Gift Guide 2013: POWER Gadgets

In general giving someone the gift of a device that can recharge the battery on their smartphone or tablet might not be on the top of your list. After all, people are generally more excited opening the box on their new phone, tablet or music player than a small black box with power prongs attached to it.

[HAPPY HOLIDAYS:See a listing of all the products of Network World's holiday gift guide]

But those new-fangled phones, tablets and music players won't have much excitement left to them once their batteries run out (and run out quickly). The following gadgets can help extend the life of those devices to make the music and videos play longer, or give the mobile professional just enough juice to make that critical phone call. While you may not give these as main gifts to your loved ones, consider them as accessories or attachments when springing for the big gift.

Product: Mojo Refuel Removable Battery Case for iPhone 5/5SCompany: ibattzPrice: $75Buy this if: You need additional battery life for your iPhone 5/5S and you don't mind having the extra weight of a case to go along with it.

One of the big differences of the iPhone 5 (and 5S) compared with earlier iPhone versions is how quickly you'll run out of battery (mainly a function of using the 4G network vs. a 3G one). Heavy-duty users that don't want to carry around a recharging cable, constantly looking for a free power outlet, will definitely want extra power in the form of a battery case. The Mojo Refuel Battery Case for iPhone 5/5S will do quite nicely, thank you very much.

The case not only gives you additional battery life for your phone, but it also gives you some case protection for when you accidentally drop the phone. The case includes the battery that slides into the back of the iPhone, and then side grips that snap on to provide additional protection (and those side pieces come in different color choices). The battery portion of the case also includes a removable battery, so you can purchase additional batteries if you need even more power. The amount of battery life you get from the phone is about double the life of the iPhone's internal battery -- again, heavy use will drain the battery more, so it's nice to have that extra reserve for the phone. The battery case will also add some weight to the phone, but users should be fine with the tradeoff in order to get that additional power.

The only downside was some slight difficulty in figuring out how to remove the case from the iPhone once it was connected -- it's a bit tricky and takes some practice, especially if you want to change the colors on the side unit. But most people would likely keep this case on their phone at all times, rather than reviewers who are constantly attaching and detaching cases for their phones.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw


Product: PowerDock 5Company: Griffin Technology:Price: $100Buy this for: The family who has more iDevices than power outlets.

At first glance, this type of docking station screams "You own too many iPhones and/or iPads!", as it allows you to recharge up to five different iOS-based (or other USB-based devices) off a single power outlet/cord. But then I realized I'm one of those people -- over the years we've obtained about five different iPads and a few different iPhones -- every time we upgrade we just allow the kids to use the older device, rather than resell or recycle them. If your household is like this, using a docking station like this can be a real spacesaver and outlet saver.

The unit includes six plastic "fences" that separate the charging station areas. You can place your device into each slot and connect your charging cable to one of the five USB ports. The PowerDock 5 provides 10 watts of power to the devices, more than enough to recharge those five devices. The unit doesn't come with any cables, so you'll have to buy those separately or remember where your cables are located.

Placing this in a central location can help you free up some precious power outlet space and provide a central location for the iPads/iPhones/iPods when they aren't being used by everyone else in the house.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw


Product: PocketPlug iPhone 5/5S Case + Charger In-OneCompany: ProngPrice: $70Buy this for: Any iPhone owner (4/4S versions also available) who needs a case and can easily find a power outlet (or they're sick of carrying charging cables around).

The Prong PocketPlug case takes the concept of a case that can also be used to recharge the device and adds a little twist. Instead of an extra battery inside the case, the PocketPlug embeds the two prongs of a plug into the case. With a finger flick, you can open the prongs and attach it to any free power outlet and begin recharging your iPhone. In our tests of the device, the design allows you to recharge on both the top plug and bottom plug without obstructing the open outlet (as long as you use a power adapter/brick that is small enough like a regular plug). We did have a few issues where the charger didn't work with specific outlets on a power strip, so a slight warning there.

Attaching the PocketPlug to the phone is quite easy -- the case has two parts, and the top parts slides out and then clicks back in after the phone is connected. I mention this because other one-piece cases may seem sturdier, but then are harder to attach/detach.

The PocketPlug case also comes with a micro USB pass-through port and cable, which lets you charge the phone via your computer's USB cable if you can't find an extra power outlet (or if you're also recharging the computer with the power outlet).  The design of the case also includes an audio enhancement feature, which boosts the sound of the iPhone's speaker and microphone.

I wasn't bothered by the extra weight that the case adds to the iPhone, although the enhanced audio portion of the case means that attaching headphone jacks or audio cables requires an additional adapter/extender. While the package does come with one, it could be annoying for users that use their phones with earbuds or audio cables in their cars.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw


Product: PowerFlaskCompany: Digital TreasuresPrice: $90Buy this for: A multiple-device mobile road warrior who doesn't mind the extra weight in order to recharge their devices; or fans of flasks.

When I was first pitched this device, I was more impressed with the idea of a mobile device charging unit that looked like a flask. It had a somewhat submersive nature to it, like "Hey, instead of sneaking in alcohol to this party, I'm sneaking in the ability to recharge my phone." But then I wondered why that would be such a sneaky thing anyway - nobody's looking for people who are trying to sneak in batteries anywhere.

The PowerFlask is a giant rechargeable battery, providing 13000 mAh of power to mobile devices, including iPad tablets. The unit comes with two cables and a bunch of adapters that let you recharge up to three devices at the same time - one of the cables splits to recharge two devices from one of the ports if you need it. One port provides 2.5A of power (for recharging an iPad), while the other provides 1A output (for phones). The unit also includes two flashlight LEDs that can be useful if you need a flashlight, and you can always use the PowerFlask as a heavy brick-like weapon if you're walking alone in the dark.

If you're looking for a way to recharge your tablet and other devices (or share with colleagues or complete strangers), the PowerFlask is right up your alley. The only downside is the bulk of the unit - it's relatively heavy, so I'd only recommend using this if you really need the extra power - other options are available for users that could include other snap-on attachments, or even finding locations like coffee shops or airports where power outlets are available. Barring those, however, the PowerFlask is a nice-to-have alternative.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw


Product: Link 1000i5 rechargeable backup battery for iPhone 5/5SCompany: iWALKPrice: $45Buy this for: Any iPhone 5/5S owner who travels frequently and needs a 50% boost in their battery at a moment's notice.

The Link 1000i5 has a horrible name but that won't really matter when you're facing a low battery alert on your iPhone 5 or 5S and you need to make an important phone call or text message. The 1000 mAH snap-on battery can give up up to 50% extra battery life for your device, and includes a Lighting connector, replacing all of those other snap-on batteries that used the old universal connector.

The unit is small enough to fit into your laptop bag - it's so small, in fact, that you might lose it inside the bag. The unit comes with two  cases to help protect the Lighting connector from snapping off (a nice touch), and it recharges via an included USB cable. Recharging the Link unit is done either by connecting the cable to a USB port on a computer, or you have to attach it to a power outlet adapter (not included). The good part - the battery and a connected iPhone will recharge simultaneously.

One downside - the unit doesn't fit correctly when you have a case attached to your iPhone. But for those times when you don't have an available power outlet and you can't boot up your computer to do a recharge, this battery pack is a very mobile and convenient way to give your phone some extra juice.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: Keith Shaw


Product: Mugenizer N11 Portable Wireless Charger Power BankCompany: Mugen PowerPrice: $70 (direct)

I guarantee you there's no one on your list that wouldn't like an external USB battery. Seriously.

With so many devices now sporting non-removable batteries, and with recharging devices via USB on the verge of universality, the Mugen Power Mugenizer N11 is perfect for busy people on the go -- especially busy people who, like me, forget to re-charge their numerous devices before heading out for the day. But wait; there's more.

The N11 is simple -- plug it in (the required transformer is included, a plus, or it can be charged over USB), charge it up, and -- well, that's about it. There's a line of LEDs that show how much charge is left, either coming or going. It provides the usual 5V/1A service. It's also fairly small and light -- about the size and weight of a larger smartphone. The reason for the form factor, by the way, and a potential bonus if your phone is so equipped, is support for the QI wireless charging standard. It's looking likely that more devices will include this over time. And the unit is rated at 4.8 Amp-hours, which means that it can likely recharge multiple devices before it needs to be plugged back into the wall.

So, then, ease of use, convenience, and wireless charging if you want it. The downside? This product is relatively expensive. But the many features here add up to a great value as well. Sometimes, bigger, and a little higher price, are indeed better.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: C.J. Mathias


Product: RP-PB08 Power BankCompany: RavPowerPrice: $20 (Amazon; I got mine for $13 on special at Newegg)Buy this as: Stocking stuffer for your mobile worker looking for a backup battery for their USB-charged mobile devices.

Looking for a small backup battery for USB-recharged mobile devices? This stocking-stuffer just might fit the bill -- no, I mean it, this product will fit even in the smallest stocking or computer bag.

This palm-sized unit is actually a 2600 mAh lithium-polymer battery that looks like a small flashlight. Hey, wait a minute, it is (also) a flashlight, and a bright one at that. Available in black or silver (with the silver version being the same price but rated at 3000 mAh), and weighing in at just 2.5 ounces, operation of this power supply couldn't be simpler. Connect it to a powered USB port (or use an external AC to USB adapter, which, sadly, is not included) to charge it, and then connect it to any USB-powered device for charging that. It provides the usual 5V/1A service. There are four LEDs to indicate how much charge is left in the unit, but you can expect to be able to recharge a handset (once) without too much trouble. Keep this in your bag or purse, remember to charge it up every now and then, and it just might save your life - whether you're about to run out of juice on your phone or your simply lost in the dark. This is a great gift for just about anyone, and the low price places it firmly in the impulse-buy category.

Cool Yule Elf / Reviewer: C.J. Mathias

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