Power strips need a reboot. Look under your desk: wall warts the size of doorstops, massive AC power bricks, phone chargers with too-clever sideways designs that cover adjacent sockets. Buy a standard six-plug strip and you’re lucky to be able to use four of them.
Necessity being the mother of invention, manufacturers have been turning out power strips with adjustable and flexible designs that offer more accommodating approaches at a range of prices.
Of course, in addition to making it easier to connect a number of chargers and gadgets to one outlet, these devices also protect your electronics against power spikes and surges. The current in your wall outlet doesn’t always stay pegged at 120 volts — it can surge, sending too much electricity through the wires and damaging your precious MacBook Air. If a spike is of considerable enough length (and such things last only a few nanoseconds), it can totally zap a piece of unprotected hardware and start a fire. All three power strips I tested have some level of surge protection, each offering a different amount.
First up is Pivot Power’s six-socket strip, which sprung from Quirky.com’s community-based invention site. Each of the six well-spaced sockets on the blue and white strip is separated by a hinge, allowing you to arrange it in multiple configurations to fit all your brick plugs — as Gadget Lab’s Charlie Sorrel eloquently put it, “the caterpillar-like Pivot-Power lets you twist to fit and therefore fill every electrical orifice.”
With its six feet of cord, the Pivot Power handles up to 1,875 watts of juice and offers a comparative soupçon of surge protection of up to 672 joules. (A joule is a measurement equal to one “watt second” — the amount of energy required to produce one watt for one second). Not exactly heavy duty, but a good start. And for the low $30 price, getting even that much surge protection makes the Pivot Power an attractive buy considering the convenience of the design.
Next was a $40 unit, Kensington’s SmartSockets Table Top. It offers six well-spaced sockets in a tight, circular design. The small footprint belies its capability to accommodate six power bricks. And true to its name, the thing can conveniently sit on a desk or underneath one. Its 16-foot power cord is generous — you can position it just about anywhere in a room. Each socket is color-coded, and the package includes matching cord labels, another handy bit of housekeeping since you’re never left wondering which plug goes with which device.
The SmartSocket also bests the Power Pivot’s 672 joules with a higher surge protection rating of 1,500 joules. In fact, Kensington is so sure of its surge protection, it offers a $50,000 connected equipment replacement warranty. More comforting, the company says it’s never had to pay out.
But if you require even more robust protection, the PowerSquid Surge3000 Calamari promises to never fry your equipment. It sports six flexible octopus-like “legs,” cords of varying lengths to fit even the most massive transformer block plugs. Partnered with this is a fantastic 3,240 joules of surge protection backed with a $500,000 limited warranty against equipment damage.
The design is nice, with two blue, neon, find-me-in-the-dark glowing sockets, and an eight-foot cord with a swiveling flat profile plug to make it easier to fit in any hard-to-reach power outlet.
The base of the unit includes an audible alarm that’s triggered when surges occur. It also has a pair of phone jacks for your land-line phone, and a pair of coaxial connections for protecting your TV from surges over cable lines. The only downsides of the PowerSquid are its clumsy size and rather industrial aesthetics. But considering what it accomplishes, these are minor peeves. Also, the price tag is officially $70, but you can find one as low as $50 online.
Quirky Pivot Power, $30
Rating: 7 out of 10
Kensington SmartSockets Table Top, $40
Rating: 8 out of 10
PowerSquid Surge3000 Calamari, $70
Rating: 8 out of 10