Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's twenty bucks. Beat that.
The Long Version: Two years ago I looked at a booster battery for travelling with my phone, which is a good idea that was badly done. This new one, the Tekkeon TekCharge MP1580, fixes every complaint that I had and costs one-third as much. I love progress.
The best thing about the TekCharge is that it takes standard USB cables. This isn't all that uncommon these days, but it's incredibly important. It means that there's no need to carry something different to charge from the battery pack versus the standard USB wall charger or computer. The battery pack also charges via USB, using a standard mini port, which is simple and flexible. I was always worried that I'd lose the unique and pointless adapter cables from my previous error; in an ironic twist, I lost the battery pack and still know where its iPhone cable is. Good riddance.
But taking standard cables isn't all that the MP1580 offers. It even comes with a retractable cable that's USB-A on one end and has an adapter to convert the other end to Mini or Micro USB. There's no 30-pin Dock cable option, which would have been worth another 'execution' point, but for $19.99 at B&H Photo (batteries not included) it has already exceeded my expectations.
What makes the MP1580 – and the MP1550 before it – special is that it runs on replaceable common-as-dirt AA batteries instead of a built-in cell. It can use either two or four; naturally four will provide more power to the device but in a pinch it's nice to have the option. And having options is what this is all about.
Disposable batteries can provide a power source that's completely independent of the nations' power grid, limited only to what you can carry, but the MP1580 also doubles as a AA charger when connected to a USB power source. Using rechargeable AA batteries is a best-of-both-worlds option that gives the no-hassle ease of a built-in battery, but also allows the AA batteries to be swapped out in a time of need.
The TANSTAAFL factor means that the MP1580 is bigger than other units that use more power-dense cells and have more options for their designers, and pulling power from a 5V USB outlet doesn't seem like a fast way to replenish the AA batteries. But using four 2000mAh low-discharge cells is enough to take my iPhone 4S from 20% to full in just a couple of hours, with enough room left over for a tiny little top-up later. The batteries will recharge in four or five hours, and for bonus points it's even possible to daisy-chain the phone and MP1580 and charge them both from a USB adapter at the same time. That's more of an overnight endeavour, but still quite useful.
Physically the TekCharge unit is just a bit wider than the iPhone but not nearly as long, so it's still small enough to be easy to pack and carry. It's made of glossy and matte black plastic panels over a silver plastic body. The battery chamber is accessed through the removable bottom panel, which comes off completely.
I've already dropped mine, which nocked the battery door off and sent the double-a's skittering across the floor, but everything went back together and works perfectly. Now I have a certain level of confidence that this is a durable little device that will work well on the road. (I've never really aspired to destructive product testing, and I'm glad to be writing a review instead of a post-mortem.)
There are plenty of other battery packs on the market these days, including some sleek high-end ones that carry enough power to charge multiple phones multiple times. That's amazing, and the little MP1580 isn't one of those. Instead it's an inexpensive device that does a good job, with the replaceable batteries providing an intriguing combination of dependability and flexibility. It's great to have options, especially when when one of them is exactly what I want.
last updated 10 apr 2012