Gadgets to help you survive a power outage

Gadgets to help you survive a power outage
Tech Corner

POSTED: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 - 7:30am

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 - 7:34am

Our electronic gadgets make life easier in a lot of ways.

But when power sources falter, as they did for nearly 2 million people in the Eastern United States this weekend after massive storms hit, digital communication tools can become useless at a crucial time.

Whether the problem is losing the ability to talk and text on a cellphone or suddenly being without news sources when the juice in a tablet or laptop fizzles out, our increasingly digital lives mean dealing with darkness and rough weather aren't our only concerns when the power's out.

Nothing is going to make an extended power outage easy. But here are a few items to consider should you find yourself powered down by Mother Nature.

1. Hand-crank radio

Listening to the radio for the news might seem decidedly old-school for the Twitter-and-tablet obsessed news junkie of the digital age. But when all else fails, the tried-and-true radio waves can be a valuable way to keep up with local weather and other news in the event of an outage, especially when you can power it up when all your other electronics fail.

There are several radios out there that let you juice up the battery with a hand crank. For example, the Grundig FR200 advertises access to AM, FM and two shortwave channels, a design makers say makes it weatherproof, and an LED emergency light.

2. Battery charger

When communication is vital, one more phone call or text message could be critical. So, whether it's just recharging long enough to do that, or hoping to literally weather the storm for longer, a backup charger can keep you plugged in (figuratively, if not literally).

"Juice packs" can be bought for $100 or less (Mophie, for one, makes them for Apple and Android devices) and many of the chargers double as protective cases for your smartphone or tablet. Alternately, battery-powered backup chargers like the Zagg Sparq can provide several full charges for your mobile devices after the usual electrical options are gone.

You can even find chargers that use solar power; so as long as you've got a dry spot and at least a brief break from the rain, Mother Nature can help bail you out.

3. Light source

Of course, you should have flashlights and fresh batteries around.

But finding them in the dark can be it's own challenge. And, sometimes, you just need a steady source of light, not one you have to tote around. There are battery powered lights on sale for less than $30 that you can keep plugged into an outlet. When the power goes out, they automatically come on, saving you those moments of fumbling.

There also are slightly more exotic products, like the Striker Magnetic LED Light, which is about the size of a golf ball and designed to stick to surfaces.

4. Power inverter

If you need to power up something a little bigger than a phone, a power inverter might be a useful tool. If you want to be able to use a laptop or desktop computer during an outage, this may be the way to go.

The inverter can be used to convert DC power from your car battery into AC juice that can be used for things usually plugged in to a wall outlet.

Places like Batteries Plus, as well as most computer stores, usually have these around in a wide range of power. Ask an employee how much of a charge you need for what you want to do. 

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