Review: FastMac U-Charge for Apple Laptops

The simplest way to get extended runtime with a laptop computer is to have a second battery charged and ready. For example, with two fully-charged extended life batteries I can get more than 10 hours computing time with my old G4-upgraded Pismo PowerBook running OS X 10.4 Tiger, and that’s without resorting to any elaborate power conservation strategies. I consider that very decent performance, and it’s one of the many reasons I keep happily using these now going-on nine-year-old PowerBooks.

The sticking point is that in order to recharge the discharged batteries you have to insert them successively in the plugged-in computer’s battery bay, which takes a long time, especially if you continue to use the laptop while recharging proceeds. A freestanding battery charger speeds things up and is a very desirable accessory if you have multiple batteries for your laptop. It also frees you from having to keep the laptop tethered to an AC adapter while your spare battery recharges.

FastMac’s new U-Charge battery charger supports most G3 and later Apple laptops including iBooks, MacBooks MacBook Pros & PowerBooks (but not the MacBook Air). With U-Charge you can keep a freshly-charged spare battery at the ready without tying up your computer, since it operates externally and independently of the laptop and connects directly to the battery’s terminals to recharge the battery without the necessity of inserting the battery into a laptop bay.

“U-Charge simplifies the battery charging process for those who have more than 1 battery or more than 1 type of Apple laptop,” comments Michael Lowdermilk, Business Development Manager of Fastmac Performance Upgrades, Inc. “This may very well be the last battery charger you will ever buy.”

U-Charge is a 45W external charger that connects directly to the battery’s terminals to recharge batteries quickly and efficiently, in some cases faster than Apple’s AC adapters. Unlike other external battery chargers that are powered by higher wattage AC adapters, the energy efficient U-Charge supplies exactly the power needed to charge only the battery, bypassing the need to power the laptop. Its main housing features battery indicator charge LEDs that mirror Apple’s own battery charge indicators. At a glance, you can determine charge status & battery level.

FastMac TruePower products are individually tested and include safety features to protect against overcharge, overheating, short circuits and power surges. The U-Charge weighs less than 6 ounces and its external dimensions and appearance closely match those of the Apple AC adapter.

The U-Charge package contains three items – the U-Charge unit module, a battery connector cord and a power cord.

To use the U-Charge, just lay the battery on a flat surface with its connector terminal block facing upward. In the instructions that ship with the unit, FastMac warns ominously not to touch the exposed connectors on the battery and the U-Charge connector tip, but doesn’t say why, which is an example of a frequent bone to pick I have with product instructions. Would the consequences of touching the terminals be something trivial or potentially serious?

Anyway, next step is to hold the U-Charge’s battery connector tip on a horizontal plane and plug it into the battery connector terminal with the other end of the cord plugged into the jack socket on the U-Charge. Seems simple and straightforward enough, but there is another warning — this one explained and definitely serious. Apparently it is all too possible to attach the U-Charge connector cord with the tip in a vertical rather than a flat orientation (ie. intersecting with the battery at a right-angle).

Doing it that way will result in a reverse polarity connection that will permanently damage both the battery and the U-Charge. Given the fact that the design of the battery connector is what it is, I appreciate that there would be difficulty in devising a fail-safe preventer for reverse-polarity connections, and anyone who ruined their battery and U-Charge unit inadvertently because they didn’t bother to read the instructions really has only themselves to blame. But human nature (of tending to ignore product manuals) mixed with Murphy’s law seems to make such incidents more likely. That’s really my only negative criticism of the U-Charge.

The chargers comes in two models and are compatible with most Apple laptop computers.

FastMac’s U-Charge is now available for a special introductory price of $79.95. Each U-Charge carries a 1-year warranty and a 30-day money back guarantee.

Disclosure: FastMac provided a U-Charge unit for this review.


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