When we went to CES in January, one of the things that immediately caught my eye at the CES Unveiled pre-show press event (besides the food), was a small table with an innocuous and somewhat out-of-place display—amidst a sea of glittering hi-tech gadgets and mobile devices was a … standard power outlet?
At first glance, that’s exactly what it is. So why is it here sharing premium floorspace with things that were far less mundane?
I jostled up to the front and asked. The outlet is called the NewerTech Power2U. I looked more closely. That’s when I saw that the Power2U’s trick card was that it has a built-in transformer and two hidden USB ports for charging your devices.
That awkward moment when you’re like “Why didn’t I think of that?”
It’s a no-brainer, frankly. NewerTech just happened to do it right; they got UL listed, which means these units are certified for safety. They come in four colors (white, almond, ivory, and black), and fit in any modern, normal-sized junction box.
Installation and limitations
We just happen to have a perfect use case for these units; NewerTech very kindly agreed to sponsor IcronticHQ Detroit with six of them, to be installed in the 1899 home that we’re renovating for our new HQ. Our new office has three of them, and the electrician got them installed today.
That’s not to say you need an electrician to install them. If you have a screwdriver and know how to turn off a breaker or fuse, you can easily install them yourself. I actually let my 12-year-old son install one—with the proper precautions, it’s really quite a simple matter.
The only problem you might encounter is with the size of your outlet boxes. The Power2U requires a full-size box, and even then the fit is tight. I was going to install one in my living room but the box was older (built in the 60s) and too narrow for the Power2U unit.
The installation guidelines, from the website, are as follows:
- Turn off the power to the outlet that you wish to replace.
- Remove the wall plate and outlet you wish to replace.
- Insert a tape measure or ruler into the outlet box and measure the depth, width, and height.
- Multiply the three measurements. For example, a standard deep outlet box is 3″ deep x 3″ tall x 2-1/8″ wide. Multiply all of those together and you come up with 19.125 cubic inches. This box would qualify to fit the Power2U outlet, however that does not complete your calculations; the amount of wires, and fastening devices that are inside of the box also must be factored in. A very thorough explanation of these calculations are available at http://ecmweb.com/nec/code-basics/electric_box_fill_calculations/. Each situation in residential wiring can be unique, so it is up to the installer to determine if they are in compliance with the NEC regulations.
As you can see, if your Romex/outlet box is relatively new (within the last 25 years or so), it should be able to accommodate the Power2U.
The only other limitation is that the Power2U is a 15amp outlet; you should not replace an existing 20amp outlet with it.
The spring-loaded covers over the USB charging ports serve more than just aesthetic purposes. The Power2U switches the USB charging outlets off when the covers are closed; therefore you’re not running the transformer if nothing is plugged in. If you plan on hanging a cord out of the outlet and leaving the other end on your desk for night-time charging, remember that the transformer will be switched on even if nothing is plugged in to the other end. Therefore, the ideal is to unplug the USB cord from the wall socket to shut off the 5v transformer that’s inside the Power2U.
Other than that, there’s not really much mystery to it: You plug in your USB devices, and they charge. You still have two full power outlets and no longer need to waste space with a wall-wart block charger taking up too much room.
Other than cost, there is really no downside to having two USB charging ports inside your power outlets. It’s one of those things that, once you have them, you can’t really go back. They just feel like a necessity.
As far as this particular outlet over other USB-integrated outlets? As it stands now, this is the only UL-listed USB power outlet on the market in the US.
Based on that fact, we’re happy to award the NewerTech Power2U our silver “Outstanding Product” award as something we highly recommend. Every household, geek or otherwise, should have at least one of these units to make their mobile lifestyles a bit easier and more convenient.
The NewerTech Power2U is available from Amazon for $25.99 and from Other World Computing for $27.99. They’re currently running a rebate promotion; if you buy more than two at once, you get $5 off every outlet. They even sell them in bulk packs of 10, 20, and 100 for contractors.