Published October 30, 2012
NEW YORK – When the subway floods, when the tree falls, when I'm feeling trapped, I simply remember my favorite gadgets and then I don't feel so strapped.
After the potable water, candles, med kit, and non-perishable food stuffs have been stored, the next items on many people's emergency response lists are the gadgets and gimcracks that can help families endure a storm--and the days without power that may follow.
As major storms become increasingly common events, some devices are proving to be more useful than others. Here's a list of my current favorite gadgets that can help those enduring Mother Nature's wrath.
Smartphone With Longevity
When it comes to mobile phones, battery life suddenly trumps all other features when the wind and rains come. Motorola's Razr Android phones lead the pack lasting for days under moderate usage without the need to plug in. Built like a Hummer, the Kevlar-backed Motorola Razr Maxx is $200 from Verizon. This phone is rated to last for 21.5 hours of talk time, but it's not uncommon to have its useful life stretch for several days with moderate texting, Web surfing, and calling.
The Razr Maxx also doesn't seem to suffer from a weakness I've seen on competing models, which often deplete their batteries searching for a non-existent signal (something that can happen quickly when weather has knocked out nearby cell towers). The Razr Maxx also has a bright, crisp 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen that makes it easy to view posts and e-mail messages from friends and relatives.
Looking for a bargain? Get the Motorola Razr M. It's just $100 with a two-year contract, and I've had a model last for two full days of moderate texting and e-mailing.
After the storm has passed, we've learned the hard way that power may not be restored for several days. So having a way to charge a phone or other device even when the power's out can be essential. The $70 Solio Bolt does the job with a built-in battery and two small solar panels that work when the sun comes out.
Before the storm comes, the Bolt's battery can be charged via a wall plug and the company says the battery will hold its charge for up to a year (although I wouldn't count on that). It has USB and micro USB ports, so it can recharge a variety of small, portable devices, and it's rated to provide two full charges to most smart phones. When the battery is done, it takes about 9 hours of sunlight to power it up again.
One of the best ways to get information about school closings, storm progress, and news updates is via that old-fashion thing called a radio. There are plenty of portable battery powered models around, but one I use that does double duty as a snazzy table-top model when the weather is fine is the Tivoli Songbook.
The $200 AM/FM clock radio has a rubberize exterior, making it water resistant. It can be plugged in during fair weather, and then run off disposable AA batteries or rechargeable NiMH/NiCAD batteries when you're socked in. Conveniently, it will also charge NiMH/NiCAD when it's plugged in. One hallmark of the Songbook is its excellent reception--critical in a storm. It's also known for its pleasing sound quality, which makes it ideal when you just want to listen to music while playing Monopoly by candle light.
Reading in the Dark
Nothing beats a book when the electricity is out, but dedicated e-readers come close. While a color tablet can die on you before the first blackout day is over, monochrome dedicated e-readers that use e-ink technology will last for days.
Barnes and Noble's Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, as the name implies, has a built-in light that can be turned on or off. Its 6-inch black-and-white screen is perfect for readers (no LCD eye strain) and it should last for roughly 30 hours of reading time--assuming you keep the light off most of the time and the wireless functions off.
Amazon's comparable Kindle Paperwhite also has a built in light and with roughly the same battery life. Both models are reasonably priced at $119--but look for even lower prices this holiday season as dedicated e-readers are pressured by increasingly popular tablet computers.
The first thing I reach for every time the power goes out is the nearest flashlight. An LED model is the best choice because they require less battery power (so they last longer than regular incandescent models) and they tend to be more durable old-fashioned bulb designs or CFL lanterns. My favorite standby in this category is the Princeton Torrent LED ($40 to $75).
It's waterproof and has a locking switch to prevent it from getting accidentally turned on in a jammed storage bin or glove compartment and draining the batteries. The Torrent is rated for 126 lumens of brightness--so it can cut through a rainy night--and it should last for roughly 30 hours on 8 AAA batteries.
When the lights go out, all you have to do is remember where you stashed it.