Hands up if your phone has ever run out of juice on a long travel day. Yup, thought so. It's a common problem – flight delays and bus breakdowns can leave you out of reach of a charger for hours longer than expected, while continually using your device as a GPS, guidebook, camera and more drains the battery faster than you ever thought possible.
That's not much of a problem if you've got a portable battery or charger to hand – but if they're back in your hotel room, or sitting in your checked luggage, it's a much bigger issue. Ever tried to use your dead phone to find out where you're staying tonight? It doesn't work so well.
Australian company PlusUs specializes in solving problems like these, and sent me a couple of its wallet-sized travel accessories to check out.
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If your phone is forever running out of juice after you've been wandering round a new city for hours, a portable battery is the easiest way to keep things running until you can find a power socket.
While I usually carry a high-capacity battery in my backpack that will charge my phone two or three times, that doesn't help when I forget to pack it, or leave my bag in the hotel room while out exploring.
The PlusUs Lifecard is an emergency battery that neatly deals with that problem, by being small and slim enough to leave in most wallets. The width and height of a credit card, the card is just under 4mm deep. It fitted into one of the credit card sections of my wallet without a problem, although the extra size and weight was noticeable.
The card is surprisingly attractive for a portable battery, made from brushed stainless steel. A short micro-USB or Lightning cable unplugs from a socket in the card for connecting to your device.
Removing the cable lights up the battery meter, where... four tiny LEDs give an approximation of the remaining charge. Charging the Lifecard itself is done with a micro-USB cable.
At 1,500mAh, the Lifecard doesn't have enough juice to fully power a modern smartphone – instead, it's intended to provide emergency power to get you through the rest of the day. It will give an extra 40-80% charge to your phone, depending on model. Unless you're really burning through the battery, that should be enough to get you through even lengthy travel days.
The 1.0amp output is enough to power up older smartphones at full speed, but expect slower charging rates on the latest Apple and Android devices. Given the Lifecard is most likely to be used in an emergency, when the phone is already dead or close to it, that's something I'd like to see improved in the future.
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Rather than remembering to drop a charging cable in your bag before you head out for the day, how about having one to hand no matter where you are? Any USB socket you can find becomes fair game for getting a bit of extra juice in your device, even if you've only got a few spare minutes.
The tiny Lifelink emergency charging cable has an ingenious flat design, cutting off the top half of the USB plug to keep the thickness about the same as a couple of credit cards. The two parts of the cable attach to each other when not in use, with a short metal spring running between them at the top.
That cable is still only a few inches long when laid out, but the flexibility of the spring makes it easier to use in cramped spaces. Still, it's most useful when connected to the USB socket on a laptop, hotel television or somewhere else where the phone can be rested on a flat surface, rather than dangling unsupported from a wall charger.
You can loop a keyring between the spring and main parts of... the cable when it's closed, but I preferred to keep it in a credit card slot in my wallet. Because it's so small and light, I didn't notice it was there during daily use.
Because the top part of the USB cable isn't there, you need to pay attention when plugging it in – I found myself putting it in the wrong way a few times. It doesn't cause any ill-effects, but unsurprisingly, the phone didn't charge. Flipping the cable fixed the problem, and the various micro-USB devices I tested all charged at usual speed. There's also a Lightning version, for Apple phones.
If you want to make sure you've got a charger to hand whenever you need it, the Lifelink is a useful, unobtrusive way to do it.