You don't usually think to buy a portable charger until you find yourself really needing one. In my case, I didn't realise how much I needed one until Angus suggested that I take DroidAX's PortaCharge with me on a two-week trip to Western Australia. It didn't take long for it to become a necessity along with the sunscreen and bottled water.In early December, I was loaned the Samsung Galaxy Nexus to review. I had about four weeks to put Google's highly anticipated Ice Cream Sandwich device through its paces. Unfortunately, I found the battery life to be one of the worst that I've ever experienced on a smartphone. If I didn't top up the charge at some point during the day, it would be dead by mid-afternoon. Google and Samsung made a phone so delightful to use that I found myself using it more than I would any other phone. No wonder it didn't last a single day.
The $49.95 DroidAX PortaCharge arrived just in time for my trip, and I was happy to see that it did exactly what it said it would do on the box. It describes itself as a mobile, compact, simple-to-use, portable power supply that lets you have your mobile devices charged "whenever and wherever you go". Inside the box you get a universal power adaptor with USB port and 1.2m cable for charging the device itself, the 10-in-1 USB cable and a travel pouch. It weighs in at 168g and measures 105mm x 78mm x 16mm -- comfortable in the hand if a little wider than I liked.
On one side is a 1A USB output, while the other side has the 2A USB output. Both had a maximum output power of 20W, but the 2A output proved to be only marginally quicker than the 1A in my testing. It would take around two hours to charge the Galaxy Nexus from empty to full, with about half an hour separating the 1A output and the 2A output. I was pleased with the charging speeds, but as you can see in the graphs below, the fast-charge stops at the 75 per cent mark and slows down.
Charging via the 2A output on left; charging via 1A output on right.
The LED display is a useful inclusion, as you can quickly see how much charge it has left in it. While you can't charge the PortaCharge while it is charging other devices, it can juice up more than one device at a time. It also wins points for durability -- I dropped it a couple of times with no consequences.
My Galaxy Nexus review unit came with a UK plug, so my original plan was to take an adaptor so I could charge it as much as possible while at the beach house and carry the PortaCharge around for emergencies. But that's not how things went down. I was still on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit throughout the holiday, plus I was constantly on Google looking up touristy things to do and using the GPS for directions. Inevitably, the Galaxy Nexus ended up being hooked to the PortaCharge whenever I thought to do so, and my boyfriend would also use it to top up the battery on his iPhone.
There's nothing wrong in its simplicity, but it lacks a polish that would make the PortaCharge really stand out from its competitors. My only real gripe is over the 10-in-1 cable not being colour-coded, and the USB end of the microUSB tip being fiddly to the point that it won't charge if it's tilted. It refused to charge a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v that we had in the office, but it had no problems charging a pair of headphones, iPads, iPhones, iPods and Android phones.
In theory, the 5400mAh PortaCharge should be able to fully charge a smartphone device like the Galaxy Nexus three times before needing to be charged itself, but since there's no way to tell it to stop charging something that reaches 100 per cent battery, you're likely to end up having to connect the PortaCharge to the wall sooner than you'd like. While I was using the PortaCharge on holidays, each day would usually end with the PortaCharge on empty and the Galaxy Nexus on about a quarter of its battery.
Now that I'm back home and no longer have the Galaxy Nexus, I find myself only using the PortaCharge in the evenings when I'm watching TV with my Motorola Atrix. I'll plug the phone to the PortaCharge and use it while it charges. Yes, it's annoying to have to remember charge yet another device, but if you're a smartphone addict and don't have access to a wall plug or a computer to charge it, the PortaCharge does the job at a reasonable price.
Lifehacker Australia night editor Elly Hart needs to take more holidays. The Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.