Portable Power Station 1.0
Developer: Battery Geek
Price: starting at $250
Requirements: MacBook or MacBook Pro
MagSafe 120w AC/DC Car/Airline Adapter
Requirements: MacBook or MacBook Pro
I have always had a bit of attention deficit disorder, and with my MacBook Pro around all the time I can indulge the temptation to multitask—to the unceasing annoyance of my wife, among others. Yet even with an EVDO card and everything else that makes a laptop computer so indispensable, it is the mundane need for energy that limits my ability to work constantly. Others must share that desire, because there is a burgeoning market for accessories that provide constant power.
The Battery Geek Portable Power Station has much to recommend it. The lithium ion unit fulfills its raison d'être, which is to provide super long-lasting energy as an external battery for a laptop computer or other device. It comes in a sturdy, stylish package. The device is heavy duty and looks well made. Its sole problem is rather severe for this user and other likely readers of this piece: it doesn’t work with MacBooks or MacBook Pros. Or more precisely, its knock-off MagSafe adapter is so poorly executed that it cannot be counted on.
Portable Power Station
The Battery Geek product, which the company claims is the “BMW” of battery packs, is straightforward. It comes in three capacities, all with voltage that can be adjusted from 3V to 28V at the most common increments (5V, 6V, 9V, 12V, 16V, 19V, 21V, and 24V). It plugs in with an adapter for overnight charging. It comes inside a nylon carrying case, with a little leather case as a bonus. The nylon is higher quality than the leather, though.
Battery Geek Case
Inside the case are a vast array of adapter tips for every conceivable device, including cell phones and PDAs—it’s all there except a MagSafe connector. But the company is offering a special deal with a free MagSafe connector. The cliché “You get what you pay for” applies.
Adapter Tips Inside Battery Geek Case
Apple has patented the MagSafe connector, familiar to every user of an Intel-based Apple laptop. The intellectual property protection almost certainly explains why there are few if any third-party vendors providing MagSafe-compatible accessories. The Battery Geek attempt is flimsy enough to raise doubts as soon as the package is opened. Sure enough, the metal component dislodged from the plastic housing on its first use. To their credit, Battery Geek immediately sent out two replacements at no charge, but these fell apart as quickly as the first.
Battery Geek MagSafe Knock Off, Fallen Apart
Electricity doesn’t depend on the elegance of its path, though. Despite the shoddy construction, the Battery Geek in fact works to deliver juice to the MacBook. The MagSafe copy can be put back together; the metal part just sticks right back into the plastic part, and it can be unplugged from the machine without falling apart if, instead of pulling it out, one twists it in a plane perpendicular to how one would pull it out. There is no doubt it can be made to work, even if one has to fiddle with it each time. Once functional, the level of consistency isn’t clear, but it appears to better than double—not quite triple—the average run time of a MacBook. With the Portable Power Station 130 at full charge and the battery at full charge, together they delivered more than eight hours worth of power with moderate loads.
What works much better than the Battery Geek MagSafe adapter tip is the Mikegyver Computer & Tech (MCT) cable. This is a hand-made product using the actual Apple part connected to a cable that is compatible with the Kensington system and its adapter tips. The company sells a range of similar products.
Mikegyver Cable, MagSafe End
The basic choice is between the Kensington and iGo systems, which come in their original packaging with the Mikegyver cable attached. Both the Kensington and the iGo are popular adapters that come with appropriate accessories to draw power from cars or in airplanes. And Mikegyver has multiple options: a customer can send in a MagSafe unit to swap for a finished Mikegyver product, or for a modest $9 even download plans to “do it yourself” (and, at the same price, plans to install a radio on a Suzuki Burgman scooter—whoever is behind this company is sure living up to its name).
Mikegyver Cable Plugged Into Kensington Power Adapter
After two weeks of continuous use, the Mikegyver unit seems to be holding up perfectly. The fit on the joint where the MagSafe cable plugs into the Kensington adapter tip is snug and looks as if it will stand up to a reasonable lifetime of wear and tear. The Mikegyver cord adds a nice bit of extra length. Its only oddity is that the LED on the MagSafe dongle stays on after it has been unplugged.
This set-up happens to be compatible with the Battery Geek system, with insertion of the appropriate Battery Geek adapter tip. It is much more consistent and secure than the Battery Geek original equipment; Mikegyver knows as much, because he promotes this use of that product on his Web site.
My only quibble with the Mikegyver cable is really a quibble with Kensington. The power adapter in its ordinary guise, which comes with a car adapter and airplane adapter as well, has a cord that is absurdly short. On anything other than a power strip sitting flat on the floor, the power adapter itself will hang from the wall, dangling by the cord. The engineers couldn’t help but have noticed this shortcoming if they had tested the device in the real world even once. It is ugly, even if the adapter is light enough and the cord sturdy enough.
Kensington Power Adapter Hanging From Wall Outlet
The combination is thus ideal. A Battery Geek Portable Power Station coupled to a Mikegyver cable will allow a MacBook user to keep running under all circumstances for about a third of a day. Even a die-hard road warrior couldn’t need much more, barring a catastrophe.
I bought my Battery Geek Portable Power Station because I was expecting to take a trans-Pacific business trip. I had to cancel due to my wife needing surgery at the same time. I ended up giving the Battery Geek to my brother. He has a Dell. It’ll work out fine. The Mikegyver Cable is in daily use, replacing the stock Apple power adapter in my backpack, along with a Kensington adapter. Nothing is a better testimonial for a commodity product than to become forgotten as routine.
Update (2007–08–13): Since preparing the above review, I have learned that Battery Geek has released a second-generation knock off MagSafe connector. To ensure that ATPM readers have as much information as possible in making their purchasing decisions, I’ve taken a look at this new iteration of the problematic component. The second version, after being connected and disconnected repeatedly and from every angle, holds up just fine. The tip is mounted securely in its plastic housing. I can recommend it without hesitation. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say I tested the piece only for its ability to hook up to the MacBook Pro satisfactorily and sturdily; I already gave the actual battery to my brother, who took it half-way around the world—but the battery itself was always fine.) To their credit, Battery Geek recognized the problem with their earlier design. It is too bad they didn’t contact purchasers on their own initiative, but customers can contact them to get the new version free of charge.