With everything unplugged from the business end, the RoboReel quickly and smoothly gathers the cord, slowing as it nears the end to prevent whipping the tip around and damaging nearby walls or ankles. (The terminal head weighs a few ounces and is pretty heavy, so this feature is a good addition.)
Other built-in safety features include built-in surge and thermal protection and an emergency shut-off that instantly stops power if the cord is severed.
Is it any good?
The RoboReel worked exactly as advertised during my testing (although I didn't test the cable-severing emergency shutoff). I liked not having to worry about tipping the unit over as I dragged cable around, thanks to the free-spinning design and low-to-the-ground stance. I also liked being able to just tap a button to have the 'Reel handle cable retraction while I could focus on other things. Call me lazy, but I love the idea of not having to manually coil 50 feet of heavy-gauge cable after I just finished working on something.
Additionally, the RoboReel unit is fairly lightweight and easy to carry around by its metal frame, and small enough to not take up a lot of space in a crowded garage. Those who want to free up floor space can opt for an optional wall-mount kit that elevates the RoboReel. Once it's wall-mounted, you can set a custom cable-retraction slowdown point based on your chosen mounting height to prevent the weighted terminal head from bashing into the wall when called home by the motorized reel.
What are the drawbacks?
If I've got one complaint about the RoboReel, it's that it costs a pricey $279 for this portable version.
Everyone in the CNET office that I demonstrated the RoboReel's features for guessed a $50 price point would be appropriate -- which I think is way too low for this product. On the other hand, charging close to $300 for an extension cord is asking a lot, even with the intelligence built into this one. I'm thinking the best price would be a happy medium somewhere between those extremes.
That said, the RoboReel is one of the most advanced extension cords that I've ever used and makes a pretty valiant effort at justifying its price. I grew up learning that good tools are sometimes expensive, and the RoboReel is a good tool. Professionals used to paying more for better products may not even blink at this price.
In addition to the RoboReel Portable Power Cord System that I've tested, a ceiling-mounted version is also available for those who prefer a more permanent power point. There are also versions of the RoboReel for managing water and compressed-air hoses.