Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Ruinovo USB Power Pack

I have been on a quest to build the best battery pack possible with replaceable 18650 Lithium-ion batteries. There's lots of USB power packs out there. The trouble is that they are all mostly low capacity and don't allow you to replace the batteries. As a hobbyist, I already work with what is probably the most concentrated form of power money can buy: the 18650. I have lots of high end Panasonic and Sony cells lying around, so I should be able to build a power pack with ridiculous capacity for cheap!
Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries)
This review sample was purchased from Fasttech and took about 3 weeks to arrive with the USPS shipping.  So far I haven't come across a US seller of these.

The last pack I built worked well but it was a little flimsy, and didn't charge my ZTE phone. It also had a bright LED on the front that most of the time I don't want, and the wife complained that she couldn't use it in the dark until I put a small piece of electrical tape over it.

The Ruinovo solves the issues I had with the last power pack, but it costs almost four times more! That's really the only downside, though. Everything else about it is superior. First off, it's made of brushed
Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Front View
Aluminum, which gives it a solid, classy feel; not flimsy at all. Secondly, it charges my ZTE Engage smartphone! It also doesn't include an annoying light, though there is another version of this pack that has a bank of LEDs on the side.

For me personally, I wouldn't mind a well designed flashlight built into my power pack. There are several models out there which do that successfully. What I don't like is forcing that light on when I'm charging a device. It's not only annoying but wasteful if all you want to do is charge something. I'm also a "flasholic" so I don't need that superfluous LED.

Build Quality


The build quality on this model really stands out, and almost even feels high end. It uses brushed Aluminum for the entire unit, which is well machined and fairly well anodized. The connectors don't feel cheap and neither does the power button.

The screws are a different story. They are very low quality and will want to strip no matter what you do. Just be really careful and use a high quality screwdriver of the correct size. If I remember, it's a Philips #0. Luckily, they give you a little bag with 4 extra screws. Don't use the included screwdriver as it's basically just for decoration.

Batteries


The unit takes 4 x 18650 batteries. Since this unit has its own protection circuit, there is no need for the extra expense of putting protected batteries in it. They probably wouldn't fit anyway. Just to test the unit out, I put 4 Sony cells I had harvested from a laptop battery. I will most likely put some Panasonic cells in there at some point.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): With Sony Cells

Assembling The Power Pack


 Putting this thing together is a little tricky because you have to take both the front and back plates off. What I did was hold the front board toward the front with my thumb while the rear board dangling from the rear of the case. Then, while holding the front board, I slid the batteries in negative side first, until I had all 4 with the wire slinking down the middle. Then I put the rear board back in place, and slid the rear cover on. Then I attached the rear cover while I held the front board from falling out. Once the rear cover was on, I set the unit flat on the rear cover and held the front cover down while I attached the front plate.

In the course of playing around with it, I took it apart and reassembled it a few times. I found that putting the rear plate on first made it a little easier, and for whatever reason it seemed to make the rear plate seat a little better.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Front Panel Off

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Rear Panel Off

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Front Circuit Board

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Rear Circuit Board

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Both Circuit Boards

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Front Circuit Board Contact Springs


Testing The Power Pack


I like to hook any new USB charger to my digital multimeter just as a reality check the power pins on the USB port aren't shorted or reversed or anything. For this I use a cheap digital multimeter such as this one and a spliced USB cable to measure the voltage.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): On Digital Multimeter


Charging The Power Pack


The Ruinovo has two inputs and two outputs. For inputs it has a 1A micro USB, which is nice, and a 2A USB with a special plug, which is included with the unit. I like the 2A input because these 4 x 18650 power packs take forever to charge from USB.

Here's a shot of charging the battery pack from my laptop using the same micro USB cable I use to charge my phone.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Charging Through Micro USB Port

Here I'm charging the battery pack with the included 2 Amp cable.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Charging Through 2A Port


Charging A Device


For outputs, there's a 1A Android and a 2A Apple full size USB connector. I haven't tried it, but I assume that it could use both ports at once, and I thought I read somewhere that this model can charge and be charged at the same time.

To charge a device, plug it in and then press the power button. The blue lights will glow indicating that it is charging something. The great thing about this power pack is that it turns off automatically when the device it's charging stops drawing power.

Let's Charge Some Stuff!


As with every power pack I build, the first thing I want to know is: Does it charge my annoyingly-picky ZTE smartphone? In this case ... YES IT DOES!

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Charging A ZTE Engage


Pretty much anything with power and a USB plug will charge the wife's HTC One, so this works as expected.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Charging An HTC One


Charges the original Kindle Fire, again, as expected.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Charging An Original Kindle Fire


Bluetooth headphones? Check.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Charging Bluetooth Headphones


Here's where it gets interesting. Below you can see the power pack is charging another power pack.

Ruinovo USB Power Pack (4 x 18650 Lithium-ion Batteries): Charging Another USB Power Pack



Final Thoughts


This is the best power pack I've built so far. At about 15 bucks, it seems expensive compared to some of the other cheap Chinese DIY power packs. It's easy to lose perspective that this thing with 4 of the best batteries money can buy would come in around $50, which would make it superior to almost every commercially available power pack on the market. Not to mention the fact that you can easily replace the batteries. Also, you know what batteries went into it. I wonder what batteries those retail power packs have in them. Probably not the high end Panasonics we normally use.

So, while a little more pricey than some of the other DIY kits, this one is well worth it. I plan to build several more of these and probably give a few away as gifts.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger

I've been through 2 gas trimmers in the last 3 years, so I figured I didn't have much to lose by trying a cordless electric trimmer. I ordered it on a Friday afternoon and got it the following Monday- not bad at all.
Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger Next To My Husky Toolbox
I also needed one pronto, but I didn't want to play roulette from the local hardware stores. So, I decided to research some reviews and ultimately purchased my Earthwise trimmer  from Amazon.

Product Description


This is a 18 volt Lithim-ion cordless trimmer which uses .065 string. Even though it has a fairly beefy size battery, the unit as a whole is very light. It comes with a guard and its smallish spool full of string. The shaft is telescoping so it can be adjusted to the height of the operator. I'm just shy of 6 foot and it's the perfect length adjusted all the way out.

Official Specs


  • 18 V / 2.6 AH Li-ion Battery
  • Auto Single Feed .065 Line
  • Edging Function / Rotating Upper Handle
  • 3 Position Adjustable Cutting Head Angles (0- 30-Degree - 45-Degree )
  • Adjustable Handle -Telescopic


Build Quality


Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger - Battery And Charger
Overall, good. The string spool cover feels very cheap, and I am concerned about how it will hold up. But the rest of the unit is fine, and I would say the build quality is above average in every other respect. The shaft length adjustment point feels solid, and the main grip / trigger area feels especially solid.

The battery also has a solid lockup with the rest of the unit, and I don't get the impression it's going to ever fall out on its own. With the battery in, the unit as a whole is well-balanced, giving this trimmer a great overall feel.

Usability


My little Earthwise trimmer has already seen lots of action. My house sits on a half acre and has lots of grass, plants and trees of various sizes. I was concerned I wouldn't get the battery life, but this will go a half hour, easy. When it does finally go dead, it just kind of stops, so you won't get much warning.

Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger - Closeup Of Handle
This is my first electric trimmer. I knew it would be a little under-powered, and uh, it's a little under-powered. But only by a little bit. And once I adjusted how I use it, I get the same results as a more powerful trimmer. What I do is just keep the string shorter than I would with a gas trimmer. That's it. That's the secret.

...which brings up my main gripe with this model. It has a feature where if you stop it and start it, the string gets auto-advanced. Which is great except for stopping it and starting it is a huge benefit that I never got with the gas powered models. And I run it without the guard, which automatically keeps the string trimmed to its max. So, the best solution is to carry a small pair of wire cutters and just cut the excess when it gets too long.

One thing that really stands out with this model is the great edging capabilities. The head tilts at the perfect angle to edge, and for whatever reason I get a much better edge with this one than I ever did with a gas model. Maybe it's lighter and more precise. Maybe it's the slightly higher RPM than the gas models. Whatever it is, I am getting a superior edge on my lawn, and this more than makes up for it being a little under-powered.

Conclusions


Someone told me: "Don't buy the 18 volt unit, because it will suck. Buy the 40 volt model." But I just wasn't ready to spend that on technology I've never used before, and hey, this model got some of the best reviews
even compared to more powerful units.

Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger - Closeup Of Battery And Charger
I'm glad I purchased this, because it's so light and low maintenance that it's an absolute joy to use compared to a gas powered trimmer. The little bit of power I lost is a small price to pay for all the other benefits. It's a little bit of a hassle to carry around a small pair of wire cutters, but without the guard installed, I just power right through any job with this thing.

With the auto string advance feature, this thing goes through about three times more string than my last model. But that's OK because the string is cheap, and the spool is easier to wind (though smaller) than most gas models I've owned.

While a more powerful model would someday be nice, I'm not sure I'd want that power to come at the price of more weight. This Earthwise trimmer doesn't seem to weigh more than my DeWalt drill. I've already used it on some tough jobs and wouldn't trade it for my last gas powered Weedeater model, which died a horrible death. I'm not going back to gas, and I'm not going any heavier. This Earthwise model might be the sweet spot for me, as long as it holds up.

Gallery

Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger - In Box



Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger - Out Of Box
Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger - Closeup Of Battery Holder In Handle

Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger - Closeup Of Telescoping Adjustments

Earthwise LST10012 12-Inch 18 Volt Lithium Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer/Edger - Closeup Of  Second Handle

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Build Your Own Lithium-Ion Power Pack To Charge USB Devices

USB Power packs are a handy way to charge your mobile phones, tablets and other gadgets. They work especially well for camping, emergencies and even around the house where it isn't convenient to plug in a wall charger.

The problem I have with most of the power packs on the market is that their expensive, low capacity and the batteries inside them cannot be replaced, making these devices basically disposable. Some of the better packs have 18650 Lithium-ion batteries inside, but they tend to use cheaper cells and fewer of them.

I set out to build a decent USB power pack which took 18650 batteries, and I quickly found this model. It definitely gets mixed reviews, but it was cheap and had the features I wanted, so I gave one a try. I'm glad I did, because this is a great little device.

18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Front View

18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Charge Indicator

18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Charge Indicator Button And Lights
18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Top View

Getting Started


This unit takes 4 18650 batteries. I'm not sure if it takes protected cells, but it doesn't need them,
18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Empty
18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, With Harvested Sony Cells
Shown with harvested Sony cells
as it has its own protection circuit. I put 4 green Sony batteries in mine, which I harvested from a new-ish laptop battery. They went in hot off the charger.

When the batteries are replaced in the unit, there's a little button on the circuit board you have to press in order to activate the protection circuit. Once the reset button is pressed, you can install the cover back on the unit.

Warning: Lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous if not handled properly. Before you start, why not drop by the Battery University, which is the best resource on the web.

Testing The Unit


To test my unit, I used a spliced USB cable that I made from ... splicing a USB cable. I like to test these sorts of power packs first because it's usually going to have something expensive plugged into it. There's no way I'm going to fry my wife's new Android phone.
18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Tested With Multimeter
I used a spliced cable to test

Charging The Power Pack


To charge the power pack requires a mini USB cable. Then it can be charged from any USB 5V
power source. When it's plugged in, the little green light next to the mini USB port will turn on, indicating that the unit is charging.

On the side of the unit is a little button with three multi-colored lights next to it, which I assume is some sort of charge indicator. It looks like it was meant to light up a 60's style disco ball, but I guess as long as it is accurate, then it doesn't matter what color the LEDs are.

18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Charging From Laptop



Note About Devices


This unit can charge most devices that can plug into a standard USB port. But because this particular unit does not do anything with the data pins, some devices like my ZTE Engage phone will not charge from it. The power pack only uses the + and - power pins on the USB cable.


Confirmed Devices:

-- HTC One
-- Samsung Galaxy S3
-- Kindle Fire (1st gen)

Charging Your Devices


To charge your device, just plug it into the main USB port and turn the red rocker switch to the ON position. The large LED light in the center will then light up, letting you know the unit has power. At this point, anything that can be charged with this unit should start charging.

NOTE: My wife hates the center large LED because it lights up the bedroom when she's charging something. There are a number of things you can do. Just snip the pin if you don't care about it, and it will have the upside of giving you a little extra juice for whatever you are charging, but the down side is you won't have that cool flashlight in an emergency. So, for my wife's power pack, I just used a square of electrical tape and covered the LED. If it ever needs to be an emergency candle, we can just take the tape off.

18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Charging Bluetooth Headphones
Charging my Bluetooth headphones

18650 Lithium-ion Based Battery Pack, Charging HTC One
Charging the wife's HTC One