Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 6 April 2013

All Charged Up

One of the side effects of the modern world is the increasing amount of mobile products we have to keep charged up - every night in our household we charge an iPhone, a HTC android phone, an iPad and a Google Nexus 7.  Luckily for us, I built a long breakfast bar and had an electrician festoon it with sockets a couple of years ago - before we went tablet and smart phone crazy we didn't have any outlets that side of the kitchen.

Of course, when we go travelling on holiday we have to take four separate chargers and often take a multi-socket extension lead with us as most hotels and guest houses don't have four spare sockets in the rooms we stay in.  Travel outside of the UK and we have to include US or European power adaptors as well - that's where the extension cable comes in - one adaptor for four  devices.

But the rats' nest of trailing cables strung across the breakfast bar is unsightly and when travelling - well, forget one of the power adaptors then expect a lot of wrath!  There has to be a better solution.

Well, we've been reading about remote charging a lot lately.  It would appear that many of the next generation of smart phones and tablets are going to be built with remote charging capabilities,  so that you can wander into your nearest favourite coffee shop and charge your phone and tablet for free while it's lying on the table.  Except unless you are with an engaging partner, then you're likely to be surfing the internet on the free WiFi while supping your over-priced latte - did I say the charging was free?  To take maximum advantage of this new style of charging you might as well build a remote charger into your breakfast bar so that you can charge your devices overnight while you sleep.

Except I don't know yet if these devices will charge four devices concurrently and even if they do, how much they will cost.

More importantly, there's at least two competing and incompatible systems being primed for launch right now.  Choose the wrong coffee shop and you might as well surf the internet, no matter how engaging your partner is.  And what's the betting that Google, HTC and Apple will fail to agree on a common standard between them.  Plus, and this is getting real negative now, there's the issue about legacy hardware - I'm not planning on changing my phone anytime soon, and even when we upgrade our phones and tablets I'm sure the old devices will have some uses at home.

In short, plugging your smart phone and tablet overnight isn't going away in a rush.  Is there a solution to the spaghetti nest of cables in the kitchen?  Well, at least one British company thinks there is.  Cambrionix, a Cambridge based electronics company, has developed a solution that should be hitting the shelves real soon. I stumbled across them at their stand at the Gadget Show Live, at the National Exhibition Centre this week.

Their solution is a smart USB hub of eight outlets.  Unlike a normal hub, this one contains a trick circuit.  You see, take a look on your smart phone and tablet chargers and you'll notice that they are multi voltage and multi frequency - Europe and the US having settled on different values for both parameters a long time ago - and critically they will all draw different amounts of current.  Plug your smart phone into your tablet charger via the identical USB lead and you might not have a problem, or perhaps your device won't charge fully.  Worst case scenario is that acrid smell of electronic circuits melting.  I'm not an electronics engineer so I'm not placed to suggest how likely the last scenario is, but we've fried at least one mobile phone by using the wrong charger in our house before.

Cambrionix's circuits are intelligent enough to work out the correct charging values for any device attached to it - I don't know how hard or easy that is to do - did I mention I'm not an electronics engineer?  I'm guessing it's pretty tricky.  Their unit will connect up to four smart phones and four tablet computers concurrently - the  tablets are the limiting factor, apparently.  It should be enough for most households, but just in case there's a decidedly industrial 16 port model in their range.

The plus points are obvious - one socket to charge all of your phones and tablets; no need to worry about connecting the wrong device up to the wrong USB, no need to take multiple chargers on holiday.  Additionally, there's a safety angle that isn't immediately apparent - not at home, but in the workplace.  If you run a business and allow your staff to charge their personal mobile phones and tablets in work, then how do you control the safety of those devices?  Your insurance company probably expects you to take reasonable steps to ensure all electrical devices are safe to use in the company and the normal control measures are to have all electrical items tested for electrical safety periodically - sometimes referred to as Portable Appliance Testing (PAT).  Your office equipment probably undergoes suitable periodic PAT testing (yes, I know the 'testing' is redundant, but it's conventional to mangle the English language when using this acronym)- but the  phone chargers belonging to your staff?  One of these devices in the office would obviate the need for staff to bring their own phone chargers in and could be used for legitimate office purposes too.

The downside?  Well, Cambrionix are pricing this item at £179 each, which is steep for a domestic charger.  And that's a special pre-order price linked to the Gadget Show, apparently.  Perhaps a business might feel that such a premium is acceptable to demonstrate due diligence.  I suspect that domestic users will baulk at the price, however this is likely to be cheaper than a remote charger for under the breakfast bar, suitable for up to four or more devices - I've just remembered my Kindle as well.  It's certainly cheaper than replacing your iPad and most smart phones.  If you travel a lot internationally, it may also be worth considering.


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