When the power grid is close at hand, most smartphones and tablets have no problem lasting through a full day. But take that plentiful electricity away, and keeping our gadgets going becomes more difficult — despite many recent advancements, battery technology hasn't kept up with our constant need for more power. And given that these days we're taking our gear to more — and more-remote — places than ever before, having enough durable power is even more of a challenge.
Of course, some will argue that taking technology camping, for example, is silly when you're trying to escape the trappings of city life. But a mobile phone can, quite literally, be a lifesaver in an emergency, and portable power does more than keep your iPhone running longer, since all sorts of devices, from radios to hand warmers to flashlights, can use a USB port as a source of power. Even in an urban setting, you want to be sure your mobile devices continue to work when the power goes out, especially given the ever-quicker demise of landline communications.
I tested a number of portable chargers, batteries, and accessories designed for off-the-grid use, some of which can work indefinitely out of reach of a power outlet. As it turns out, during the several months that it took to work on this article, the city I live in suffered severe flooding and a record-setting ice storm, each of which left me without power for several days, giving me ample opportunity to test many of the devices in settings that were uncomfortably realistic.
Before getting to the stars of the review, a general recommendation: Most of these accessories do not include the necessary cables for charging your phones and tablets, and the cables that come with your devices may not cut it in a demanding environment where they may get trampled on, compressed, or exposed to environmental agents. I encourage you to consider adding a rugged third-party cable to your backpack or emergency kit. My current favorite is Tylt's $30 Syncable, which comes in a variety of easily recognizable colors, as well as both Lightning-connector and Micro-USB versions. Over several months of very demanding use, the Syncable I've tested has proven to be practically indestructible.
Bracketron's $80 SmartLantern (4.5 of 5 rating) is tiny and lightweight enough that I could toss it in my backpack without a second thought. It holds a 7800-mAh rechargeable battery, enough to fully charge your iPhone four or five times. The 2.1A output will also juice up an iPad, though fewer times — and more slowly than the iPad's own charger.
Adding to the SmartLantern's versatility is a tiny — but surprisingly bright (64 lumens) — eight-LED light. That bulb can be used either as a flashlight or, by sliding the top of the SmartLantern out of the main enclosure, as a lamp that can easily illuminate a tent or (more dimly) your average-size living room. Bracketron says a full battery charge should provide up to 48 hours of illumination.
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