Power to the People!

What's a mobile professional to do when multiple devices need a recharge? Products from iGo and Targus offer to untangle this knotty problem.

My quest for truly mobile computing is complicated by the number of power adapters that I have to carry on the road: one for my PDA, one for my cell phone, one for my laptop computer … No wonder I look and feel like Ive been ridden hard and put away wet after I arrive!

While the technology that is supposed to make this all go away (fuel cells) takes its own sweet time getting to market, two other products have cropped up to address this problem. The first was IGo Corp.s iGo Juice power adapter, which provides a flexible power supply that can charge a variety of devices and work in airplanes or cars (DC) as well as hotel rooms (AC). The only problem: It puts out just 70 watts, which no longer is adequate for a number of higher-performance laptops—unless youre willing to recharge very, very slowly.

Recently, Targus Group International released its counterpoint to the iGo Juice, which puts out an impressive 120 watts of power—enough even to cover an Athlon FX 51 system. (Im not sure you can call something this big and heavy a "notebook computer.") It costs about $10 more than the iGo, but if you want to charge fast and reliably, this product is now the state of the art.

With both products, you pick the power tip (basically an adopter that matches your device); it not only makes the physical connection, it tells the power supply just how much power the device will take so you dont suddenly discover that exploding batteries, while exciting, are also expensive and potentially painful. (Few mobile users realize that lithium-ion batters have about one-third the energy density of dynamite.)

Assuming the tips are available, this means you can use one power supply to charge your laptop, cell phone and PDA. In fact, if you get one USB charging cables for the other two devices, the Targus may have enough power to charge all three at once in many cases. This all-in-once idea isnt a bad one because otherwise you will either need to choose between your devices when you go to bed or wake up every few hours to switch devices.

If you are currently in the market for a new cell phone or PDA and you like this idea, be aware that manufacturers of these devices have never agreed to power standards; you may want to check whether a power tip on the Targus or iGo Juice will work with your new device before you buy it. If enough people do this, maybe the manufacturers will follow the PC and set some meaningful standards in this regard.

Back to lithium-ion: While these batteries have a good shelf life they dont like being charged and discharged a lot. In other words, they do wear out. If you notice your batterys life has shortened significantly (measured in terms of how long it will go before your notebook turns into an expensive brick), your battery probably needs to be replaced.

If you are going to leave your laptop in the office for an extended period of time, consider removing your battery. Youll likely find it will last longer as a result. (And if you want sticker shock, just price out what a replacement extended battery costs.)

In the end, its nice to see some competition in this space—and the promise of lightening my technology load. Im getting tired of my wife calling me "Quasimodo," and look back longingly at the time when I could actually stand up straight.

Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.