Last week I reported on the upcoming availability of the “Medis 24-7 Power Pack” fuel cell power source. To recap; this portable device uses fuel cells and a chemical process to generate power, and has enough “juice” to charge your gadgets for up to 3 days of use.
The concept of fuel cells has been something that has always intrigued me, so when I got the chance to review this product in real life, I jumped on it. If you are into geeky stuff, you can read this Wikipedia article describing how the process works.
The Medis 24-7 Power Pack is available in 2 versions; a starter pack with the power cable and an assortment of power “tips” for $29.99, and a refill pack without the cables for $19.99.
The power pack itself is a small black box with some vents and a power connector on top. The pack is shipped in its “non activated” state, and has to be squeezed together to get the fuel cell process started. The device is sealed in an air tight bag and a green plastic strip is wrapped around the device to prevent it from being activated prematurely. The device weighs just 6.3oz (179 grams).
To activate the device, you remove the green strip and squeeze the top and bottom of the unit together till a gap at the bottom is fully closed. It takes some pressure to accomplish this, and the process can not be reversed; once you activate a power pack, it immediately starts making electricity until the fuel cell runs out. When you shake the unit, you clearly hear the liquids sloshing around. When the device is generating power, it is completely silent and it does not produce any heat.
Initially I had considered posting a full technical review, and digging out my multimeter to dazzle you with my amazing technical skills (I’m joking!), but I decided that it would be much easier to put the device through a “real world test”.
For the review, I’ll be using the 24-7 Power Pack with their Xtreme power cable along with a Blackberry Curve, a Nokia N78 and an HTC Touch Dual smartphone. These are all common devices, and the kind of device you might need an emergency power boost for when you are on the road.
The starter pack includes a MiniUSB tip, so Blackberry owners going all the way back to the old 7000 series devices will be able to use the Power Pack. In my case, I plugged the Power Pack into my Blackberry when it was at 42% battery life, which is the average for me after about 2 or 3 days. The Blackberry instantly detected a power source (as indicated by the plug symbol next to the battery) and started charging. About every 10 minutes, I checked the battery status menu and a little over an hour later, the device had reached 100%. This charging time is on par with the original charger delivered with my Blackberry.
HTC Touch Dual
The Touch Dual uses the same power tip as my Blackberry, and the results were similar. Getting the phone from 57% battery power to 100% took just under 40 minutes.
For my final test, I switched to a Nokia N78; this smartphone uses the Nokia power tip included with the Power Pack starter kit. Unlike my other tests, I waited to charge this phone until it was 100% drained (to the point where it would no longer turn on).
When I plugged the charger cable into the phone, nothing happened. According to the manual, this is normal; it can take several minutes for the phone to reach the stage where the charging circuitry actually has enough power to turn itself on. After about 2 minutes, the phone beeped once, and the display showed the charging process had started. With a completely drained Lithium-Ion battery, the 24-7 Power Pack took just over 2 hours 15 minutes to get the phone to 100% (the phone was turned off for this charge).
Fuel cell life
I first activated my 24-7 Power Pack three days ago, and since then I have charged 3 different devices 7 times. Most of those charges were from around 50% battery life (except for the Nokia N78, which received a 100% charge).
The specifications for the 24-7 Power Pack claim that the device can provide continuous power for about 20 hours. I’m currently on day 5 with the Power Pack, and it is still delivering enough power to charge my devices.
Flying with the Power Pack
One of my first questions about the 24-7 Power Pack was whether it would be allowed to come with you on board a commercial flight. Thankfully Medis have that covered, and the device has received a Department of Transportation approval. That approval is also printed on the device and the box.
A little bit about the “Xtreme power cable”
Medis has 2 different power cables for their 24-7 Power Pack; one is designed for low power devices, like the Motorola RAZR or an iPod Shuffle, the other is for high power devices like Smartphones and the iPod Nano/Classic.
The low power cable does not deliver enough continuous power to charge some devices, so you’ll need to check the Medis site to determine the cable you need. In most cases, a smartphone, PDA or MP3 player will require the Xtreme cable ($49.99).
The Xtreme cable is also quite a bit larger than the standard cable, but at just 2.5oz, it won’t take up too much space in your bag.
Unlike batteries, the Medis 24-7 Power Pack comes prepared for recycling. Included in the box is a zip-lock bag, and the side of the box has a return address for shipping the unit back to a recycling facility. The box is not postage-paid, so you will have to pay for returning it. Like all products, it’s “greenness” will depend on the discipline of the user.
Cost and final thoughts
I’ve already determined that the product actually works, so this brings me to the cost. There is no denying it; $20 for a non reusable, non rechargeable power pack is going to seem too steep to a lot of people. There is also no way I can come to the conclusion that it isn’t an expensive option.
The Medis 24-7 Power Pack is going to have a fairly narrow targeted audience, and the average traveler might not fit that profile. The advantages of the device don’t come to their full potential unless you find yourself in a situation where you are nowhere near a regular power source for several days, or where you are in a “life or death” situation holding a cell phone with a dead battery.
There are also some alternative products out there; I’ve previously covered a rechargeable battery power source that can recharge your device 2 or 3 times, this device is more portable. At $60, it is just 3 times more expensive than a 24-7 Power Pack refill kit. These battery packs do have a few drawbacks; they lose their capacity over time (a fully charged Lithium-Ion battery pack will lose between 20% and 35% capacity a year) and you will need an AC or USB power source to recharge it.
In the end, I really can’t do anything other than let you decide whether you think $20 is an acceptable investment for powering your devices, plus you’ll have to take into account the initial investment for the starter kit and/or Xtreme power cable. It is a fairly high price to pay, but there really isn’t any kind of similar product out there.
Personally, I think the
device is pretty cool, but I’ve got a weird geeky fetish for power products. I’ve spent far too much time traveling with a dead gadget to ever leave home unprepared again. If you travel a lot, and keeping in touch with people back home is important to you, then it might make sense to buy one of these and keep it in the box in the event disaster (or a dead battery) strikes.
The Medis 24-7 Power Pack will be on the shelves of your local Best Buy in early October which does prove that regular retail channels see some the same potential in this product that I see. Time will tell whether the concept is a successful one and whether consumers are willing to pay $20 for this kind of convenience.