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Sherri Richards, Published November 07 2012

Thursday review: PowerBar handy for gadget geeks, storm safety

Editor’s note: SheSays Thursday Review is a weekly feature in SheSays. Do you have an item you’d like reviewed? Email shesays@forumcomm.com.

When I first heard about the FatCat PowerBar 4200 (not the protein-packed, chocolate-flavored kind), I imagined it’s the sort of thing gadget geeks would love: a sleek-looking travel charger that can power up phones, MP3 players, PDAs and game consoles without needing to be plugged into an outlet.

Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and the potential of this little device hit me. It could be a lifesaver – literally – during severe weather, particularly if you’re stranded with little battery life left on your phone.

About the size of a cellphone and weighing only 4 ounces, the PowerBar 4200 (named for its 4,200 mAh Lithium Polymer battery) comes with a travel pouch, a master cord with two female ends, and several tips that fit most phones and gadgets. You can also use the device’s USB cord.

Simply plug a USB end into the DC-OUT socket, plug the other end into your device, and it starts charging instantly. Company materials say it holds enough battery power to charge any mobile phone smartphone or iPod twice.

The PowerBar is packaged pre-charged, so it can be put to use immediately.

It seems to hold its charge fairly well. I have no clue when the one I tested was first charged, but the product sample that landed on my desk on a Monday was able to charge my nearly dead phone to almost full the following Sunday when first opened. My phone was plugged into the PowerBar for about three hours before draining it.

To recharge the PowerBar, you plug a USB end into your computer and micro-USB tip into the DC-IN slot. I had to wiggle the micro-USB tip to get it to fit correctly.

It takes four to seven hours to fully charge. A small button encircled with four lights on the front displays the PowerBar’s remaining charge: Four lights means fully charged, three for 75 percent, two for half and one for a fourth.

Once recharged, I used the PowerBar to charge a half-drained iPod Touch and my Kindle Fire to full batteries. (The PowerBar’s instructions state it shouldn’t be used to recharge higher-voltage electronics like laptops or video cameras but were mum about tablets and readers. It seemed to work fine, though.) After that, it showed it still had about half its juice left.

The PowerBar has a cycle life of up to 500 times. Its instructions say to recharge it at least every three months and before use. It’s not compatible with digital cameras that have a battery that is removed and put in a cradle to charge (which, especially as a mom, I find unfortunate).

The PowerBar 4200 sells for $69.95 on the company website, though can be purchased for less on Amazon.com. (It doesn’t seem to be sold at any big box retailers.) The FatCat power travel charger series also features a less powerful ChargeCard for $49.95 and the PowerBar 9600 for $119.95. Additional tips and accessories are also available.

Bottom line: The PowerBar 4200 is small enough to easily charge a phone or iPod in your purse, and lasts long enough to make a real difference in an emergency.