Ars Technica | June 3, 2012
Geek upgrade: review and installation of Newer Tech Power2U USB Outlet
Apple accessory maker NewerTechnology recently released a specialized electrical outlet, called the Power2U, that includes two USB ports for charging mobile devices. Available in four colors—to match any décor—and coming in at just under $30, it seems like a handy upgrade for the home.
We installed one ourselves to see just how easy it is as a DIY project and to get a feel for the convenience it offers. We came away learning more about installing electrical equipment in a home than we expected, but once installation was complete, the results spoke for themselves.
The Power2U includes 2 USB ports that can output a total of 10W for charging mobile devices.
First things first: if you are in any way uncomfortable with or unsure of proper safety procedures for installing an electrical outlet, hire a licensed electrician to do the work for you. The procedure shouldn't involve anything more than wire strippers and a screwdriver for most installs, but there's no need to risk life and limb if you're not comfortable tinkering.
Secondly, never work on live home electrical circuits. Figure out which breaker or fuse is connected to the outlet you plan to replace, and turn it off before turning the first screw.
Make sure the breaker (or fuse) is turned OFF before you begin any work.
Finally, make sure the gang box inside the wall can accommodate the Power2U before installing. Our first attempt at installation ended up not working, which prompted a call to a local electrician. He noted that the common, inexpensive 3x2" "gem box" used in many homes and remodels is just large enough to accommodate the cheapest, smallest outlets. The Power2U, with its USB charging and safety circuitry, simply will not fit.
If you have common 2x3" gem boxes, the Power2U won't fit.
Trust us, this is NOT gonna work.
Replacing the gang box and wiring with appropriate materials would run a minimum of $100 for typical work, according to our electrician, Thomas Sklena. And it would leave a big hole in the drywall that would need to be patched and painted. We're betting that the extra work and expense might not worth it for a lot of home owners, and you should also be sure your significant other is OK with the drywall being torn up for a day or two—it can make quite a mess.
So you want some Power2U?
NewerTech's Power2U outlet is a self-contained replacement electrical outlet that is suitable for home or commercial use. The USB charging ports can output a maximum 5V at 2000mA, enough to charge an iPad. Note that charging an iPad and another device at the same time will have to share the 10W total USB output, so charging two iPads at the same time is definitely going to take longer than usual.
The Power2U is the only fully UL listed USB power outlet available today.
One nice benefit of the Power2U is the addition of shutter doors over the USB ports. Not only do these shutters keep the ports clean and free of debris, they also shut off the USB circuits when not in use. While many chargers only draw a tiny amount of power when no device is plugged in, it's still a non-zero amount that can add up over time. And with the number of mobile devices people have these days, the "vampire" power draw can multiply quickly. (In our house, for instance, we have three iPhones, two iPads, and an iPod.)
The safety shutters protect the ports as well as help save power when not in use.
Assuming you have a fairly new home or a recent remodel with full-size gang boxes, $30 in your pocket (you can save a few dollars buying from Amazon), and under an hour of free time, you can quickly install a Power2U in the kitchen, in an office, by the nightstand, or any other convenient place where you regularly charge your mobile devices.
Get 'er done
We'll go step by step through the install procedure, which is pretty straightforward, illustrating along the way with photos. NewerTech also has a step-by-step video on its website if you'd like to see it happen in real-time.
This outlet in the kitchen, where we often plug devices in to charge, is the perfect candidate for an upgrade.
Start by switching off the breaker (or pulling the fuse) for the circuit on which your current outlet is located. We repeat: DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.
With the power off, unscrew the wall plate off the outlet.
Removing the old standard outlet.
Then unscrew the outlet from the gang box.
This newer gang box has plenty of space inside. Note the black (hot) and white (neutral) wires.
You should see three wires. A typically black covered wire is the "hot" wire—where 120V, 15A AC power is delivered from your breaker box. The white covered wire is neutral. Finally, a green covered or bare wire is ground. If there is no ground wire, you may have a self-grounded electrical circuit, in which case you can connect ground directly to the gang box (assuming it's metal). If you are unsure about grounding, consult a licensed electrician.
Unscrew the three wires from the existing outlet.
Just unscrew the terminals to remove the wires from the old outlet.
With the old outlet removed, the Power2U is ready to go in.
You'll now connect the Power2U to the three wires. The Power2U has three color-coded screws to make this simple: brass for hot, silver for neutral, and green for ground. Depending on the codes in your area, you may be able to simply attach the existing wires to the appropriate screws. In some areas, you may need to attach leads to the device and connect to the existing wires using electrical screw-cap connectors. Either way works fine, though the latter method is considered "proper" technique; it's not necessarily any safer, but it certainly makes future repairs or installs easier and cleaner.
Here you can see the green ground wire screw and the silver neutral screw. The brass hot screw terminal is on the opposite side.
Simply screw in the appropriate wires to the appropriate terminals.
Once the wires are connected, gather any loose wires to the sides and insert the Power2U and wires fully into the gang box. Make sure that the ground wire, if bare, is not touching either of the hot or neutral terminals—this could cause an overload or fire, and none of us want that.
Then screw the Power2U into the gang box.
Screw the Power2U into the gang box, making sure none of the wiring crosses terminals.
Screw the wall plate into the Power2U, using the supplied screw caps to complete the finished look.
With the front plate on, you're now ready to turn on the power.
Once everything is safely inside the gang box and behind the wall plate, it's now safe to turn on the breaker.
Check that outlet is getting power by plugging in a standard device into the plugs as well as a USB device into the USB port. If something is seriously wrong, you'll know right away—the breaker or fuse will trip, you'll smell ozone, or the device won't work. Our install went without a hitch (not counting the two times we almost lost the tiny screw caps) and is still charging devices without fail.
Success! Here, the Power2U is powering a small lamp while charging an iPhone.
It's Miller—or Mountain Dew—time
The Power2U isn't the only USB outlet out there. FastMac has been offering its U-Socket for about a year. It's built from a standard Leviton outlet, and comes in standard and "decorator" styles in white, almond, and ivory colors. Newer upstart CurrentWerks also offers what appears to be a similar design, though in slightly fewer style and color combinations. (CurrentWerks most original product is a 4-port USB charger that fits into a standard wall outlet box, though we haven't tested it ourselves yet.)
Other USB outlets are available, including similar options from FastMac (left) and CurrentWerks (right). CurrentWerks USB Quattro is a particularly unique USB charging solution (center).
But while both companies' products are claimed to be "tested to UL specifications," only the Power2U is actually UL listed for the complete product. That distinction may not mean much to you personally, though as we noted earlier, it might make a big difference for your local building codes or insurance requirements. FastMac told Ars that the distinction doesn't ultimately matter; its devices are certified to meet National Electric Code standards, and that should suffice. That's not what our other sources told us, so if there is any doubt, consult a licensed electrician or your local building inspector.
We also like the shutters over the USB ports on the Power2U—you'd be surprised what pets and kids can manage to get inside an exposed USB port. And while the white version matched our kitchen install, we like that the Power2U comes in geek-friendly black as well.
With the Power2U installed, you can now charge your iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry, portable speakers, tablet, Kindle, or whatever other device you have that charges via USB, all while reducing vampire power draw. If you did it yourself, you can also pat yourself on the back and enjoy increased geek cred. If you paid an electrician to do the work for you, though, there's no shame in that. Either way, crack open an ice-cold beverage of your choice an enjoy your newfound USB charging capacity.
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