Travel adapters

A Tale of 4 Travel Adapters: Which Is Best?

In Accessories by Dave Dean14 Comments

Last updated: 29 August, 2016

Travel adapters. Millions of people around the world use these little gadgets every day, since apparently a global plug standard is just way too much to ask for.

I’ve used literally dozens of them over the years, in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and I’ve never found one I’m truly happy with. They’ve always had one (or usually, several) flaws that render them somewhere between irritating and useless.

Somehow, mainly due to enthusiastic PR people and my inability to throw anything out, I’ve ended up with four of the things in my backpack at the moment. Yes, four. Yes, I know. You don’t need to say anything. I’m an idiot.

On the upside, however, having too many adapters (get it?) in my bag gave the perfect opportunity to test them all out at the same time, and come up with some recommendations. Maybe, finally, there was a model that just worked like it should. Would that be too much to ask?

Cabeau 4-in-1 Universal Travel Adapter

Size: 1.5″ x 2″ x 2″

Style: Multi-piece (three interlocking sections)

Extra Features: none

Price: $19.99

Pros: Small and light

Cons: Three-pin US plugs don’t work well in much of the world

Thoughts: This adapter is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s small and light, and being able to use just the section you need helps keep weight off loose power sockets. The adapter is relatively narrow, meaning less chance of blocking adjoining sockets.

Cabeau Travel Adapter The sections with UK and US pins are sturdy, and even heavy plugs (like the one for my laptop, with an inbuilt power transformer) stayed in place. The Asia/Europe section, however, is small and flimsy — that’s not necessarily a problem in itself, but the slots on the back are also quite loose-fitting.

If you need to use multiple sections (eg. a UK plug in Europe), the end result is quite bulky and liable to fall out of the socket.

If you’re using three-pin US plugs in Europe, Asia or Australia/New Zealand, this adapter isn’t ideal. For some reason, those three-pin plugs only fit properly into the UK section of the adapter.

The bottom hole in the US/Aus/NZ part is slightly too small — while the third pin can be forced in, it feels like it’s going to rip out every time you remove it. I was very nervous while doing this testing.

Instead, to safely plug my power strip into a socket in Spain, I ended up with something that looks like the photo above. It works (barely) with high-quality sockets, but some of the cheap, ill-fitting ones I’ve found in hotels in South East Asia? It’d be on the floor in seconds.

Finally, a minor thing — that little Asia/Europe piece stays in the socket every time I pull the plug out. How often does that need to happen before it gets left behind, I wonder? When packing in a hurry, I suspect the answer is: not many.

Would I Recommend It? Maybe. It’s not a bad adapter, with solid connections for most types of sockets. For the price, though, I’d like something that worked better with US three-pin plugs, and had a better Asia/Europe convertor.

Buy from: Amazon


Insten Travel Universal Adaptor

Size: 3.2″ x 2″ x 1.6″

Style: Single piece

Extra Features: LED light, surge protection (apparently)

Price: $6

Pros: Cheap, reasonably small and light

Cons: Loose-fitting

Thoughts: I’ve been using some version of this adapter seemingly forever — every electronics store in South East Asia seems to have them for sale for a few dollars. I lost one, and another stopped working after around 18 months, but the current one is still going strong after bouncing around in my backpack for a couple of years.

Insten Travel Adapter It’s relatively light, and not too bulky as far as single-piece adapters go. For a change, the LED power light doesn’t turn a darkened room into a nightclub, and the included surge protection is a nice touch (although for six bucks, I don’t expect much from it).

UK and Aus/NZ plugs fit quite tightly, but European and US plugs are loose — although at least there’s no problem with the three-pin US version.

The biggest drawback with this adapter is the tendency for European and US plugs to fall out of it, or the entire adapter to fall out of loose-fitting sockets. I’ve needed to prop it up on shoes, books and backpacks in many guesthouses around Southeast Asia to keep everything charging.

This problem isn’t unique, and you’ll find it on far more expensive travel adapters than this, but it’s something to bear in mind. It’s also a bit bulky — nearby sockets could be blocked if they’re close together.

Would I Recommend It? If you’re not wanting to spend much money, yes. It’s the best value travel adapter I’ve found, and the downsides are minor rather than show-stopping.

Buy from: Amazon

 

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Olixar Worldwide Adapter with 2 USB Ports

Size: 1.5″ x 2.4″ x 2.4″ (approx)

Style: Single piece

Extra Features: LED power light, 2x USB ports

Price: $19.49

Pros: Well made

Cons: Ridiculously bright LED, slow USB charging

Thoughts: I’ve had good experiences with Olixar gear, and expected to like this adapter. It’s well made, with the various pins slotting into place firmly and staying there. It fits firmly into most wall sockets, and in turn, most plugs (including US three pin versions) fit firmly into it. It even has two USB sockets, rated at 2.1amps. What’s not to like?

Olixar Travel Adapter Well, a few things. Firstly, and most annoying, is the power LED. It’s good to know whether the adapter is connected, but I don’t need to illuminate my entire neighbourhood to be aware of that.

In my last apartment, this adapter lit up my bedroom at night… from the kitchen. It’s that bright, and if you’re charging your gear overnight, it’s enough to keep you awake. Yes, you can put a strip of tape over the light — but you shouldn’t have to. It’s such a simple thing to get right, and this adapter doesn’t.

Secondly, those USB sockets aren’t as useful as they should be. Despite being rated at 2.1amps, they don’t charge phones and tablets at anywhere near full speed.

Plugging my Nexus 7 tablet into one of the sockets, it told me it would nearly three hours to finish charging. Switching to a different USB wall charger with the same rating, the tablet said it would be done in an hour. The same thing happened with various smartphones. I’m not sure if I have a faulty unit or whether this is a common problem, but either way, it’s not ideal.

As with most single-piece travel adapters, heavy plugs are a problem. My laptop charger has two US-style pins attached to a reasonably weighty power pack, and it regularly fell out of the adapter unless I arranged it just so. That’s partially just a stupid design from the laptop manufacturer (thanks, Asus), but still, it’s cheaper and easier to get a new travel adapter than laptop charger.

Would I Recommend It? Maybe. This could have been the perfect model, but those two flaws push it back into the middle of the pack. If you don’t care about the USB charging, and are happy to cover up that LED, however, it’s still a decent option.

Buy from: Mobile Fun


Flight 001 4-in-1 Travel Adapter

Size: 1.8″ x 2.4″ x 2″ (in box)

Style: Multi-piece (three interlocking sections)

Extra Features: Colour-coded, storage box

Price: $25

Pros: Small and light

Cons: Pricey

Thoughts: This was the most expensive of the adapters I tested, and to some extent it showed. Even though it’s suspiciously similar to the Cabeau model above, it has a few key elements that arguably make it worth the extra five bucks.

Flight 001 Travel Adapter The colour-coding is a nice touch, and can be matched to a map on the company’s website to see which section of the adapter is required around the world.

The storage box helps keep everything together, and offers a little protection from bumps and knocks. US three-pin plugs fit perfectly, and don’t feel like they’re going to be left broken inside the adapter when removed.

Plugs fit firmly into their designated sockets, and each section is light enough that it’s unlikely to fall out of the wall unless you put large amounts of weight on it. Just like the Cabeau, though, it’s still easy to leave the Asia/Europe section in the wall when you pull the cable out.

Would I Recommend It? Yes, probably. It’s definitely expensive for what you get — twenty five dollars is a lot for an adapter with no USB sockets or other extras — but if you can afford the extra cash, it’s the best of the lot.

Update, August 2016: the price fluctuates between $15-25 on Amazon. It’s worth buying at $25, and is a bargain at $15 if you happen to find it on special.

Buy from: Amazon


Apparently, reviewing travel adapters is more about finding gear that has the fewest flaws than anything else. They’re such a simple concept, it’s amazing that manufacturers can find so many different ways to screw them up — and yet, still, they do. My viewpoint going into this testing hadn’t changed by the end of it.

So, which one’s best? In the end, I’ll give a joint recommendation. If you want to spend a little as possible on something that works acceptably well most of the time and lasts the distance, get the Insten. If you don’t mind paying more for a smaller, lighter and somewhat better version, get the Flight 001.

And manufacturers, seriously, just try a little harder, ok?

Have you found that magical travel adapter that does its job perfectly almost anywhere in the world without breaking, falling out of the wall or trying to blind you? Please, let us all know about it in the comments!

Main image via Phil Long

Travel adapters. Millions of people around the world use them every day, yet so many are completely terrible. Would any of these models be any better?
About the Author

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a wanderer for nearly 20 years and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. For a long time I’ve been happy with the combination of an Outlets to Go power strip with a USB port built in, plus whatever country adapters I may need for a particular trip. Lightweight and adapted to each journey, rather than carrying everything all the time. The extension cord/power strip is also made by Monster in slightly different configuration.

    1. Author

      Hah, funny you mention the Monster power strip — that duct-tape covered mess in all of the photos is the 3 socket/1 USB version. Why duct-taped? Because it’s yet another company that loves eye-scorching LEDs in its products. 🙁

  2. The problem I’ve had with the larger block type adapters like the Insten and Oxilar styles is that they block the switch that’s on outlets that follow the Australian standard. I bought a round multi-socket adapter to get around that problem and found that it would not accept American style 3 prong plugs. So, the single type plugs for each country I’m visiting seem to be the best option along with a monster style powerstrip that others have mentioned.

  3. My travel is mostly in Europe or UK or shortly SE Asia and I still find that carrying two of those single Korjo Adaptors serve me well when using NZ electrical items. All I carry is those two adaptors and an NZ multiplug and it does the job for me.

  4. I enjoyed this post quite a bit! I’ve yet to be fully satisfied with my adaptor(s). When I first started traveling, my dad gave me this power strip which is a nice addition to not needing extra spots in the adaptor (http://www.moriluggage.com/travel-power-strip?___SID=U) but I’ve still not ever come across my favorite adaptor. As a fun side note, if you ever drop a cord with a UK plug facing straight up and step on it with all your weight, it’s not fun and leaves you with a bruise and a limp. 😉

    Also, a very interesting read about why it can’t be universal. One of those problems that seems so much simpler in theory I guess. 🙂

    1. Author

      Hi Sara,

      It looks suspiciously similar to the one I’ve used for years (the Insten version mentioned in this post). Of the countries you list, I’ve personally used it in Europe, SE Asia, and Australia, and the specs and reviews suggest it’ll work fine in China and most of South America.

      Just to confuse people, “adapter” and “converter” often get used interchangeably, but can also mean the difference between a plug adapter and a voltage converter. The first just changes the layout of the socket, while the second changes the voltage that gets sent to your electronics. We covered it all in detail here.

    1. Author

      It looks much the same as the other universal adapters I mentioned, at a higher price. The dual USB is useful, but not sufficiently so to justify the price. You’re basically paying ten bucks for a picture of flags.

  5. OK, physics majors, here we go! I do everything electronic in bed. I need to get from whatever, inadequate, ill located hostel-hotel-cheap room power outlet to my bed, where I charge, do my online business, read ebooks, mess with my photos, and sleep. I charge my devices next to me. (Do I want to have my Air charging next to the community outlet, no, no, no.) Often ALL the outlets are used, so I need a something to plug their devices plus my extension cord into. So this something needs to work in India, Malaysia, and Thailand and maybe Indonesia (on this trip) Now the something needs to NOT fall out every time someone passes gas in the middle of the night. What I’ve been doing is buying a local extension cord that cranks into a case that has a drum with several outlets. I can use a local to USA adapter in that and run my extension cord from that to my bed. It gets funky when I buy a new device say, in Malaysia, with add-ons from there that won’t plug into my USA cord . You get the idea.

    Any ideas on how to simplify this mess?.

    1. Author

      For your specific requirements, there isn’t one, really. I did the same thing on the road for a few years — buy a local extension cable, plug it into a travel-sized multibox, and use a travel adapter on the end of the extension cable as needed. Over time, I also accumulated gadgets with a variety of different plug types — so the next time I was in the US, I ordered replacement cables with US plugs from Amazon, and consolidated everything so it could fit into the multibox again.

      If you’re in shared accommodation regularly, and want to charge everything from your bed, that’s your best bet. I spend less time in hostels etc these days, and when I’m in shared accommodation now, it tends to be at times when I’m not traveling with a laptop (eg, long-distance hikes). Everything I travel with except my laptop charges from USB these days, so I just take one of these with me — it can charge 4 USB devices at once, and has clip-on adapters for 150 countries or so. If you have one or two mains-powered devices, and the rest are USB, you could use this instead.

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