We were carrying a dead cell phone a few days ago, afloat in a kayak and no way to recharge. Aha, we collectively thought: This calls for another gadget.

Portable power for cell phones, Blackberries, Apples and other assorted fruit is becoming a must-have. Fortunately, there are dozens of companies eager to provide.

·  One simple solution is a power adapter that plugs into a car’s cigaretteKensington charger lighter socket. We have one of these gadgets from Kensington (, and it costs about $10. It weighs less than an ounce. One end plugs into the lighter socket, and the other end has a standard USB port.

Now a lot of devices are able to take on power through a USB cable. You need an adapter to fit on that cable, but these are commonly available.

If you don’t want to keep tripping over a cable lying on the floor of the car, you can get retractable ones from a number of vendors. We have one from Keyspan ( Both ends retract into a little black holder about the size of a squashed gumball. These retractables cost around $5 to $10, depending on where you get them.

·  But what if you’re not in your car when you need this extra power? What if you’re up a creek without a paddle, tracking through the jungle or lost in the mountains? Fear not, there are solutions. makes a fashionable-looking solar charger that opens like a Japanese fan. Open it up, point it at the sun and you’re in business. Cost is $100. Solar Style charger

For much less, we found an SC002 Sun Kit charger for $30 at, and it seems to perform essentially the same function. It looks like a small paperback book, and when you open it up — viola! as we say in fractured French — there are two solar panels, and if the sun is shining, you’re in business. Both these devices come with connectors that attach the solar cells to a wide variety of devices, mostly cell phones.

Ah, but what if the sun isn’t shining? What if you’re trapped inside a wrecked building, stuck in a tunnel, riding on a train, etc.? Well then, you should be carrying a portable power cell that you previously had the foresight to charge up while you were at home or the office.

We recently got one of these from England. It’s called PowerMonkey, from, and it looks really neat, like a miniature torpedo. It comes with more connections than a long-term politician and costs $70. Unfortunately, we couldn’t connect it to anything and couldn’t even charge it up.

A Web store called sells Charge2Go for $20. This is a holder that contains a rechargeable AA battery, plus connectors to fit a lot of cell phones. It’s cheap and lightweight, but limited to low power requirements.


As long as we’re willing to look at items costing as much as $70, APC’s Mobile Power Pack UPB10 (another catchy product name) looks good. It measures 2 by 8 by 10 inches, weighs 1 pound, and offers up to 55 hours of rechargeable run time for cell phones, iPods, digital cameras, portable game players, etc. We found it for $60 at Amazon and other online vendors. APC has been in the power backup business since the Earth cooled.

·  But what if it’s dark, you’re inside a building collapsed by an earthquake, and you forgot to recharge the portable backup battery for your cell phone? Jeez, Louise, you are in trouble. Still, there’s hope: You can buy a wind-up charger. These are like the wind-up wall phones you see in old movies, only palm size. You turn a crank and this generates enough current to charge a battery or condenser with roughly equal time in low-voltage electric current. In other words: two minutes of cranking, two minutes of talking. They typically come with a built-in flashlight as well as a socket for connecting the phone.

Where do you find these things? You Google them. Google has become a verb, of course. We were talking to a friend in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and asked him a technical question (he’s a physics professor), and he said, “Did you Google it?” Did we Google it? Whaddaya think, we’re some kind of low-tech ninnies? Of course we Googled it. If you go to and type in the words “wind-up chargers,” it will bring up pictures and prices of a whole lot of cranks. They generally cost around $10 to $30.

If you have stuff with weird sockets, and you don’t know where to get the right connector or whether a certain charger has that connector, visit the Web site for, which has taken the useful step of listing manufacturers’ model numbers and what goes with them. Or: Google it. Gotta go now; we have a call coming in.


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