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PowerAll Element portable jumpstarter review: PowerAll's silver-sided brick is an emergency car jump-starter and phone charger

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One of the earlier efforts at making a truly portable car jump-starter based on lithium ion batteries came from PowerAll, its original red-and-black brick proving itself a life saver when you found your car stalled with a dead battery. Powerall continues to refine its product, now offering the Element, a new portable jump starter with the same capabilities as the original but built into an anodized aluminum and rubber case.

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PowerAll Element portable jumpstarter

The Good

With its 12,000mAh battery and two USB ports, the PowerAll Element will fully recharge any smartphone multiple times. Its 400-amp port lets it jump-start a car.

The Bad

The jump-starter cable is short, limiting flexibility when hooking it up to a car battery. Weighing in at 2 pounds and measuring 6 inches long, it's too bulky to always carry around in an coat pocket or bag.

The Bottom Line

With its jump-start capability and flashlight, the PowerAll Element makes for an excellent addition to any car's emergency kit, and can also recharge phones and tablets.

The PowerAll Element is a power bank storing 12,000mAh of electricity, which you can use to recharge phones, tablets and other devices through the included USB ports. Another port in the Element sends high amperage current, and with the included battery clamp adapter lets you jump start a car with a dead battery.

The top and bottom of the Element are faced with silver anodized-aluminum panels, while rubber with a tire-tread pattern runs around the edges of the device. The result is a rugged and modern feel. At 6 inches long, the Element is a half inch shorter than the original PowerAll. And at only 3 inches wide and 1.25 inches thick, the Element will easily stow in a car's glove compartment, console or trunk. But considering it weighs 2 pounds, you probably won't want to keep the Element in a coat pocket.

Shiny PowerAll Element charges phones, gets cars going (pictures)

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Device charging

A rubber panel on one end opens up to reveal two USB ports and a charging port, so you can charge the device up from a wall outlet. At the opposite end, a convenient white LED light works as a flashlight or emergency signal. On one side, another rubber panel opens to reveal the high-amperage battery clamp port. And on top is a power button and charge indicator.

Within the Element's big plastic carrying case, PowerAll includes the battery clamp adapter and a three-way USB cable with plugs for Lightning and 30-pin iOS devices along with a Micro-USB plug, suitable for tablets such as the Nexus 7. A wall adapter lets you charge the Element from any 110-volt AC outlet, while a 12-volt adapter lets you charge it from a power point in your car.

Powerall Element
PowerAll includes cable adapters for iOS and Micro-USB devices, and car battery clamps. Josh Miller/CNET

Most of the Element's mass is a 12,000mAh lithium ion battery. With that capacity you can fully recharge an iPhone 6 six times, or give the latest-generation iPad one full charge. You could recharge a Kindle Paperwhite eight times, which would mean a few months' worth of reading. The two USB ports support a 5-volt, 2.1-amp output, perfectly adequate for smartphones, but allow for a little extra time when charging a tablet.

Of course, there are many much smaller backup battery packs available for charging devices. What the Element brings is the ability to jump-start a car. The 400-amp output from the jump-starter port is enough to give most car engines a jump.

The only extra feature of the Element is the built-in LED flashlight. Holding down the power button turns it on, and subsequent quick presses cycle through its two different flashing modes. Those flashing modes can be used to signal for help when stranded on the side of the road at night.

Jump start

To test the Element, I plugged in the battery clamp adapter, then detached the positive battery cable from a Chevrolet Aveo, a car with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. I attached the cable clamps to the car's battery cables, then turned the ignition. The car's engine cranked over as if it had a fully charged 12-volt car battery hooked up. While shooting a video to show how it works, I cranked up that engine four more times from the Element without a recharge or a problem.

When I looked at the battery indicator on the Element afterward, it was showing an almost full charge.

Powerall Element
With its battery clamp adapter and 400-amp output, the PowerAll Element can jump-start most cars. Josh Miller/CNET

PowerAll's own website includes videos of the original PowerAll jump-starter, which has the same specifications as the Element, starting up a number of vehicles with high-displacement V-8 engines. It is an impressively powerful little device, and an easy thing to keep in a car in case of emergencies.

The main drawback I found with the Element, and something common to most of this breed of portable jump starter, is that the cables for the battery clamps are very short, limiting your flexibility in fitting it to the widest variety of vehicles. And unlike older jump-starters based on a 12-volt lead acid battery, the Element does not include an air compressor.

On a final note, you should give the Element a charge about every three months to keep the battery fresh.