The PowerMonkey is an incredibly versatile gadget. It comes with solar cells, a battery pack and numerous little adapters. The solar cells can be connected to the battery pack or to your device directly. At night, or when weather conditions aren’t favorable, you can just plug in the battery pack to charge it. It even comes with adapters that allow you charge up your battery pack even when you’re traveling outside of the U.S.
Cons: There are so many little pieces that come with this gadget that it could be a bit much to carry and all too easy to lose on a trip, especially if you’re backpacking through Europe, for instance. And if you have no access a wall outlet and the skies darken, you may be in trouble. That is unless you have your regular charger and you, like most people, plug in at night when you sleep.
Energizer XP 2000
Pros: This simple pocket cell phone charger is essentially a portable battery you can use to charge your phone when it runs out of juice, no matter where you are. You can charge the battery by plugging it into a wall or via a USB. And it can charge your cell phone up to three times one on charge, according to the company. And this one lasted longer than Duracell’s similar Instant Charger did in our tests.
Cons: Like any rechargeable battery, if you use it enough, the amount of charge it holds can dwindle.
Duracell Instant Charger
Pros: This charger is more compact than the Energizer pocket charger we tested, and it has an on-off switch that lets you control exactly when you start and stop charging.
Cons: The company’s spec sheet says this gadgets provides “up to 35 hours of extra power,” but it couldn’t even provide a full charge for a dead Blackberry Curve.
Price:$31.43.So Why Spend the Money?
All of these gadgets are potentially useful, and kind of fun. But do they save us any money?
Unlike regular chargers, both the myGrid and the Powermat will stop sending energy to your phones when they’re fully charged, the companies say. But the cost savings there are pretty much negligible, but that ability may actually help preserve your battery.
“One of the biggest reasons why batteries die quickly is that you let it charge overnight” when you only need to charge your phone for about four hours, says Llamas of IDC. Constant current coming from a regular wall charger “helps kill your battery,” he explains.
And while a solar-powered phone charger doesn’t require any electricity at all, the amount of money you save on electricity costs will probably be negligible as well.
But for those who’ve been holding on to an old phone with a weak battery, you can keep that old brick working longer and put off buying a new phone by buying a simple portable charger like Energizer’s XP 2000.