One of my favourite April Fool's pranks in recent memory involved a mock website advertising a product that provided power to gadgets over the air. The only catch? If you stood between the device you were charging and the power source you'd get fried like a piece of KFC.
The moral is that we're still a few scientific breakthroughs away from being able to safely provide power to our mobile devices from afar. Consequently, there's a huge market for gizmos that profess to make our wireless lives a little easier.
Fuse PowerSlice (Base $39.99, slices $9.99 each; www.fuseplusyou.com
You've got a work phone and a personal phone. So does your spouse. And then there's your teenage offspring. In many households this makes for a huge knot of cords sitting on a kitchen counter.
Fuse's solution is the PowerSlice, a circular charging station divided into three pie-shaped "slices" containing charging plugs for different types of phones. These wedges can be popped out and replaced in seconds.
The appeal is clear. Three cords become one, and your family's tangle of wires is transformed into an elegant silver and black disk about the size of a smoke detector.
Sadly, it's not without issues.
No slices are included in the box. They're sold separately for $9.99 each. And there are only five to choose from: iPod/iPhone, micro USB, mini USB, Samsung 20-pin, and LG. These will meet most people's needs, but folks with more exotic handsets from other manufactures will be out of luck.
And its wire-free design, which sets handsets standing upright while charging, means it's more or less limited to phones. Most tablets, cameras, MP3 players, game machines, and other mobile devices simply don't fit. I tried plugging an iPad into the iPhone/iPod port and it tipped the base over.
To be fair, Fuse has included a USB port on the side to let you jack in a manufacturer's cable to charge a fourth device of your choosing. Alas, that kind of defeats the PowerSlice's objective of cleaning up cluttered counters.
If you have only a few common phones to charge, the PowerSlice is a good – if expensive – solution for ridding your home of a few ugly wires.
However, if your needs aren't quite so simple, check out Callpod's Chargepod.
It's portable, accommodates up to six devices, can handle just about any kind of gadget, and offers an almost limitless array of adapters from which to choose.
Scosche ClipSYNC ($19.99; www.scosche.com)
I'm an admirer of many Scosche products, including this simple but handy little USB charger. It's no bigger or heavier than a key fob and comes in the shape of a carabineer clip. Just attach it to your keychain or bag and you'll never have to worry about being caught without a charging cable again.
It's little more than a pair of jacks that cleverly plug into a durable but lightweight aluminum core when not in use. Its wee wire tucks snugly into slots along the jack heads' edges so as not to catch on anything while on the go. The fit is so tight that folding the jacks back into their compartments can be a little tricky, but it becomes easier with practice.
Two models are available: one for iPods and iPhones, another for USB devices. They're about the same size, but the latter features a nifty "hammerhead" jack with both mini and micro USB plugs. These common jacks allow the ClipSYNC to be used to charge more than just phones; any camera, tablet, or MP3 player with a matching port is fair game.
My ClipSYNC is attached to the inner zipper of my messenger bag. It's become a permanent fixture there, waiting to be hauled out for on-the-go power emergencies. Just keep in mind that it's a USB charger and not a wall adapter. You'll need a computer (or a USB wall adapter) to use it.
Belkin Mini Dock Portable Stand ($29.95; www.apple.ca)
This one's for iPhone folks only and has a pretty niche target market, but it should prove useful for those who've embraced FaceTime, Apple's video calling app.
It's a combination charging station and vertically oriented stand that folds into a slim slab. Its short USB cord slides into a narrow slot that wraps around the dock, helping the charger maintain its trim profile when not in use.
When open, a flat arm can be adjusted to support your phone at a variety of angles. The docking area, which also flips out, is raised to accommodate most phone cases, eliminating the need to remove protective shells and skins before charging.
Like Scosche's ClipSYNC, Belkin's Mini Dock is a USB charger. That means you can both charge and sync when jacked into a computer, but it precludes the possibility of plugging into a wall without the aid of an additional adapter.
And remember that while it may be slim for a combination dock/stand, there's still some girth here. If FaceTime isn't your bag and all you need is a charger, smaller, cheaper options make more sense.