I’m on the road again this week, but this time it’s for fun – I’m going on a week-long Caribbean cruise with Mom (Twitter). While I’m away, I’ve scheduled a series of review posts. Today I’m focusing on the last gadget I bought on the road.
The Problem: Too Many Chargers and Batteries
I travel with a lot of gadgets: a laptop, a digital camera, an iPhone, a videocamera for conferences, and after my laptop failure in Europe, I also travel with a netbook as a backup. Lots of devices mean lots of chargers. To make matters worse, I like carrying at least one extra battery for each of those, because I tend to be away from outlets for quite a while. Then of course I also have to carry a power strip, because some hotels only have 1-2 working outlets, and on international trips I carry a couple of power adapters.
In the Heathrow airport, I stumbled across the PowerTraveller MiniGorilla. It’s a rugged little 9,000mAh battery with multiple input plugs (US, UK, Europe, Australia, and more) for the power source, and multiple output plugs including USB. One battery to rule them all! I should be able to leave my chargers and extra batteries at home, and just bring this one device with me to charge everything – whether I’m near an outlet or not, right?
The MiniGorilla Package: Read Carefully
The biggest reason I bought the MiniGorilla was the description on the box. Some of the descriptions were more than a little misleading, though.
“Minigorilla is the portable charger that has been specifically designed to work with the latest Netbooks.”
When I hear the word charger, I think of more than just a battery. I envision plugging one end of the MiniGorilla into an electric outlet, plugging the other end into my netbook, and charging it. Unfortunately, that’s not what PowerTraveller means – it just means battery. You can plug one end of the MiniGorilla into an outlet and recharge its internal battery, or you can plug the other end into your netbook to charge the netbook, but not both simultaneously. This is really problematic given another statement on the box:
“Can be charged and charge other devices (5.5v) simultaneously via USB socket“
You can read this statement two ways, and I read it the wrong way. I thought this meant it could be charged via USB socket – not so much. After buying the product, opening it, and perusing the manual, I discovered that it could only be charged via AC power or a separately-sold solar charger.
The 5.5v in parenthesis is also especially important. Even when the MiniGorilla is plugged into AC power, it can’t charge other devices unless they’re 5.5v or 9v – it will only charge its internal battery. I can’t use the MiniGorilla as a charger unless it’s running off the battery. If I plug the MiniGorilla into AC power, plug the other end into my netbook, and turn everything on, the MiniGorilla helpfully charges my laptop until the MiniGorilla battery depletes, and then it shuts itself off. If you want to use the MiniGorilla as a charger, the routine works like this:
- Charge the MiniGorilla’s battery to full using AC power
- Plug the MiniGorilla into the netbook and charge the netbook to full, depleting the MiniGorilla’s battery
- Plug the MiniGorilla back into the wall and go back to step 1
This repeated charge/discharge of the MiniGorilla’s battery would make it one heck of an expensive charger, because the internal batteries have a limited lifespan.
But Wait – There’s More!
The MiniGorilla will output 8.4v, 9.5v, 10.5v, 12v, or 19v, but you have to set that manually. Choose wisely – put out the right power for your device as specified by its manufacturer, or you can fry it. While the MiniGorilla includes lots of adapter tips (called GorillaNuts and MonkeyNuts, I kid you not), the adapter tips don’t set the voltage. You can hook up an adapter tip for your netbook, but if you don’t set the right voltage on the MiniGorilla, you can underpower or overpower your netbook.
The voltage also changes the battery’s power – the higher voltage your laptop needs, the less mAh the battery can deliver. PowerTraveller’s site says:
“The minigorilla will give up to 5-6 hours on a Sony Vaio P-series netbook at 10.5 volt setting. minigorilla will give up to 2 hours on other netbooks set at 19 volts.”
You can probably guess that I’ve got a 19 volt netbook. Son of a….
The Good Things About the MiniGorilla
This little thing is built like a tank. It’s encased in a rubbery plastic that feels solid and expensive, and the form factor is easy to slip into a laptop bag’s pocket. That’s a good thing, since the MiniGorilla case isn’t big enough to hold its own recharger plugs or tips. Speaking of the tips, they don’t feel particularly solid, and because of the interchangeable design, they protrude several inches off the side of the netbook. It’s as if I’ve got a longer-than-normal USB flash drive plugged into the side, and a good tug on the power cord might wreak havoc on the netbook’s internals. This makes the device awkward to use on airplane seatback trays. Damn, I was supposed to only talk about the good parts in this paragraph, wasn’t I?
Despite the drawbacks, I’m very satisfied with the battery capacity and weight. I carry the MiniGorilla on longer trips as an emergency standby, and I’ve stopped carrying separate chargers and extra batteries for my digital camera, phone, and videocamera. I wouldn’t have initially bought the MiniGorilla if I’d have known the drawbacks, and I probably would have returned it if it wasn’t such a hassle to do international returns.
I’m not as satisfied with the cost – at $150, it’s a tough sell. It does include all the tips you’ll ever need (except for an Apple MagSafe adapter) to travel with virtually any device in any country, and it includes a nice battery, but the whole feels less than the sum of its parts.
More About the Powertraveller MiniGorilla
Here’s a few links about the device:
Note: I’m on a cruise ship this week and won’t be responding to comments until Monday, January 11th. If you post a comment that requires moderation, don’t fret – I’ll approve it when I get back.