Batteries not included

18 Dec 2008

The assortment of MP3 players, gaming consoles, netbooks and various wonderful electronic gadgetry nestled securely under Christmas trees the length and breadth of Ireland on Christmas Eve may be time bombs just waiting to go off.

So make sure you have the arsenal of batteries, cables and emergency backups to enjoy your purchases and avoid tears, tantrums and disappointment. The kids won’t be impressed with your emotional outburst, and will be just as peeved when they can’t play Guitar Hero or Mario Kart either.

The biggest offender of the holiday season is the garden variety AA or AAA battery. The first step in your plan of attack should be to do a clean sweep of the entire house and juice up the remote, alarm clock, smoke alarms and anything else that’s been neglected in the past while.

Then onto the wireless remotes of the Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360 – you don’t want them running out mid-game on Christmas morning.

A lot of gadgets these days eat up battery power within hours, so your best bet is to invest in some long-life lithium ones, such as those from Duracell. Digital cameras are even more power-hungry, but the Duracell Lithium 3V photographic battery does the job on this front.

However, lithium batteries are fairly expensive and cannot be recharged (although they do last for about 10 years in a smoke detector), so another course of action may be to invest in a rechargeable battery unit.

For the TV remote control and other small devices that do not require fresh batteries very often, it is best to get the bog-standard alkaline ones, which are inexpensive and as powerful as are needed.

So you’re all set on the battery front, but, unfortunately, you are not even close to being finished! Most devices now power up via the three-prong plug, and, increasingly, via USB.

Upon recently purchasing the Sony Reader electronic book device, I found that no AC power cable with plug was included – instead there was a USB 2.0 cable used for the dual purpose of powering up the device through a desktop or laptop and also transferring the ebooks.

In a way, this can be quite the time saver, but if I was getting the Reader for an older relative who loved books I would load the ebooks on myself before wrapping, and would not necessarily assume they had a laptop or even knew how to use one.

In fact, when I bought my fairly tech-savvy dad an MP3 player last Christmas, I preloaded it with The Beatles and Johnny Cash because I knew it would be his first experience with a device of this kind.

In the same vein, you might never think of buying a power cable for the Reader, or any MP3 player or media device for that matter, so make sure to get one. Alternatively, you can buy a universal AC to USB power supply that will act as a wall charger for most USB-charged gadgets and is indispensable, in my opinion.

So when buying gadgets for someone this Christmas, make sure to ask the shop assistant how easy the device is to set up, how it is powered and if any accessories essential to its operation should also be bought (watch out for staff flogging any superfluous gear though).

Another good gadget to have on hand is the USBCell from Moixa. This is a USB-powered rechargeable battery – just stick it in your laptop or desktop and let it charge away. Also good to know is that the USBCell was listed in the European Cleantech 100 list for 2008.

While on the subject of environmentally friendly ways of charging your gadgets, the best kind of energy is that generated by hand. The Bcool! Gadget Store sells a wind-up charger for hand-cranking your phone or MP3 player back to life.

And if previous Christmases are anything to go by, there is always the possibility of storms and power failures, so one of these chargers would be a lifeline for your mobile handset.

If we escape a power cut, we may get a bit of thunder and lightning and, of course, the accompanying power surge that has fried many a desktop, so consider investing in a surge protector – think of it as gadget insurance.

And do not forget one of the top-selling gadgets of the year – the netbook. Many teenagers and adults alike will be receiving one of these this Christmas, conjuring up images of impatient family members shoving each other aside to get on the web.

If you do not already have a wireless network set up in your home, maybe now is the time to think about it. If you have fixed broadband from Eircom or the like, you can get a wireless router and everyone gets to surf the web at the same time.

Finally, onto living-room entertainment and the old box in the corner that is now high-definition-ready (HD) for most of us. However, if you are upgrading to a Blu-ray player this Christmas to take advantage of your television’s HD image resolution, beware!

HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) cables are crucial for connecting the Blu-ray player to your TV set to get this superior picture quality, and are usually not included with the player. These will cost anything between €10 and €40, so shop around.

By Marie Boran