Connected: Charging electronics with Power2U outlets

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Most families are past the point of no return with mobile devices. A typical family of five might have four to 10 devices between their smartphones, tablets, ebooks, music players and miscellaneous other portable devices. And each one has to be charged.

That typically means plugging in a cable. Thank goodness, we're seeing a few standards emerge in which the other end of the cable (away from your device) can be plugged into a USB port.

While some companies are still shipping power cables that plug directly into an AC outlet, the majority of the new devices that I'm seeing are replacing the AC cord with a connector that adapts the USB cord so it will plug into your standard AC outlet.

In either case, plugging all these devices into an AC outlet is a pain. It often means deciding not to plug in a lamp or toaster oven so you can plug in your phone. Some families have invested in a multi-device charger, which plugs into an AC outlet and provides multiple cords to plug into various devices. These work great, but still take up an AC outlet.

So charging your phone may mean skipping your toast at breakfast.

That's why I was intrigued when I learned about Power2U from Newer Technology, a wall outlet that includes two USB ports in addition to the standard two AC outlets you have on the walls throughout your home.

On the surface, it looks like a standard AC wall outlet - but there is a spring-loaded door on each side of the space between the two AC outlets that open to reveal two ports to plug in your devices.

According to the manufacturer, these two USB ports do not draw phantom current that could otherwise increase your electric bill. Examining the Power2U shows that opening the spring loaded doors also trips a switch to turn on the USB ports. Ingenious.

If you know how to install a standard wall outlet, you should be able to install the Power2U without any problems. It simply replaces your current outlet, including the wall plate; and the manufacturer ships the product with full instructions. They even color code the metal connectors so novices can identify which screws to use. Don't forget to turn off your power at the circuit breaker or fuse box first to make sure you don't electrocute yourself.

When you have completed your installation, you can barely tell that it's not a standard AC outlet.

But you'll know by your ability to plug in 2 USB devices and two standard AC devices at the same time without any additional multi-port adapters.

According to the manufacturer, the Power2U is for indoor use only. The instructions say it is normal for the battery in the device and the USB charger itself to generate some heat while charging. And the company recommends disconnecting the USB cable from the USB socket when not in use. Presumably, that's to avoid the phantom draw of electricity.

A single Power2U costs $25 in white, although an Internet search shows it as low as $15. It costs a few dollars more if you want it in black, light almond or ivory. If you like it so much that you want to equip your whole house with them, you can get substantial discounts buying packs of 10, 20 or 100. (I guess the 100 pack is for offices - or so you can supply your neighborhood.)

interact

Follow David Radin on Twitter @dradin or learn more at www.megabyteminute.com.


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