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External Battery Roundup: Stay Away From The Wall Socket

External Battery Roundup: Stay Away From The Wall Socket
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Battery life is always such a big deal in our mobile coverage (often because gaming systems fall so short). But don't feel limited by the built-in power source. Today we round up 15 external batteries that can keep you running longer away from a socket.

Shopping for a notebook involves a delicate balance between battery life, performance, usability, and price. No two users share the exact same criteria for what they consider the right blend. That’s why we try to evaluate mobile platforms based on their perceived strengths. Take last year's Netbook Buyer’s Guide as an example. We considered the fact that some buyers are willing to spend more for battery life and forgo a bit of performance. Others are willing to pay an extra $100 or $150 to get both. Another group cares more about usability. The list of ways to break even this one specific market into tiny pieces goes on and on.

Credit: Jake EdmonsonCredit: Jake Edmonson

If battery life is your number one priority, shopping choices are limited. Clearly, there are notebooks designed for those on the move. But what if you don't want to sacrifice elsewhere to get that mobility? Maybe you just need another hour of run time to get your current notebook through the day. If that's the case, a brand new system doesn't make much sense. 

Even if you already own a notebook that delivers ample battery life, we're certain that there are travel days when even a power-sipping system just doesn't have enough juice to last through closing time. If you spend a lot of time on the road, layovers don’t provide enough time at an AC jack to get you back to 100%. That might mean your in-flight entertainment gets interrupted right before the big climax. Sleeping, talking to unwilling neighbors, and hitting on flight attendants only eats so much time. What other options are there?

There is a solution, though. Check out an extended laptop battery, which comes in the form of an even larger installed battery pack compatible with your existing system. There is a big catch. These batteries (often denser six-cell or nine-cell) weigh down your machine, altering its mobile profile. These batteries stick out the backside of your notebook like a sore thumb, and can turn a sleek thin and light notebook into a clunky desktop replacement.

Fortunately, there is another option, too: universal extended batteries. These batteries don’t plug into your system directly. Instead, they function similar to uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), which we often associate with safeguarding desktops. They are always external units, but often have a small profile that makes them easier to pack for travel, offering higher densities than extended batteries can't provide. And if that wasn't enough, you generally get the ability to charge your cell phone, iPod, and camera from them as well.

After we published our Netbook Buyer’s Guide, one reader posed a question about mobility in the comments. So, during the past two months, we hunted down just about every available solution capable of extending the battery life of your notebook. If you're on the go, this story is for you.

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  • 0 Hide
    lashabane , March 9, 2011 5:18 AM
    Excellent article. I had an idea that this stuff was out there but never really bothered to look. If the 4-5 hours I get from my Asus 1215t begins to not cut it, I now know where to look. Thanks!
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , March 9, 2011 6:41 AM
    I did not understood any of the technical reading especially the part about the desktop PSU.
    At one point, it is stated that AC adapters have higher voltage than the battery on a notebook so that it can be charged. Then, how can a external battery damage a notebook's electronics with a higher voltage (only if it's too high)?

    It is not stated how to set the external battery voltage correctly. What then is the correct voltage? Correct me but I believe the voltage has to be equal that of notebook battery.
  • 0 Hide
    burnley14 , March 9, 2011 1:22 PM
    It's pretty remarkable that after page 2 I could guess who the author of this article was (without looking of course) due to the thoroughness and good grammar/lack of typos. Hats off to you yet again, Mr. Ku. Job well done as always.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 9, 2011 1:43 PM
    @zodiacfml

    it's simple really, AC adapter spit out AC, Batteries spit out DC
  • 0 Hide
    nukemaster , March 9, 2011 2:16 PM
    zodiacfmlI did not understood any of the technical reading especially the part about the desktop PSU.At one point, it is stated that AC adapters have higher voltage than the battery on a notebook so that it can be charged. Then, how can a external battery damage a notebook's electronics with a higher voltage (only if it's too high)? It is not stated how to set the external battery voltage correctly. What then is the correct voltage? Correct me but I believe the voltage has to be equal that of notebook battery.

    Your guess is actually right. The battery with its voltage set too high can damage the notebook.
    If you need to know the voltage required, you just check on your laptop AC adapter or power brick. It is not always the same as the battery.

    For instance, a Compaq R3000 has an 18.5 volt AC->DC(120w) power supply and its battery is only 14.5 volts. The voltage regulators in the laptop(in the charging system) it self cut it down to the needed 14.5-15volts to charge the battery.

    Also note that the AC adapter does NOT spit out AC it in fact spits out DC(it has a rectifier to convert AC to DC).

    As you can see by this picture(you have to click the link), The adapter takes in AC 120V and spits out DC 18.5V. AC is shown with a ~ and DC with a --_---_-- cant make it on here, but you get the point.
    http://img269.imageshack.us/img269/1950/powerw.jpg
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , March 9, 2011 2:55 PM
    Thanks for the comments on Digipower. I've placed them on my personal "Do Not Buy" list.
  • 0 Hide
    Luscious , March 10, 2011 6:29 AM
    Quite a different experience on my end testing the Energizer XP8000 and XP18000.

    For my smartphone and MiFi, the XP8000 just can't be beat. 5x runtime guarantees me 20+ hours of 3G broadband and week-long phone use. Being barely bigger than a Blackberry, I can effortlessly stash the XP8000 on my belt, and charge my smartphone while I walk.

    The XP18000, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment. Using a Toshiba NB305 netbook, it was incapable of recharging the factory 6-cell battery while powered on, and could not provide 2 full charges while powered off. For my usage scenario, that's a failure, as I plug in the external battery when my netbook hits 3% critical, right before Windows does a force shutdown, allowing me to continue working.

    Using this deplete-charge-deplete approach SHOULD allow me 14+ hours of continuous power-on time, except that even the beefy XP18000 couldn't get through 1 netbook charge. Had it been capable of providing one full charge powered on, or two full charges powered off, I would have recommended the XP18000 as well.

    http://lgponthemove.blogspot.com/2010/07/accessory-corner-3-energizer-xp18000.html
  • 0 Hide
    a_fortiori , March 11, 2011 3:05 AM
    Nice article. I wonder if these units can be used as a mini-ups for equipment like a NAS, routers and modems. It would be great if you could wire these with the NAS, and be sure that a power outage wouldn't damage the NAS. Considering that the NAS units typically consume much less power than a notebook, these should be able to cover 4-5 hrs of power outage (?) Any thoughts?
  • 0 Hide
    shineon2010 , March 15, 2011 6:12 PM
    Very good info , alot of products that im having second thoughts about.
  • -1 Hide
    junixophobia , March 15, 2011 8:24 PM
    shineon2010Very good info , alot of products that im having second thoughts about.


    Just buy an automatic inverter that works for hours with a car battery
  • -1 Hide
    junixophobia , March 15, 2011 8:25 PM
    shineon2010Very good info , alot of products that im having second thoughts about.


    Just buy an automatic inverter that works for hours with a car battery
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 15, 2011 8:33 PM
    Im missing the portable powerstation, especially the spps-200.
    i wonder how that scores against the others.
    i think they are from novuscell
  • 0 Hide
    junixophobia , March 15, 2011 8:35 PM
    sorry guys, just gettin the hang of this...
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , March 15, 2011 9:39 PM
    If you deep-cycle a car battery, you'll kill it in a matter of weeks, as its thin plates deteriorate. For deep-cycle applications, you want to get an AGM battery, containing much thicket plates; and even then you don't want to drop the SOC too much between charges, perhaps 60% is the lowest you should go.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 13, 2011 10:54 PM
    Carrying an extra battery adds a lot of weight. And once the battery is depleted, you are dead in the water if the power socket is out of reach.

    If I am going off grid, I would rather bring a solar panel and charge the battery I already have in my device.

    http://leicadig.blogspot.com/2011/04/digital-camera-off-grid.html
  • 0 Hide
    acku , April 13, 2011 10:56 PM
    Which sonar panels are you looking at? I use Brunton myself.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
  • 0 Hide
    agnius , April 13, 2011 11:13 PM
    I am debating between Brunton, Powerfilm and Voltaic.
  • 0 Hide
    acku , April 13, 2011 11:14 PM
    I have all three. What's holding up your decision?
  • 0 Hide
    agnius , April 13, 2011 11:34 PM
    Andrew,

    According to my calculations I would need about 25-30W to power/charge a netbook directly and charge my camera battery.

    In theory Solaris 26 could do the job, but I am not sure - I have not read any reports about it. I was planning running Targus DC adapter from Solaris 26 straight into a netbook (I had HP Mini but it broke so now I am looking at Lenovo X120e as a replacement).

    Also, I read that CIGS panels after being stored in the dark take days to reach their peak output. Solaris is CIGS, PowerFilm 30W is silicon which does not have that problem.

    But PowerFilm 30W is also considerably larger which makes it less feasible to deploy while riding. Hence I am looking at Voltaic panels which are much smaller, but I am not sure how to route power without an intermediate battery from them (because they are 20V).

    I am stuck in this decision loop while looking for more information.
  • 0 Hide
    acku , April 13, 2011 11:38 PM
    Are you only trying to charge the camera and netbook at the same time? I assume the camera charger requires an AC outlet?
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