Gadling Gear Review: Smartphone Accessories

Smartphone Accessories: PowerTrip mobile charger
PowerStick

As smartphones have become more commonplace, an entire industry has sprung up around mobile accessories that have the ability to make our gadgets even more useful than they already are. Many of those accessories have been specifically designed to make travel more convenient as well. Here are a few items that may come in handy the next time you hit the road with your favorite smart device.

PowerTrip Mobile Charger ($99)
One of the biggest challenges of owning a smartphone is managing to keep it charged and fully operational for a full day. Answering emails, taking calls, sending text messages and surfing the Internet all require significant amounts of juice out of our phone’s power cells and as a result, more and more of us are carrying external battery packs to help keep them charged while on the go. Small, compact and lightweight battery packs are extremely affordable and portable these days. The problem is that most of them have a hard time standing out against the competition, as they all share similar characteristics and functionality. But the PowerTrip portable charger from PowerStick has several unique features that help to distinguish it from the crowd and make it a wise choice for travelers.In a sense, the PowerTrip is the Swiss Army Knife of portable battery packs. Sure, it is a little larger and thicker than some of the other options that are available from competitors but it also manages to pack quite a bit of technology into a relatively small space. Not only does this charger come with a built-in, collapsible AC power plug, it also has a small solar panel integrated into its case. While the AC adapter allows you to grab a quick charge from any available outlet, the solar panel is capable of generating energy from the rays of the sun. Both options come in handy when trying to keep your phone charged, although I found using the solar panel took a considerable amount of time and was often an exercise in patience. Like most battery packs of this type, the PowerTrip can also be charged via the USB port on your computer too. This level of versatility is really appreciated.

PowerStick has outfitted their mobile charger with a 6000 mAh battery, which is enough to recharge most smartphones roughly three times. The built-in USB port is capable of putting out up to 1.5 volts of power, which means it can even provide power to high-capacity devices such as the iPhone 5 or a fifth generation iPod Touch. It’ll even provide a little extra juice to an iPad, although it can’t fully charge a tablet.

Sturdy and rugged, the PowerTrip feels like it was designed to withstand the abuse that comes along with travel. This is the kind of gadget that you can toss in a backpack and not worry about whether or not it is going to arrive at your destination in one piece. PowerStick has even integrated flash storage into the device, offering the PowerTrip in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB versions. That means you can transfer your important documents to this on board memory and have them with you wherever you go.

If you’re looking for a tough, dependable portable battery for charging your smartphone, digital camera or other devices while traveling, the PowerTrip is an excellent option. While it is a bit bulkier than some of its competition, the built-in storage and AC power plug are nice additions. The solar panel is great in theory too, but it is slow to charge the internal battery, which makes it less useful than I would like. Otherwise, this is one of more versatile and well-equipped mobile battery packs that I’ve come across.

Smartphone accessories: The Spark Plug 2 car adapter
Blueflame

Blueflame Spark Plug 2 Car Charger ($39.99)
While a good portable battery pack can be a lifesaver when away from a power outlet, there is no need to use one while in your car. Instead, invest in a good car charger and keep your phone’s battery fully energized at all times. A car charger will allow you to use your phone’s GPS navigation without running your battery down. It’ll let you talk hands free for your entire road trip without having to hang up at the most inopportune time. It’ll even let you stream Pandora for hours on end and still be able to use your phone when you reach your destination. But like most things in life, not all car chargers are created equal and having the right one can make all the difference.

The Spark Plug 2 from Blueflame is quite possibly the best car charger that I’ve ever used. It features not one, but two, built-in USB ports so you can keep two devices charged at the same time. It has a compact design that makes it easy to fit into just about any 12V DC car adapter and it features excellent build quality that feels excellent in your hands. This charger is capable of putting out 2.1 amps per port, which means that even when you’re using your mobile devices to the full extent of their capabilities, you’ll still be able to keep them fully charged for the length of your trip. That includes smartphones, mp3 players and even tablets such as the iPad. That’s pretty impressive considering that in the past I’ve used some chargers that can barely keep my phone charged while using maps and GPS at the same time.

The Spark Plug 2 ships with a high-quality, 30-pin cable, which works on all Apple devices prior to the iPhone 5. If you’re using an iPhone, iPod or iPad newer than that, or a gadget from another company, you’ll need to supply your own Lightning adapter or standard USB cable. That adds a bit of an expense to a product that is already on the higher end of the car charger scale, but you do get an extremely high-quality product that does its job very well. This is the only car charger you’ll ever need and you’ll be glad you have it in your vehicle the next time your phone begins to die in the middle of the day.

Smartphone accessories: Lightning cable from Blueflame
Blueflame

Blueflame Lightning Cable ($29.99)
When Apple released the iPhone 5 last year they also introduced the new Lightning charging and sync cable. This smaller, 8-pin option allowed them to produce a device that was substantially thinner than any phone they had ever produced before. The same adapter was rolled over to the iPod Touch and the standard iPad, not to mention the Mini. At the time there was a lot of grumbling about why Apple would make this change, which rendered most older accessories incompatible with the new devices. Upon release, the new cable was hard to find and it was questionable whether or not third parties would actually be able to produce them. Turns out they can and Blueflame has made an excellent version of that very same cable.

This two-meter long cord provides plenty of length to connect your device to a USB port, no matter where it’s located. The high-quality, tangle-free cable is surprisingly thick and resistant to wear and tear as well, while both the USB and Lightning plugs are extremely durable and easy to insert or pull out of their respective ports. In short, this is a very nice cable that will likely leave you impressed with how well designed and built it is. Cheap cords can easily fray and become unusable, but Blueflame has created a product that feels like it will last longer than the device you’re actually plugging it into. That means you can take it with you on the road with a feeling of confidence that it’ll perform well when you need it most.

Apple charges $19 for a replacement Lightning cable in their stores but for ten bucks more you’re not only getting a cable that is twice as long, but also one of considerably higher quality. I’ve seldom been impressed by a mere cable before, but in this case I am most certainly impressed. This product is worth the praise and Blueflame has put together a very nice Lightning adapter that is well worth the money. They also happen to make a very high-quality, 30-pin cable for older Apple devices as well as an auxiliary audio connector and an auxiliary to RCA audio cable too. Each of them are of the same high quality as the Lightning cable and a good investment for audiophiles.