Every phone charger should be like the Bolt charger

The Bolt charges any phone or tablet from a wall or from its own battery. That is, surprisingly, pretty novel.

Credit: Photo by author

Our extremely convenient smartphones create a few inconveniences, as a byproduct of just versatile they are in such a small package. One new product solves a few of them at once, which is a very nice thing.

Smartphones need power, often when you are away from computers or outlets or car chargers. To plug them in elsewhere, you need to carry around the right kind of cable, and an AC adapter (or "wall wart"), which might not work with all devices (particularly newer iPads) because of amperage differences in charging current. As a backup, you can tote around a bulky portable battery. None of this is particularly appealing to anyone who does not get a thrill out of fulfilling a Boy-Scout-like desire to plan for every possible phone/tablet contingency.

Packing a wall wart, battery backup, and cables for your and anyone else's phones and tablets is one option. Another option is the Bolt, a $60 product its makers tout as "the world's smallest battery backup & wall charger combined." I backed the Bolt's initial Kickstarter launch and received my Bolt yesterday (along with a "stretch goal" car charging plug). I'm happy to report that it is a working replacement for a lot of charging clutter.

What makes the Bolt stand out from separate backups and wall chargers? This is the pitch:

  • It is a very small (70mm x 34mm x 28mm, or 2.75" x 1.33" x 1.10"), simple rectangular box. Its prongs fold into itself, and the single button, USB port, and LED indicators are all very inconspicuous.
  • It can be a wall charger for any phone or tablet or pretty much any device that can be charged by USB.
  • It can be a 3000mAh battery backup for that same wide variety of devices. 3000mAh is more than double the battery capacity of an iPhone 5 (1440mAh), and just under twice that of an iPhone 5S (1570mAh), so you can get roughly two full charges from the Bolt (with some transfer loss).
  • When you plug it in to charge your phone, the Bolt uses a bit of extra current to charge its own backup battery at the same time, so your backup is usually charged. If your phone is nearly or completely dead, however, the Bolt prioritizes your phone before itself.
bolt_backing_up.jpgPhoto by author
An unplugged Bolt charging an iPhone 4S.

The Bolt has successfully charged my friend's iPhone 4S from its battery, charged my HTC One from the wall, charged an iPad from battery, and is currently charging itself from a wall socket. My only problem with the Bolt so far is a bit obsessive. When wall-charging the Bolt itself today, it seemed to jump back and forth on the blinking-LED level indicator: 3 LEDs steady and a fourth blinking, then 2 steady and one blinking, then back. If I just left it overnight, like I would do at a hotel or at home, I could just trust it was full. For now, it's a very minor quirk.

bolt_3way_charger.jpgPhoto by author
The Bolt's 3-in-1 charging cable, included with purchase.

The nice little bonus of ordering a Bolt is getting a 3-in-1 charging cable, covering Lightning (new Apple devices), 30-pin (the long-running iPod/iPhone/iPad plug), and Micro B USB (a.k.a. microUSB). I like knowing that I can help out in a pinch and charge my wife's iPhone or a friend's older iPad, even if I'm an Android/micro USB stalwart. Even more prep-nerdy: you can recharge two or three devices at once, from a wall or the battery. The Lightning plug is not Apple-certified; you get the "This accessory" warning, but the device still charges.

The Bolt is $60, with free shipping and the 3-in-1 cable included. If you start component pricing, you'll note that 3000mAh backups are about $20 at retail rates, 3-in-1 cables are $3-$6, depending on how cheap you go with your trust, and a wall charger you can trust to power anything up to a newer iPad is about $15 (there is a much cheaper wall charger that many customers reported as breaking very easily).

You're paying about $20, then, for a good-looking encapsulation of three charging tools that you can easily stash in a briefcase or bag or a coat pocket. Peace of mind has its price. I think the Bolt is worth it, particularly for people who move around a lot, or whose phones act like they do.

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