Product Review: 100W Black & Decker Portable Electronics Charger
By Chris Haak
Those of us who spend a decent portion of our lives on the road – I personally drive about 300 miles per week, and spend at least 10 or 12 of my waking hours behind the wheel every week – have come to depend on the portable electronic devices that entertain us or keep us connected to friends, loved ones, and associates. I firmly believe that the future state of in-vehicle entertainment will center on what the user brings with him or her into the car – you won’t need to listen to broadcast radio, but will instead connect your media player.
But what happens when those players run out of power? An increasing number of cars offer USB jacks, and most cars have a 12-volt DC power outlet (which was once-upon-a-time called a cigarette lighter socket), but not everything can charge with a USB cable (a laptop, for instance), not every device is available with a car charger (again, laptops), and sometimes you may not want to fork over the money for multiple car chargers when they are likely to only be used occasionally. For instance, I have a car charger for my iPhone, but typically do not transfer it from my own car into press cars, because my phone typically has over half of its charge remaining at the end of the workday, and I have wall chargers for it at home at in the office.
One solution is to consider a DC-to-AC power inverter. I have an old Linksys inverter on a shelf in my garage, and its form is one of an unattractive brick, complete with heat sinks on both sides and a thick power cord that goes to the car’s 12-volt outlet. The Linksys inverter can power a laptop, if it feels like it and the laptop isn’t asking for too much wattage. But since that ten-plus year old inverter was manufactured, technology has progressed considerably.
Black and Decker provided me with their new 100-watt inverter to see how it worked in my daily life. It arrived in one of those plastic packages that are impossible to open without a scissors or knife, but once I got it out, I found it to be a decent little tool. Its exterior is constructed solely of silver-painted and white plastic, and there’s a square border around the prominent USB and AC jacks that I later learned is a very bright LED status indicator. On the back, the DC plug that goes into the car’s jack is hinged and infinitely adjustable to various angles to accommodate the shape of your car. Though it’s made of plastic, it feels reasonably solid in your hand, and the hinged plug seems to be durable, with no floppiness in its movement.
There’s a small instruction booklet included, which I ignored as I plugged it into the DC jack in my Cadillac CTS. Though the lack of a dangling wire is an aesthetic win for the inverter, I’m sure there are some vehicles for which it will be impossible to successfully connect to the car’s outlet. When the inverter is receiving DC power, the bottom half of the square border around the outlets glows a very bright green. It’s good to know that your device is receiving power, but I found it to be somewhat distracting in my peripheral vision when driving at night. A smaller LED indicator would probably work just as well, and minimize the distraction problem.
I tested the inverter by not charging my iPhone the night before; when I plugged the iPhone’s wall charger into the B&D inverter in my car, the iPhone had 58% of its battery life remaining. After a 45 minute drive into the office, the phone was at a 94% charge. To run a semi-scientific comparison between charging with my Griffin PowerJolt SE 12-volt charger, I ran down the battery to 58% the next morning, did a similar 45-minute drive to work, and the phone’s battery was slightly less charged than it was the day before, at 89%. I did not try the same “58% test” with a standard 110-volt wall outlet to compare charging times, but I’d assume that the full-power wall jack will trump all other charging methods in terms of charge time required.
One thing that I was not expecting from the Black & Decker inverter was that there’s an internal fan that activates automatically whenever internal temperatures reach a certain level. It’s not alarmingly loud, but did surprise me the first time it kicked in (about 35 minutes into my 45-minute trip). The biggest surprise was figuring out where the fan noise was coming from, since I assumed it was a problem with my car. After running for about seven minutes, the fan turned off, but the inverter’s exterior was slightly warm to the touch. Its ventilation fan moves air through the small black vents on the sides of the device.
A few days after testing the inverter with my iPhone, I had a legitimate need for its power when I neglected to charge my company-issued BlackBerry Curve overnight. The battery was depleted to the point that it shut of the cellular radio, and I had a series of meetings scheduled starting first thing that morning, so no time to charge the ‘Berry in my office. I don’t have a car charger for the BlackBerry (I’m bothered by the idea of spending money – mine or the company’s – on something that I’d possibly use no more than twice a year), but the B&D inverter worked like a charm. The BlackBerry doesn’t have the level of battery-strength precision that the iPhone does, but it appeared to go from zero to more than half during the same 45-minute drive.
To put more strain on the inverter than simply charging cell phones, I took my dimmer-actuated desk light to the car and plugged it in. This light has (I believe) two 40-watt bulbs, so it’s drawing 80 watts when drawing full power. I started with the lamp on the dimmest setting, and it turned on. I quickly cranked up the rheostat to the highest setting, and the lamp got bright. I can’t tell if it was getting full power, but that seemed to be the case. However, at about three-quarters brightnes, the inverter’s LED indicator changed from a steady green to flashing amber. Going back to the instructions I never read before, this means that input voltage was low (the car’s engine was not running). If the device detects a fault condition (input voltage less than 10.5 volts, a short in the AC output, equipment that draws too much power, or excessive heat), it will cut power to the output and display a red LED.
I don’t have a ton of use for an inverter in my daily life, but this Black & Decker 100-watt unit is small enough to stuff in my glove box or console to have around in case I need power and don’t have a DC plug for my electronic device. On the few times per year that I find myself on an extended trip and need to charge my MacBook Pro, I’m sure the inverter is up to that task as well. If you’d like one of these to call your own, you can either enter our contest (coming later this week) or buy one at your local retailer, or directly from Black & Decker. It retails for $32 and carries a two-year warranty.
Black & Decker provided a new 100-watt portable electronics charger for this review.