Devices (PDF) the Power Pack can charge include mobile phones from Nokia, Samsung, Sony Erickson, LG, Sanyo, as well as the BlackBerry, Palm Treo, Imate, and iPod Nano. The Olympus AZ-2, Archos 500AV DVD player, Nintendo Game Boy, and other equipment are also supported. (If you don't think such toys would ever need an emergency charge, then you might listen to some Hurricane Katrina survivors who recall the stress relief provided by gaming gadgets.)
Billed for its "green" qualities, the Medis Power Pack lacks ozone-depleting chemicals and polluting heavy metals. Its maker shuns methanol, used by other fuel cell technology. Instead, the company uses a mineral, sodium borohydride, although that still requires mining. However, don't try to pry open or break the Power Pack with a power tool, since you could expose yourself to potentially corrosive material. The product is fully recyclable, from the low-toxic PET plastic packaging to the chemicals within. Medis makes recycling simple, since the cardboard box it arrives in is preaddressed with the recycling destination.
The 1-watt Medis 24/7Power Pack fuel cell is supposed to provide enough juice to play an iPod for up to 80 hours, or to talk for 30 hours on a mobile phone. After that, you'll need to spend $20 for a new fuel cell. We've used the Power Pack as the sole charger for nearly a week for our BlackBerry Pearl and iPod Nano. When the BlackBerry battery was fully dead, however, it took nearly 30 minutes for the Medis Power Pack to begin registering a charge. Therefore, we'd recommend plugging the fuel cell charger into a device that's not completely drained. To help the Medis fuel cell last longer, you should unplug it from the device it's charging after 2 to 3hours. That's a drawback if you'd rather plug everything in overnight and forget about it.
Medis Technologies also recommends keeping the Power Pack stored between 32 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit and allowing space around its edges to let it "breathe" while it's plugged in. The Power Pack is safe to take on an airplane.
If you're shopping around for an off-the-grid gadget charger for emergencies or road trips, this product may be more practical than solar- or wind-powered devices, which rely on the whims of weather. The Medis fuel cell Power Pack works nearly instantly. It's both superior to and costlier than hand-crank chargers for cell phones.
On the downside, this $30 option is relatively expensive. The fuel cell needs to be replaced periodically for $20 a pop. The cell could drain in a matter of days if it's your only power source. By contrast, the batteries attached to solar devices for small tech toys, ranging generally between $20 to $200, can be continually recharged for months or years before needing replacement.
Service and support
Online support for the Medis Power Pack includes decent, though brief, technical Q&A and troubleshooting pages, plus various PDF documents to describe specifications and compatible devices. The company provides an e-mail address for further help, but no telephone number. We found that to be good enough for this simple product.