If you’ve ever been frustrated by the size and weight of your laptop charger, you’re in good company. Whether it’s a Macbook or a PC, breathless announcements of new lightweight models become less impressive for travellers when you factor in the bulky chargers that come with them.
Add a USB wall charger or two for the rest of your gear, and the end result is a mess of equipment taking up more space and weight in your daypack than it should.
The Zolt Laptop Charger Plus sets out to change all that, with a small, light universal charger that fits into a pocket. Sound too good to be true? After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the company started selling its chargers to the rest of us just prior to Christmas, and sent one out for me to take a look at.
Here’s how it fared.
Features and Specifications
The octagonal charger comes in three colours, graphite, orange and eye-searing violet. Three USB sockets are arranged vertically on one side. The top one has a small cut-out for the laptop cable, while the other two are for standard USB devices.
While the top socket can also be used to charge a USB device, the company recommends against it, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
The charger by itself measures 93x34mm, and weighs 100g. That’s roughly 3.7″ by 1.3″ and 3.5oz, for the Americans in the room. The cable(s) add a little extra weight, but it’s minimal. Zolt suggests its charger is around four times smaller and three times lighter than most, and that seems about right. It’ll handle anything from 120-240v, as it should.
The Zolt has a maximum output of 70W — that’s 65W or less for the laptop, plus whatever else you’ve got plugged in. Most recent 13″ laptops, including Macbooks, don’t need more power than that.
An LED light on the end of the charger lets you know when its in use. If the total power draw from all your devices gets too high, that light will flash to let you know, and mobile equipment will be prioritised.
The charging prongs flip upwards for when the Zolt is in transit. In a nice touch, the bottom section rotates 90 degrees to ensure adjoining plugs aren’t blocked when you’ve got a bunch of cables hanging out.
Along with the charger itself, the Zolt comes with a six foot charging cable, and eight interchangeable tips to provide compatibility with most (but not all) Windows PCs. The company has a compatibility tool on the site, so you can check your laptop is supported before purchase.
There’s also a six foot extension cable available for around $20, and if you’ve got a Macbook, you’ll also need to order one of the two Apple-specific adapters. Again, they’re around twenty bucks each.
The brushed look of the graphite version I was sent was surprisingly attractive. It’s a professional-looking device, at least in that colour. The first thing I did after it arrived was wind the cable around it, and stick it in my jeans pocket.
Although I wouldn’t necessarily choose to carry it like that all the time, it fitted easily and wasn’t even especially noticeable. Try doing that with your existing laptop charger!
For the purposes of my testing, I used a 2013 Macbook Pro (13″), Google Nexus 7 tablet and iPhone 5. The magnetic tip on the Macbook cable was almost indistinguishable from the original, and connected with a satisfying snap.
The ridged USB plug on the other end meant I couldn’t plug it into the wrong socket, and the lights on both charger and tip lit up to show everything was working.
When it came to charging speeds, there was also no difference between the Zolt and the original Macbook charger. The estimated remaining charge time stayed the same regardless of which one was connected. The Macbook continued to charge in line with that estimate until it was full.
Connecting first the phone, and then the tablet, didn’t change the estimated time, and both mobile devices charged as expected. As for Windows laptops, while the Zolt doesn’t ship with a tip for my particular model, it supports many hundreds of others. Each tip connects solidly to the cable, to the extent that it’s hard to distinguish where the tip ends and the cable begins.
Having used other universal adapters in the past, I was concerned the tips would be loose and ill-fitting, but that wasn’t the case here.
The six foot length of the standard cable is a little shorter than most other chargers, and doubling it made the Zolt more useful on the road. Adding the extension made all the difference when power sockets were on the floor, behind furniture and otherwise situated somewhere less than helpful (ie, most of the time.) I’d suggest getting one.
Where I ran into problems, though, was when charging the Macbook Pro while continuing to do CPU-intensive work with it. The MBP power draw is near the upper end of the charger’s range, and it showed.
On several occasions, the Zolt shut off, and the light on the end started flashing. It was hot to the touch, and needed to be unplugged for quite a while before it was cool enough to start charging again.
I’m sure it’d work better on laptops that need less power, but if you’ve got a Macbook Pro or other machine with a 60W+ charger, you might want to think twice before purchasing. The last thing you need is an unreliable charger when you’re thousands of miles from the nearest Apple store.
Because it’s so light, it also works better with travel adapters than many other chargers. It’s far from unusual for my various chargers to fall straight out of the travel adapters I plug them in to, but not so the Zolt.
It stayed firmly in even my dodgy five dollar one, at least until I held it upside down for a while. Given how few power sockets I find on the ceiling these days, I’m ok with that.
The Zolt Laptop Charger Plus is well-made, smaller and lighter than any other laptop charger I’ve ever seen, and has extra features to boot. Being able to charge a couple of USB devices from the same tiny unit is very useful, avoiding the need to carry extra chargers and find extra sockets.
The 90-degree rotation is also handy, opening up cramped spaces and freeing adjacent sockets for other gear. All this technological wizardry doesn’t come cheap, mind you. You’ll pay around a hundred dollars for the base charger, an extra twenty bucks if you’ve got a Macbook, and twenty more for the extension cable.
Are the space, weight and convenience savings worth up to $140? If you’re an infrequent traveller, especially one with a Macbook Pro, probably not. If you’re on the road all the time, or your existing charger is dying and you need to buy something anyway, then it’s likely to be money well spent — especially for those who like to travel as light as possible.
Images via Zolt