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Power Doodads for Techno-Travelers: With Great Power Responsibility Comes Several Pounds of Accessories

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Without access to power, those wonderful gadgets you haul along on your trip are just so much worthless hunks of metal and plastic. Daniel P. Dern details the stuff you really need to take along to make your portable devices valuable.
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As any techno-toting traveler knows, it's important that your notebook computer, PDA, cell phone, digital camera, MP3/CD/etc. player—and other powered techno-tools and toys—don't run out of power when you still want to use them.

While simply taking the chargers and batteries that came with your devices may be a good enough answer, a growing stack of options from vendors and third parties is worth considering, and may (or may not) save you some packing weight and space. (For comparison: The chargers and spare/extra batteries for my notebook, cell phone, PDA, and digital camera weigh just shy of three pounds.)

Here's a quick look at some of the leading options. What's best for you depends on your "travel power profile:" how often you expect to use these devices, whether power is available while you're using them or on break, and what type (AC, auto lighter, plane)—and, of course, how much you're willing to schlep.

Important disclaimer: Unless explicitly noted, I haven't tried and tested any of the equipment mentioned in this article. In some cases, I've been able to look at physical samples for a sense of bulk, usability, etc.


Be sure that any power accessory you consider is adequate for your equipment's requirements!

Powering Notebooks: The Main Event

For most techno-professionals, the notebook computer is the biggest power-eater, with the heaviest AC adapter.

Of course, you should start by setting your notebook's power options for maximum battery life, and by exploring the battery options that your vendor offers. For example, is a higher-capacity (possibly larger) battery available, and/or can your notebook accommodate a second battery, such as in a device bay?

Your vendor may also offer chargers that accommodate multiple types of power sources (car lighter and airplane jack) as well as AC. For example, IBM offers a 72-watt AC/DC combo adapter; vendors such as Dell and Fujitsu offer auto/air adapters.

Third-party chargers from APC, iGO, Targus, and others not only allow multiple power source types (auto, airplane), but can also charge your cell phone and/or PDA (see Figure 1).

Figure 1Figure 1 (Left to right) AC Adapter for my IBM ThinkPad; AC, auto/air DC Power combination adapters for notebook computers, PDAs, and cell phones (give or take additional cables); APC TravelPower Adapter; iGo Juice Adapter; Targus Universal AC/DC Notebook Power Adapter.

  • APC's TravelPower Case weighs in at 2 lbs. 3 oz. for the electronics only (excluding the bag), 75 watts (90 peak), with a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) of $99–129, depending on which case you choose. This package includes APC's TravelPower Adapter, and basically throws in the travel case itself. You can always use the Adapter and ignore the case.

  • The design lets you snake a single power cord out and charge your notebook, PDA, and phone all at the same time. Unlike with some alternatives, you have to manually set the voltage for the notebook tip, but you only have to do that once unless you change notebook computers. This may be the most flexible option in this category, and it includes some surge protection. On the minus side, however, at slightly over 2 lbs., this option is the heaviest of the lot by at least a pound.

  • iGo's Juice adapter (1 lb. 2 oz., 70 watts, MSRP $119.00) is more compact—and stylish. If you also want to charge your handheld or PDA, add iGo's Peripheral Powering System (PPS), for another $20 per device. (Note that each PPS adds disproportionate bulk to the pile of stuff, and you have to look carefully to figure out which cable goes where.)

  • Targus's Universal AC/DC Notebook Power Adapter (15 oz., 120 watts, MSRP $129.00) is the lightest-weight—comparable to my ThinkPad—and puts out the most power; for notebooks equipped with larger screens or CD burners, this may be the deal-maker. You can charge only one device at a time with this gadget, however.

General caveats: Make sure that the device includes a power tip for your specific notebook make and model; the term universal really just means that it accommodates many leading vendors' more popular current models.

While the capability to charge multiple devices is tempting, as it may let you leave behind half a pound or so of other chargers, there are other approaches, such as USB-charging cables that let you re-power your phone and PDA through your notebook. And if you're not bringing your notebook, these are overkill.

My recommendation: Targus's Universal AC/DC Notebook Power Adapter. Or just buy a spare from your vendor. You should have two AC adapters anyway: one for travel, one to leave at home, in case you lose/forget one on the road, which is all too easy to do. (And for IT support, a half-dozen of these make, for supported models, a more cost-effective way to stock up on spare AC adapters for your notebook users.)

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