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Innovatronix now shipping SnapPower portable power pack  
Wednesday, January 10, 2007 | by Rob Galbraith
Innovatronix this week has begun shipping the Tronix SnapPower, a portable power pack designed to power a wide range of photography equipment in the field. We've been testing one for about a month; here's our report.

Getting to Know the Tronix SnapPower

The SnapPower is comprised of an Innovatronix-designed 300W continuous DC-to-DC converter, charging circuitry and twin 12V/12Ah sealed lead-acid batteries connected in series to operate at 24VDC internally. It's all contained in a sturdy metal case with a rounded metal handle and features either two 120VDC or 230VDC output sockets, depending on the model.

Its 37cm x 14cm x 18cm (14.5in x 5.5in x 7in) black shell is nearly identical in size and appearance to the Tronix Explorer 1200, the AC inverter-based unit the company released in 2004, though at 26.5 pounds (12kg), the SnapPower is considerably heavier. But whereas the Explorer 1200 is intended to power studio-type strobes on location (and has been a dependable workhorse here), the SnapPower is meant for everything else: printers, laptops, computer displays, chargers and more. The SnapPower also incorporates a port for an auxiliary external battery, though Innovatronix is still evaluating whether they will produce an add-on pack.
 
Portable Power: Views of the Innovatronix SnapPower. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
 
Because its output is DC, the SnapPower can't be used with studio strobes. But, says Ramon Castillo, President of Innovatronix, any device that's driven by an automatically-switching power supply, and whose continuous power draw is 300W or less, should be compatible.
 
How do you know if you have this type of power supply? Easy, says Castillo: if the device or its adapter will accept 100-240V on input, it can be plugged into the SnapPower, as long as the device doesn't require more than 300W continuous/500W peak power. We've been using a SnapPower since early December, and so far it has successfully powered both Mac and PC laptops, Apple, Dell and Eizo flat panel displays, plus inkjet printers and chargers of every description. Castillo says that it will also power televisions manfactured in about the last five years, fluorescent lights with electronic ballasts as well as AC adapters for digital cameras.

Innovatronix's testing has included Epson inkjet printers such as the Stylus Photo R350, Stylus Photo R250, Stylus Photo 935 and Stylus Photo 925, as well as Canon's PIXMA iP6000, PIXMA iP8500, PIXMA iP5200, PIXMA iP4200 and even the imagePROGRAF W6400, a 24" carriage wide format printer. Other testing has included Canon dye sub printers, Nokia cell phone chargers and laptops from HP, Sony, Dell, Toshiba and others. (If you're not sure if your device will work with the SnapPower, contact the company.)

Performance

Device compatibility is obviously important, but only if the SnapPower has sufficient capacity to match. We've tested runtimes with several items from our photo kit:
 
Test Runtime (hours:minutes)
Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch w/2.16GHz Intel Core Duo, 2GB RAM, converting EOS-1Ds Mark II CR2s using Digital Photo Professional, powered by internal battery only 1:53
Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch w/2.16GHz Intel Core Duo, 2GB RAM, converting EOS-1Ds Mark II CR2s using Digital Photo Professional, powered by SnapPower and internal battery 6:14
Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch w/2.16GHz Intel Core Duo, 2GB RAM, general use (photo processing/email/document writing), powered by SnapPower and internal battery 7:40
Dell 2005FPW flat panel display (calibrated to 120cd/m2) 5:04
Conditioning and recharging two Canon NP-E3 batteries, plus recharging two Nikon EN-EL3e batteries, a high-power flashlight and a BlackBerry 7130e 12:00+
(Charge remained in the SnapPower)
HP Photosmart Pro B9180 inkjet printer, printing 12 x 18 inch photos 3:00+
(Charge remained in the SnapPower)

Figuring out the value proposition for the US$390 (+US$60 for shipping) SnapPower is a bit trickier than for the Explorer 1200. The latter unit offers reliable powering of studio strobes in the field at a bargain price; the fact that it can also power other devices (for a comparatively short time) is merely a bonus. The promised benefit of the SnapPower is long runtimes with a variety of devices, including the power-hungry Sony SnapLap UP-CR10L from which the SnapPower derives its name.

Based on our testing, it's clear that the SnapPower excels at powering all sorts of chargers for a good long time. And if you need to print in the field, you should expect to be able to do so for hours on a typical 8.5 inch or 13 inch carriage inkjet printer. For example, we ran the HP Photosmart Pro B9180 printer at full tilt for more than three hours, then recharged the SnapPower, and it took less than half the normal 10-hour full-charge time to top it up. In addition, the five hours the SnapPower powered the Dell 2005FPW 20 inch flat panel display was more than three times longer than we achieved with the Explorer 1200. There aren't too many other similarly-priced ways we can think of to power printers and displays for this long in the field.

The only area in which the SnapPower isn't obviously superior to other inexpensive solutions is laptop runtime. Using our MacBook Pro 17 inch as an example, being able to process RAW files constantly for over six hours in the field is great. But, three additional MacBook Pro batteries would cost about the same, provide even longer runtime and take up a lot less room in a travel kit. There are still advantages to the SnapPower, including the fact that work doesn't have to stop every so often to switch laptop batteries, and the MacBook Pro will drive an external display when it's connected to the SnapPower, but it won't when powered by its own battery. On the other hand, the additional laptop batteries could be used to keep the MacBook Pro going through a long overseas flight, whereas the SnapPower isn't an item you'll want to carry on.

In short, we think the SnapPower is going to be a great tool for photographers who need to power a few different things in the field, or that one thing - like a printer - that hasn't been practical or economical to power before now. Innovatronix claims that the SnapLab UP-CR10L will produce about 450 4x6 inch or 350 5x7 inch prints on a single SnapPower charge. Combine that with our experience with the HP B9180, and it looks like if you want to power a printer on location, the SnapPower is a slam-dunk. But in many instances it won't be the best purchase to power just a laptop.

Other Observations
  • As the SnapPower's batteries are depleted, you get two warning beeps. The first is when you have only a few more minutes of power remaining, the second is when the unit shuts down. Combine the beeps with the Hi-Mid-Low indicator lights and the SnapPower provides decent feedback about its charge status.
  • The SnapPower's cooling fan is always on. In whisper-quiet environments, the fan noise is quite noticeable, but on location it's barely audible. Innovatronix's Castillo says that keeping the unit cool with the fan improves the SnapPower's efficiency. Which, in turn, leads to longer runtimes that more than offset the power consumed by the fan, he says.
  • The SnapPower's metal handle is more rugged than the soft rubber handle of the Explorer 1200. But it's a little on the skinny side for comfortable carrying of the 26.5 pound (12kg) unit.
  • Though the company hasn't decided whether they will produce their own external battery pack for the SnapPower, one that would connect to the auxiliary battery port on the unit, they will, says Castillo, enable you to connect your own 24VDC pack by providing information about the SnapPower's connector and the other basic electrical specs needed to accomplish this. We'll update this story with a link to the information, when it's made available.
  • Innovatronix is offering both 120VDC and 230VDC models of the SnapPower to enable it to work with devices that feature a switching power supply but accept only a single input voltage. For example, says Castillo, "all inkjet printers available from Epson, Canon or HP use a switching power supply, but many of them are not autovolt models. Television sets are another example where the voltage is not autovolt but they use a switching power supply."
  • A full AC-power charge takes about 10 hours. The unit can be left plugged in once fully charged, and in fact Innovatronix recommends that you do so to maximize battery service life.
  • The Tronix SnapPower User's Guide is here.
Availability

The Tronix SnapPower, with a worldwide charging cord, plug adapter, car charger and one year warranty, is shipping now for US$390 direct from Innovatronix's headquarters just outside Manila in the Philippines. Two different versions of the device are available: 120VDC and 230VDC. Shipping is a flat fee of US$60 worldwide.
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