February 15, 2012
| by Steven Castle
A neat new way to charge your mobile gadgets has appeared in the form of USB power outlets, freeing you from having to plug your USB cord into a bulkier AC/DC adapter, also known as a wall wart, or tapping into your computer for charging. (How arcane does that sound?)
Some new outlets replace older power outlets, while others simply plug into existing outlets, such as like USB Wall Plate Charger ($20 in white and almond; $15 at Lowe’s). Plug it into a standard electric outlet and you get two USB ports and one pass-through electrical outlet. One of the USB ports is optimized for 2.1-amp iPad charging. No re-wiring needed.
RCA will also sell plug-in travel charging outlets with nightlights so you can see your way around that strange hotel room, though those aren’t coming until May.
You won’t find any surge suppression with these devices. For that you’ll need something like RCA’s travel surge PCHSTAT1R with three AC and two USB outlets ($25).
Reducing USB Standby
Current Werks has replacement USB power outlets that feature some surge suppression in the form of a fuse that will blow in the event of a surge. The Duo (2 ports, $25) and Quattro (4 ports, $40) produce 16 and 22 watts of USB power respectively. The 4-USB port Quattro also features an energy-saving door that slides closed to cut standby, or vampire, power to USB ports. USB ports use a small amount of power when not engaged.
The replacement outlets are wired the same as traditional duplex outlets. Just remember to shut the power off and test the outlet to be sure it’s off before replacing it.
Current Werks says the Duo and Quattro are capable of charging iPad and iPhones at the full rates and as fast as standard Apple chargers.
Other USB power solutions are also available or soon will be. TruePower’s U-Socket Dual Power /Dual USB Outlet that can charge four devices at once is available at FastMac.com. It auto senses the required wattage and only outputs full power if something is connected to it. And the UP1102 ECO USB Power Socket from Eastern Asia Technology Limited was a 2012 CES Innovations Honoree. It includes two USB charge ports to provide up to 2.1 Amps charging current. With a “Turn to Power” mechanism, you can cut off standby power.
A good thing to look for in these devices is a UL (Underwriters Laboratory) certification for electrical safety.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates