Technology Tuesday: Spare One – A Phone That Could Save Your Ass In The Year 2027?

Imagine…lost, out-of-gas, and your cell phone is dead. Or wandering the festival grounds post multi-day music festival with a dead battery and your ride home is nowhere to be found. Or how about a good old fashioned Hurricane blows through town, knocks out electricity and you have no way to charge your phone to tell your family that everything is OK? How many times has a dead cell phone battery made a bad situation even worse? What if you could whip out a spare one that has been tucked away, for up to fifteen years to save the day?

Well, you can with the aptly named “Spare One” which is an emergency phone powered by a single AA battery! Not only will the handset make and receive calls, but it has a fantastic form factor that is as slim as the battery itself. Additionally, it is feather weight and offers a handful of pretty useful features. While the Spare One will not be replacing your smartphone, as a hedge against emergency situations in the future, it seems almost foolish not to buy one.

Alright, what is this again? GSM phone that runs on a single AA battery that can offer up to 10 hours of talk-time or 15 years of life with unused storage. The handset is extremely light, at about two ounces, making it easy to pack away practically anywhere without adding extra bulk or weight. Even though it is light, it feels extremely durable and well made, with responsive push buttons and a high quality build.

So what the heck do I do with it and do I need a SIM card? Keep it wherever you think it would be handy to have a back-up cell phone in case of dead battery with primary phone or other emergency situation. For example, keep one permanently in your glove compartment or take it with you when camping or travelling. I can even see people using this in a situation where you need a phone but don’t want to risk taking an expensive smart phone along.

To make and receive calls to anyone, yes, you’ll need a SIM card (AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) If you are a customer of a CDMA carrier, you can obviously get a pay-as-you go SIM and use that in the device. Of course if you are simply using it to make emergency calls to 911, you will not need a SIM card at all.

Conveniently, if you are using a micro SIM, like the iPhone 4 has, there is a micro sim adapter in the phone allowing you to use that. Additionally, in a brilliant design stroke, they include a SIM remover tool as well.

[Spare One Conveniently Includes Micro SIM adapter and SIM removal tool for iDevices]

How’s the call quality and reception? Surprisingly good. Crisp, clear audio, much like cell phones used to offer prior to having to cram computers, gyroscopes, altimeters, touch screens and everything else a modern phone has. There would be no problem at all using this phone for a weekend or other period of time where you need to get a lot of life out of your phone battery or you do not want to take your primary phone with you.

I used the SpareOne for the better part of a week simply testing the reception and ability to send and receive calls. It performed extremely well and even was able to avoid a couple of dead zones where my regular cell typically drops calls. There is no signal indicator showing strength of signal but there are two small LED lights that indicate battery life and network connection. A blue blinking light, indicating a proper network connection, never stopped indicating my network connection for the entirety of my tests.

Well, then couldn’t I just use this is my only phone? Not likely for a couple of reasons. There is no screen and only nine speed dial locations. So unless you are some sort of savant that can memorize all the numbers you need, and don’t need a caller-ID screen to know who is calling, this will not really work.

So if there is no screen, then I can’t send SMS messages or call back missed calls can I? One of the cool features is that indeed you have the ability to send and receive emergency texts. First, if you get a message in, the Spare One will automatically respond back, “I can’t receive texts so please call me back”. (This feature can be turned off) Similarly, if you are trying to get in touch with your emergency contacts, you can send one of your stored  speed dial numbers a message requesting a call back. Missed calls will trigger a missed call alert for up to two hours after the call. Simply pressing the send button twice will call back the most current missed call.

[Indicator Lights show proper network connection and battery life]

Any other features? Besides the SMS ability, really the only other feature of this phone is an LED flashlight built right into the device. The light will last up to 24 hours on a charge, potentially helping out further in a time of need.

What does this piece of black magic cost? Right now, the Spare One is on sale for about $50 direct from the manufacturer. There are some additional multi-pack bundles whose pricing is obsolete with the current cost of the single unit. This is an extremely cheap price for such a well designed and useful device that could potentially bail you out of a jam…all the way in 2027! Think of it as a $3 insurance policy for the next 15 years! Can’t beat that!

I originally intended to simply keep the unit that I tested in my glove compartment in case of emergency. Once I realized just how useful this device could be, I purchased two more, one for the other car and one to remain in the house.

Speaking of black magic, how does the Spare One keep such a long battery life? It doesn’t really. It has nothing to do with the device itself just that it is not operating on typical rechargeable batteries that will lose a couple percentage points of the battery every day even when not in use. Old, cast off cell phones also make nice backup devices for the car’s glove compartment (as all cell phones can call 911 regardless of service plan or SIM card). BUT this presumes that you have both a charger cable handy and power to the vehicle to operate it as likely the battery will have expired. The Spare One ships with an Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA which is what gives it the 15 year life. Pop in a cheap Chinese made store brand battery and you’ll get a life span remarkably different than the Energizer. Also, the Spare One ships with a battery contact protector preventing even a minuscule trickle of power from escaping.

Any drawbacks? I had to fiddle the first time getting the SIM card seated perfectly which is not exactly something you want to cope with in  a real emergency situation. I have successfully removed and added the SIM card back several times since then without an issue.

The design of the handset is neat and clean, but the addition of the alpha letters under the keys might be helpful. There are certainly a couple of phone numbers that I remember with a word association. Again, assuming an emergency and trying to call quickly, this could be an inconvenience for some people as they try to visualize the keypad and figure out which digit they ought to be dialing.

Bottom Line Extremely well made and well designed device that looks and feels as good as it performs. High quality calling with good signal on a battery that can last fifteen years for short dollars seems like a no brainer.

I hope you never need, but if you do…will you have a Spare One?



Hidden Track Technology Tuesday

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