Emergency Smart Phone Preparedness In the Urban Landscape

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It was this cold! That was falling water in the summer!

Thought I’d diverge from the Geeky Faith stuff for a while. Stuff depresses me sometimes. Get back to good old geeky electronics and techno-survivalism. Thought I’d relate a story that my fiance and I went through about a year ago in Edmonton, Alberta.

I was up there visiting during the winter and we decided to go out to eat one really cold evening. It was about -20 C outside, which is a respectable 0 to -2 or -3 in non-heathen units. Might have been colder, once it starts getting down that cold in Canada you cease caring about actual degrees and just start gauging temperatures in “Negative Jesus’s”. Which is basically when you get up in the morning, look at the weather to see how much coat you need and say, “Oh it’s negative.. Jesus Christ that’s cold.” The more expletives between Jesus and Christ is roughly how many layers a non-Canadian will feel like they need to wear.

So we finally decide to go to Famosa’s, which is a really great pizza place in the Alberta area. Have us some great pizza and realize it’s pretty late, and aren’t sure if the bus runs at one in the morning, and we’re on the other side of town. We can’t check the cell phone because mine doesn’t work in Canada and hers is almost dead, and screws up sometimes anyway. I figure no problem  because my tablet is in her backpack and has a USB port and she carries a spare cable. No luck, because no cable. Can’t use the restaurant phone to call a taxi because they are jerks, so we’re about half freaking out. Can’t swap SIM cards because different sizes, and the aggravation goes on and on. Just to add to the annoyance, no payphones anymore that we can find. So we figure we’re basically stranded in a cold, unforgiving Canadian parking lot with half drunk Edmontonians doing donuts on the ice in their gigantic pickup trucks if the public transit isn’t running.

The story has a happy ending because the buses ran for a few more hours and we caught one back to where we needed to go. There was a good fifteen minutes of utter uncertainty though. I made it a point to make sure neither of us were in that position again. Getting stuck either in the extreme cold of Canada or the heat of the Texas Panhandle sucks, and if you have  your smart phone it might not be a survival situation so much as a find the information you need situation. It’s really the little things that cause the problems, not the big things.

First thing I did was came up with some protocol to avoid the situation in the first place.

Smart Phone Protocol

  1. Make sure cell phones are at least mostly charged before heading out for more than a few hours, especially somewhere using public transportation.
  2. ALWAYS carry a cable and a means of charging in purse, backpack, pocket, coat, wherever.
  3. Make sure any information that’s needed is pulled up on the web browser or written down somewhere just in case there’s no signal before it becomes a problem. A little piece of paper in the case is pretty handy.
  4. Know basically how long your cell battery lasts from a full charge until dead under normal use.

The Tech

The second thing is that we had a way to charge the phone if we had a cable but what it was pretty bulky and we might not have always had that tablet with us. If we had just a cable and a wall charger it might not have helped much because there weren’t any outlets anywhere convenient. So having an alternative energy source would have been super handy. The very first thing I did when I got home was research external USB batteries. What I found is that there are a few types.

The simple kind are just a battery with two ports. One charges the battery up, and the other charges the device. The other kinds have two means of charging. They can either be charged through the USB port or through some other means like solar, or mechanical energy. I like this type the best.

Either kind of these batteries can be carried in a purse or backpack. Most of us guys tend to walk out the door with just what we have in our pockets so maybe this isn’t super practical if all you’re wearing is jeans and a white Hane’s t-shirt. However, in the dead of winter, you’re probably wearing a jacket, I’ve carried mine in my Scottevest hoodie.

Opteka BP-SC4000

This one has pretty good reviews, comes with a TON of different charger tips, including a lot I don’t recognize, and you can put any cable you want in it. It charges with a regular mini-USB so if you have any gear that uses those, it can use that cable. It also charges solar as well. I’ve tested this thing with all kinds of light conditions, it will charge slowly in dim light indoors, sunlight, and by shining a bright flashlight on it. It does take a long time to charge via solar (something like ten hours), but you can attach a lanyard to it, put it on the outside of your backpack on a sunny day or whatever and let nature take its course.

It’s 4000mAh, though I’ve seen a tear down somewhere showing at least a few have bigger batteries. My HTC One gets almost a complete charge from it. My Windows Tablet won’t charge, but will run off it and my camera will charge from it just fine. I got about two charges from it on my Galaxy S2 and an iPhone 4 seemed to charge about once from it. I was also able to charge it from my tablet.

Basically it works a bit better than the manufacturer advertises. The only problem I’ve had with it is the power button on mine doesn’t always seem to turn it off when you hold it down. I’m not sure why. But it might be because I’ve dropped it. The other one we got works flawlessly. Both have charged to 100% or very close to it off of solar in the sun.

The “Lipstick Battery”

This is the other style battery I’ve seen that might be better for people who don’t carry around a bag. Like I mentioned before, most guys just go out with almost nothing on them but a wallet, keys and a phone. I personally take more crap with me if I’m going out a while, especially if I’m somewhere my car isn’t available. While these things aren’t super small, they’re a lot smaller than the solar charger above.

Anker® 2nd Gen Astro Mini

This one seems to be fairly small, and charges with a micro USB cable, which it comes with. This is probably what your devices use anyway. It looks like it’ll charge a few of the more popular phones today to 100% capacity and the Galaxy S4 to about 80%. Not bad for something so small. The same company makes a few higher capacity battery packs too that might be worth looking into. I’ll probably be purchasing one of these very soon to stick in my ScotteVest hoodie for an EDC during the  fall/winter months since my solar one is a bit big for that.

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