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Murphy's Law ensures that your cell phone battery will die on you at the worst possible moment.

Here's a way to 'Murphy-proof' your phone.

A hand powered generator that will recharge your phone sufficiently for it to keep working in such emergencies.

 
 
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Sidewinder Portable Cell Phone Charger

A wind-up generator that can always provide unlimited emergency cell phone power
 

If you've ever played with an old fashioned wall phone with a windup handle ring generator, you'll recognize the same concept in this modern device.

 

 

 

Unlike a spare battery, the Sidewinder Portable Cell Phone Charger never runs out of power and never needs to be replaced.  While turning the handle is not much fun, the Sidewinder is an ideal emergency standby power source, especially for survivalists wanting to have the lowest tech solution to powering their (ummm...) high tech cell phone!

What you Get

The moderately priced Sidewinder comes complete with a full kit of goodies.  You get the charging unit itself, and a connector cable to plug the charger into a Nokia type phone.  Another four adapter tips are also supplied to enable it to plug into other phone models as well.

Everything comes in a convenient zip up carrying pouch, making it easy for you to keep the various connectors together without fear of losing them.  There is a carry loop on the pouch so it could be slotted onto your belt or the strap of your bag.

The charger itself measures about 2" x 1" x 1".  The generating handle folds closed snuggly against the side of the unit when not in use.

The unit is very light.  It weighs 2 oz by itself, or about 5 oz when in its pouch and with all cables and adapter plugs.

Simple instructions are printed on the display card on which the unit is mounted.  It has a one year warranty.

How it Works and What it Does

Turning the crank handle at a speed of about two revolutions per second generates power that is used to recharge your cell-phone battery.

You don't need to turn at exactly two revolutions per second.  Somewhat faster or slower is perfectly fine - the unit is voltage regulated to keep the voltage reasonably stable even if the generator speed varies.

At 1.5 revs per second, the unit was giving out about 5V of power, and at 2 revs per second, it was giving out close to its full rated 6.2V.  Turning the handle faster did not create any appreciable increase in voltage.  Most regular chargers tend to provide between 4.5V-6V, so this output voltage is completely satisfactory.

The output voltage was also safely steady and did not have any dangerous transients or 'noise' apparent.  Some other similar units have less control circuitry inside and can potentially damage or even destroy your cell phone.

The unit delivers up to 330 mA when being cranked at two turns per second.  Not all of this current flows into your battery though, and current output is closely proportional to cranking speed.

Most regular chargers are rated at between 450-800 mA, so the Sidewinder would seem to be capable of delivering at least half the rate of charge of a regular charger.

The manufacturer says that two minutes of charging will provide 'up to' 6 minutes of talk time and 'up to' 30 minutes of standby time.  It has been difficult to exactly confirm these numbers - my sense is that there is a slight amount of randomness as to exactly when a phone battery dies, and when you're measuring only 5 minutes or so, a 5 minute random factor makes it hard to distinguish between valid test results and random variation.  And it seems inconsistent to expect only five times longer standby time than talk time; most phones these days offer a much greater multiple of standby time compared to talk time.

However, it is correct to say that if you charge your phone for a few minutes, you can then talk on it for a few more minutes, or have it on standby for an even longer period.

It is also possible to both charge your phone and talk on it at the same time.  However, because charging is a two handed operation - one to hold the charger and the other to turn the handle, you would need to have a hands-free headset to use with your phone if you wanted to charge while talking.

If you're charging and talking, the rate of charging is greater than the rate of power consumption used by the phone call, so you'll never run out of talk time as long as you keep turning the handle, and indeed, you're slowly adding extra power into the battery at the same time.  Although you'll never run out of power, you might get a sore arm after an hour (or even much less!) of turning!

Sidewinder has, however, even thought of that eventuality.  You can turn the charging handle in either direction, so you could swap it from left to right hand and back again during the course of your hypothetical lengthy phone call.

This unit also includes a miniature flashlight capability.  There is a white (slightly blue/purple tinged) LED on the top of the unit, and when you turn the charging handle, the generated power can either be used to recharge your phone or to turn on the light.  As a nice extra feature, a built in capacitor stores some charge so the light will continue to glow for a couple of minutes after a 30 second charge.  The light is not very strong, and steadily fades when you stop charging, but is perfectly adequate for brief tasks such as finding your keys and fitting them into a door lock.

The light only works when the cable is not plugged in to the unit.  It can either charge your phone or illuminate the darkness, but can not do both simultaneously.

Using the Sidewinder

Using the Sidewinder is remarkably easy.  Plug the connecting cable into the Sidewinder (only one end fits into the socket so you can't get this wrong) and then plug the other end into the appropriate adapter and into your phone.

Next, start turning the handle.  I count to myself 'One (turn) and a (turn), two (turn) and a (turn), etc as a way of estimating two turns per second.

The handle is moderately easy to spin around when the unit is not connected to a phone.  When it starts to actually charge a dead battery, you immediately notice an appreciable increase in stiffness, and it takes more energy to turn the handle.  But this is, of course, entirely as you'd expect - the generator is converting your effort turning the handle into electricity for your phone.  If you've ever wondered how much 'power' it takes to make a cell phone work, now you know.

If your phone battery totally died on you, charge up your phone for a couple of minutes before trying to make a call.  And if you're not in an area with excellent signal strength, you might want to wait another minute or so before you place your call - your phone uses up more power because it has to send out a stronger signal when the coverage is poor.

The Sidewinder makes a certain amount of noise as you turn it.  You couldn't hope to discreetly use it in a meeting, but on the street or in your private office/car, the noise wouldn't matter at all, and would not interfere with a phone conversation.

The five different adapters supplied with the unit work with most phones from

  • Nokia

  • Motorola

  • Sony/Ericsson

  • Samsung

  • Kyocera

  • Audiovox

If you have a different type of phone - for example, a Siemens, then extra adapters can be purchased.

I tested it with four phones - a Nokia 3650, a Siemens S46, a Motorola V66 and a SonyEricsson T610.

Sidewinder or Cellboost or Clipper Emergency Recharger?

(See also my review of the Cellboost emergency battery and the Clipper Gear Emergency Cell Phone Battery Recharger)

These three devices use very different strategies to get emergency power to your dead cell phone.

  • The Cellboost battery is a one time use disposable external battery that transfers its power to your phone.  Once you've used up the power in the Cellboost, you throw it away and buy another one.  Even if you don't use the Cellboost, their battery life expires after about three years.

  • The Clipper Gear unit uses replaceable and low cost standard AAA batteries.  A set of AAA batteries gives about two full battery charges to your cell phone.

  • The Sidewinder, on the other hand, lasts almost forever, and can provide power without limit.

  • The Cellboost and Clipper Gear units are simple and easy to use, but the Sidewinder is definitely more bother to operate.

  • All three units are small, with the Cellboost being the smallest and the Sidewinder the largest.

  • Cellboosts can only work with one type of cell phone; Sidewinders and Clipper Gear units can work with just about any type of phone.  If you're traveling with friends or family, you might need three or four different types of Cellboosts, but only one Sidewinder or Clipper Recharger.

  • If you change phones, you might need to throw away your existing Cellboosts and buy new ones (to fit the different plug) but the Sidewinder and Clipper Gear units will probably work with the new phone just as well as with the earlier phone.

  • Cellboosts are about $6 each, Clipper Gear units are $10 plus batteries, Sidewinders are $25.

  • Sidewinders also feature a miniature light, Cellboosts and Clipper Gear units don't.

Which is best for you?  That is your choice!  These are the differences, you decide which solution best fits your lifestyle and needs.

Cost

The Sidewinder charger lists for $24.95.  Pro Travel Gear - the new website for the Plane Quiet manufacturer - will give Travel Insider readers their usual 5% discount if you use the discount coupon code travelinsider when purchasing through them.

Summary

The Sidewinder charger is the ultimate in reliable emergency power supplies for cell phones.  It never gets used up and (within reason) never wears out or stops working (although your arm will get tired fairly quickly).  However, the Sidewinder is bulkier than, and not nearly as convenient to use as, a Cellboost or Clipper Gear battery.

There are other similar products also in the marketplace, but they generally lack the bi-directional charging and the long lasting light features of the Sidewinder.  The Sidewinder seems to be the best featured of the various crank handle units, and at a good price.

Recommended.

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Originally published 23 Apr 2004, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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