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What are the most common complaints travellers have about their phones and tablets? It’d have to be lack of battery life, followed by lack of storage space.
While a few Android devices have microSD slots to let you cheaply add extra capacity, most don’t. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you’re out of luck.
When it comes to battery life, it’s rare to find a smartphone that lasts a full travel day. Even the most frugal of tablets will be flashing red after you’ve watched movies on it throughout a longhaul flight.
There are plenty of cases and portable batteries out there to help with the power problem, and you’ve been able to hack together extra storage with a WiFi hard drive or (for Android devices) an OTG cable and USB stick for a while. Combination units, on the other hand? Well, they’ve been largely non-existent until now.
That’s why I was so interested in the MAZZO PowerDrive when I saw the Kickstarter campaign for it last year. If it worked as advertised, it seemed like a great solution. After testing out a review sample for a few weeks, I was happy (and a little surprised) to find it’s even better than expected.
Design and Specifications
The PowerDrive comes in four different versions – 16, 32, 64 and 128GB. I reviewed the 32GB model, but they’re all physically identical and have a battery capacity of 7800mAh. That’s enough to charge an iPhone 6 around three times, or the latest iPad once.
The device itself is a fairly plain white box, about the same size as a pack of cigarettes. At 7.5oz / ~215g, it has some heft to it. While you could slip it into a jeans pocket easily enough, you’d notice the weight when you did.
The PowerDrive charges via a standard microUSB cable, and there are two other USB sockets on the top of the device for connecting to other devices. The 1.0amp socket will charge pretty much any other USB device. The high-power 2.1amp socket is designed for iPhones, iPads and similar.
There’s a grand total of one button. It activates the device, and sits alongside a metallic strip that lights up to show the charging status and battery percentage.
All in all, it’s a solid if unremarkable design, robust enough to handle the inevitable knocks and bumps that come with travel.
The PowerDrive arrived a little over half charged, so the first thing I did was plug it in. As with any high-capacity portable battery, it took a few hours to get to 100%. Expect to leave it on overnight if you’re charging from empty.
Once full, though, it retained its charge well. I left it sitting on the table for around two weeks at one point, and it still had 100% capacity when I went to use it. That’s very handy for a portable charger, which often sits in your bag for days or weeks between uses.
The first test was charging an iPhone 5. Starting at 60% charge, the PowerDrive took about an hour to bring it up to full capacity, and used 15% of its own battery to do so. That’s in line with what I’d expect, especially since the phone screen was on for much of the time. Subsequent tests with other devices gave similar results. You can even charge two devices simultaneously if needed.
My second test was copying files to and from the PowerDrive storage. It prompted me to install the companion app from the App Store when I first connected it to the iPhone, which I did. It’s a simple app, with ‘Local’ and ‘External’ tabs to switch between the two sets of storage.
While I would have liked the option of a proper filesystem view to let me copy whatever I wanted from the phone, the software only allows you to copy photos and videos. You can do so all at once, or selectively via the photo library.
That process, at least, is fast and seamless, and there’s even an automatic option if you want to use your PowerDrive as a proper photo backup device. That’s great for travellers, especially when they don’t have Internet access for cloud backups.
Better, though, was the ‘Connect to PC/Mac’ option. This creates a mini webserver on the phone, with or without scanning a QR code for extra security. Files can be uploaded and downloaded via a basic web interface.
I tested by uploading several music and video files, which copied quickly over WiFi. After moving them to the PowerDrive via the app, I was able to play back directly from external storage without buffering or other problems.
You can also achieve the same thing by plugging the device into a laptop, where it acts like any other external drive. Being able to back up and move files around like this, and especially being able to play back music and video direct from the external storage, turns the PowerDrive into a genuinely useful device for travellers.
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But What About Android?
So, if you’ve got an Apple phone or tablet, the PowerDrive is pretty compelling… but what about Android users? Neither the Kickstarter campaign nor the product website make mention of Android support, but that wasn’t going to stop me trying anyway.
Charging worked fine, as expected, but I wasn’t able to access the PowerDrive’s storage when it was plugged directly into a Nexus 5 or Nexus 7.
Undeterred, I dug out this old OTG (On-The-Go) cable and tried again, with much greater success. Connecting the OTG cable to either Nexus device, and a standard microUSB cable from there to the Powerdrive’s “PC” socket, let me browse the file system on both devices with the Nexus Media Importer app.
Copying files backward and forward worked perfectly, whether they were music, documents or anything else. Doing it this way isn’t quite as seamless as using the Powerdrive app on iOS, but on the other hand, I could access any file on either device.
OTG cables are notoriously finicky, though, and not every device supports them. Research carefully if you’re planning to do something similar.
As you can probably tell, I was impressed with this device. It does exactly what it says it will — more, in fact, given the unofficial Android support. It’s solidly-made, easily portable and is one of the few accessories I’d wholeheartedly recommend to almost any traveller.
If you’d like extra space and battery life for your phone or tablet when you travel, I’d suggest putting the PowerDrive P1 right at the top of your shortlist.
You’ll pay between $79 and $249, depending on storage space. Note the company also sells a “Slim” version, a cheaper model that halves the weight by cutting the battery capacity down to 3000mAh. If storage or cost are more important to you than maximum battery life, it might also be worth considering.