XPower: A Wall Socket to Go

We live in an a golden age for portable gizmos.

Wherever we go we can take our computers, telephones, personal organizer, digital cameras, video camcorders and satellite radios with us.

However, along with those gadgets, we also take along — if we’re away from an electrical outlet for any length of time — a gnawing anxiety about running out of power.

There are ways to mollify that anxiety.

Extra Batteries

Never leaving home without extra batteries is one of them. That can be a reasonable alternative if your gadget runs on alkalines, but less attractive if it uses rechargeables. Purchasing an extra lithium ion battery, though, can be a crash diet for a fat wallet.

Since leaving home usually entails an automobile, an auto charger may offer some solace.

If you’re away from a wall socket for a prolonged period of time, however, auto chargers can be problematic. On a vacation, for instance, you may be using your car for short trips — not enough time to fully charge a device.

What’s more, some car models turn off their power outlets when you cut the engine, so you can’t charge your device when your wheels aren’t running.

You Can Take It With You

Another solution to juice jitters is to take a portable battery charger on your trip, like the Powerpack Solar 400 XPower (US$141.45), by Xantrex.

The XPower is like having a wall outlet with a handle. You can run a laptop from it for three hours, a table lamp for almost two hours, a 13-inch color TV for an hour an and a half, even a 3/8-inch drill — albeit for only 17 minutes.

Admittedly, at 12.3 pounds, the XPower does weigh considerably more the faceplate of a wall outlet, but while weighty, the unit is relatively compact. It’s about the size of an old Compaq lunchbox lugable — 10.5-by-15-by-4.5 inches.

The XPower uses a lead acid battery. It can be charged through AC or solar power.

A solar panel, which is rated at five watts, is recessed into the side of the unit. It can be detached from device, although connected to it with a cord, for more flexible positioning toward the sun.

If you don’t want to detach the panel, there’s a stand at the back of the charger that allows you to create a better angle for capturing sunlight with the device.

Lots of Receptacles

On the side of the unit there’s an array of input and output receptacles.

There are two AC sockets. They accept standard North American three-pronged plugs and can pump out 320 watts of continuous power and up to 400 watts of peak power.

There’s a DC socket that accepts car-charger plugs. If you have a device like a cell phone with both AC and DC adapters, the DC socket in the XPower eliminates the need to take two adapters with you.

The powerback also includes a DC to DC cable so you can charge it from your car battery.

What’s more, there’s a mini-USB port on the XPower so you can charge devices that use that form of replenishment.

Lastly, there’s an AC charging port for charging the XPower itself from a wall outlet with the included AC adapter.

Cure for Power Wobbles

Another useful feature designed into the power package are twin LED lamps at each end of the unit.

Controls for the unit and information LEDs are clustered in a control panel on top of the device.

As with anything electrical, you should be concerned with safeguards. The XPower has several of them.

If you plug in an appliance that draws more than 400 watts from an AC socket, the unit will automatically shut off the receptacle.

If the unit starts to overheat, it will automatically power down.

Finally, when the battery gets low, an audible warning will be sounded and subsequently the the unit will turn itself off to avoid excessive discharge, which can harm the battery.

For sufferers of the power wobbles, the XPower Powerpack Solar 400 can be a welcome palliator.

John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].

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