Avoid Panic on Planes, BYO Chargers for iOS and Android

[Originally appeared on Lawtechnologynews.com, June 12, 2014]

If you find yourself casing every room you enter for the nearest power outlet so you can charge your phone, you’re now in luck. Better batteries and innovations in cords  make staying charged easier than ever, and they fit in your pocket or on your key chain.

On a recent flight, the young man sitting next to me was despondent. His Apple Inc. MacBook Pro laptop was almost out of power—and his iPhone had just died. “Do you have a spare charger?” he plaintively asked. But I was no help: I’m an Android guy and my connector—a micro USB—is worthless to an Apple guy. I shook my head, and he was left pondering what to do with the 30 minutes remaining until we landed.

On the one hand, if your phone dies, it is a great excuse for a bit of peace and quiet. But the reality of law practice is that you want to be available to your clients. No one wants to be power outlet hunting or hurrying callers—”my phone’s battery is about to quit”—when a bit of preparation can prevent panic.

Better Cords

When I am going away, I often pack a nest of cords. Fortunately, because most of my devices—tablet keyboard, phone, hands-free headset—are micro USB, I could just take one. But I like to have more than one in case I need to charge more than one thing at a time. When I’m just out of the office but not traveling, these cords tend to bulk up a pocket or require a man purse.

San Francisco-based Nomad Goods is trying to simplify this. The company provided me with a free charge card and charging key; both have now become a regular part of my gear. The card and key are essentially two ways of delivering the same gadget. The card fits cleanly into a credit card slot in your wallet; the key fits on your key ring, so you can always have it handy.

The charge key will bend but is firm. I have only had it a short time but I would be surprised if the wires inside ever break. Because it has a USB connector at the other end, it can do double duty as both charger and connector. You can transfer files to and from your device just as you would with any other cord. The key and card run $29 each and are available for iOS and Android devices.

Samsung Android tablet charging with RAV Element external battery using NomadGoods charge key to charge Bluetooth keyboard
Samsung Android tablet charging with RAV Element external battery using NomadGoods charge key to charge Bluetooth keyboard

Portable Power

Nomad eliminates my need for a cord for most of my devices. But what about power? I bought a RAVPower RP-PB07 Element 10400mAh External Battery to fill that gap. There are many external batteries available and prices are all over the map. The most important thing is to figure out what you’re going to power with it and make sure it has enough juice. For example, the Element is mostly good for phones, although it has two different charging levels. The higher level can very slowly charge up my Samsung tablet, when it’s powered off.

The Element comes with micro USB chargers but has powered up everything I’ve plugged into it so far, including iPhones. I like that the unit is recharged using its own micro USB cable; reverse it and plug it into a USB-to-power outlet adapter to recharge the external battery.

Now, when I’m out of the office, I can easily pack my power to go with me. The Element is the size of a very fat iPhone and fits easily into a coat or back pocket. Because I always carry keys, in my pocket or luggage, my charge key is always handy. If it hadn’t be for that poor Apple user, I probably wouldn’t have thought about my own power needs. But little changes can mean that you can take charge wherever you go.

David Whelan is manager of legal information for the Law Society of Upper Canada. Twitter: @davidpwhelan.

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