Power plays

When the power goes out and our cellphones aren’t charged, more of us than ever are dead in the water. no phone service. no texting. no email.

Some 27 percent of American households no longer have a landline. And the numbers are climbing by the day as Americans look for ways to save money. maybe you can live without email. but having a working phone is a matter of personal safety.

So to help you stay connected the next time an ice storm or high winds knock you off the grid, we tested some tools that will keep your cellphones, tablets and laptops going. neither Consumer Reports or gadget review site cnet.com has reviewed chargers, according to spokesmen. We tried out items that run from a few dollars to nearly $200. We looked at a cross-section of goods that might help the average family keep their gear charged for a day, or maybe two.

Note: the results come from a test drive, rather than repeated testing.

For a jolt of juice, it’s hard to beat. one 15-minute round of errands usually takes my iPhone from dead to 10 percent charged, or more. Longer drives get you more charging. I asked the experts at Edmunds.com if you could charge your phone by just turning the ignition enough to run the accessories rather than running the car. they advised against it because that first click is booting up other systems, too, and you could run your down your battery. Retail: $20.

The Duracell Instant Charger is a rechargeable battery you can use to charge mobile devices that come with USB power cords. It can be charged either off your computer or household current. You charge it up, turn it off, and then pull it out when you need to charge a phone or other device. It brought my dead phone back to life in a few minutes and charged it to 50 percent in an hour and a half. Impressive. seems like it could get you out of a jam. Retail: $29.99.

Duracell PowerPack 450

If you’ve got a house with several gadgets, it could be the way to go. You charge this unit off household current in advance and it works as a portable power station. It has two standard outlets and a USB port. I took a dead iPhone and dead laptop to fully charged with lots of power to spare. (It ran our DSL modem, too. but if the network is down you’re out of luck.) You can also plug in household appliances, like a lamp. And finally, it also has an air compressor to inflate car tires (it worked) and can be used to jump-start a car, but we didn’t test that. Warning: It takes a few days to charge the first time. so don’t run out on the afternoon of an ice storm thinking this will save you. Retail: $189. (Cheaper online. Other companies make similar devices. Reviews are all over the place when it comes to ratings.)

This hand-crank generator took my iPhone to 5 percent charged in about two minutes. (The first model gave me problems, but the company shipped another and it was fine.) if you ever worry about being stranded and don’t trust battery rechargers, this is for you ( k-tor.com). but cranking is not for the feeble. It gets old fast. Retail: $45.

This hand-crank device delivers both flashlight and radio without batteries. one minute of cranking gets you 20 minutes of light or about 33 minutes of radio, though you can get both at the same time. quite amazing. You can also use it to charge a phone but it took me nearly 10 minutes to get my iPhone going. Strictly a last resort as a phone charger. Retail: $50.

Are there other products you’ve used for charging gadgets? Email us about what’s worked at clever@charlotteobserver.com and we may follow up. the best tip wins a $10 gift card from Lowe’s.