Medis Fuel Cell

I am a very strong proponent of being as prepared as you can be for a power outage. Trees fall on wires. Cars run into polls. There are a thousand reasons that power can go out, and it's always important to have a back up plan for that situation. The Medis Fuel Cell is in essence an "always ready to activate" power source.

Medis Fuel Cell

The package itself is compact and easy to store on a shelf. It's about the size of a large hardcover book. There's a lot packed into here! Here's all the items within that one package.

Medis Fuel Cell

The black box item on the bottom right is the actual fuel cell. There is a green plastic stripe all the way around it - you can see the tab of it in the top left of the black box shape. In addition you get a small LED flashlight, a cable to attach the fuel cell to whatever device you wish to power, and then four interchangeable tips. There are also two little manuals and a plastic bag for when you need to recycle the fuel cell.

Here's a close up image of the fuel cell part -

Medis Fuel Cell

It's about the size of an iPod. In fact in their two short manuals they refer to iPods repeatedly. As fate would have it, I had a dead iPod I needed to charge! So I thought this was the perfect test. The manuals made it seem that everyone wanted to charge up their cell phones and iPods. Those were the images and descriptions repeatedly shown.

So I laid out my cell phone, my boyfriend's cell phone, my iPod, and started reading the directions. To begin, you peeled off that plastic strip from around the fuel cell's middle. With that protective strip gone, you now "squished" the fuel cell from top to bottom. This let the internal liquids mingle, which created the electrical charge. This is how the fuel cell is able to stay "ready" for you until you activate it. Once the unit was fully squished - which wasn't that hard to do - the system was now ready for use.

Step 2. You had to plug the cable into the fuel cell. Makes sense! They have a nice, solid connector too, with a nice, long cable. So we plugged the cable into the fuel cell.

Step 3 is to choose the proper tip for the other end - the end that was going to go into your cell phone or iPod. But wait ... they gave you four tips and none of them were for our cell phones or iPods. I realize they couldn't know what cell phones we own. However, we have experience with this type of situation. We have several phone chargers around the house that we've gotten at various times. The chargers typically come in two styles. One style is they give you an assortment of tips which includes all major brands, and we've always been covered by their selection. Style two is that they give you a contact email, you email them the name of the phone model you have, and they ship you the matching tip for free. Either one guarantees that the charger will work with your phone. Not here! You get two Nokia phone tips. Neither matched either of our phones. We've had probably 10 different phones over the past few years and these tips wouldn't have worked with any of them.

I went to their website, went to products, and clicked on "Accessories Anyone" on the left side to get to their accessories area. It incorrectly took me to their "Green Product Power Technology Commitment" page. I dug around a bit and found the listing PDF. They do in fact have the tip for my phone. No mention of price or how to get it, though.

OK, I gave up on the phones. How about my iPod? They have that everywhere in their manual, so that should be a safe one. That's a standard plug.

But wait, they don't actually include an iPod connector in their set! So despite the fact that they so heavily promote and talk about the iPod as being one of the key things they power, and the fact that it's mentioned everywhere, they don't provide a connector for it. That iPod connector is also on the list of available tips with no price or way to order.

I was beginning to worry that I couldn't even use this unit to test it out. The remaining two tips were a mini-USB and a micro-USB. We have tons of electronic games, devices and items around this house. I'm a video game reviewer and have most portable game units. However, none of my many devices apparently use any of the Medis' four connectors for power. We went digging all around and finally came across a Golf GPS that does use the mini-USB connector. Success! Still, it's rather telling that out of our entire household only that one small device could be used by the fuel cell as is.

So we plugged the Golf GPS into the fuel cell. It began to charge! Hurrah! If we ever had an emergency on the golf course, we would be saved! We did at least prove that the unit is functional and does what it should.

Medis Fuel Cell

How about the flashlight? We plugged the unit into the flashlight and it did indeed work - but the moment you unplugged the flashlight it stopped working. There was nothing in the manual about this and we spent a while poking and pulling at the flashlight. It seemed to have no on/off switch and no way to retain the charge. If you wanted to use the flashlight you'd have to lug the entire cable and fuel cell along with you. Given the plethora of easy shake-to-use and crank-to-use flashlights out there, I would much rather use one of those vs carrying around this pile of cables and items in an emergency. I would have to have one hand holding the flashlight, the other hand carrying the fuel cell, and a fairly long cable draping between the two. I would have no hands free.

There's the issue of "will this fuel cell be good when I go to use it?" I'm not sure that this is an "eternally ready" fuel cell. That is, say I put this fuel cell - unactivated - in the basement for 10 years. Will it still be able to be activated after 10 years? How would I know that this fuel cell was a 10 year old fuel cell? I don't see anything on the fuel cell that says "use by X date". There's nothing at all on the box either.

There was nothing in the documentation about "this fuel cell will be good for 5 years" or "be sure to exchange for a new one after 10 years". I would at least like to see something in there about how long it could be expected to last. If they really think it'll be good in 100 years, that's great! It should say that in the documentation.

Similarly, the manual was very vague about how long this could be expected to last. It makes a claim about X hours of flashlight usage, and I do understand that having it power an iPod running at full tilt probably affects it differently than lighting a little bulb might. I would like to see much more information to help me plan for an emergency about how many hours it can run before dying.

A related issue involves simple energy discharge. What if we used it to power our golf GPS and then just had it sit on a shelf? Is it still good for 100 years in that "activated" state, to use whenever an emergency came along? Or is it now having a shorter life span, and will only be good for another 3 months before it will discharge?

I really love the idea of the fuel cell. I already have hand crank radios, hand crank flashlights, shake-to-run flashlights and a hand-crank / solar powered cell phone charger. So I have those areas covered in a much more "eternal" way. This fuel cell offers to fill the uncovered gap - to provide power for items like iPod iTouches that might have critical contact information in them.

The problems I see here are this. First, they do not provide tips for items they actively promote. This really should have come with an iPod connector given how much they play it up. It should also have come with many more tips. Tips are cheap, and giving someone a unit for charging cell phones without that cell phone's tip is frustrating. Most other similar units are able to include a bunch of tips. Next, the documentation is very light. Someone planning for an emergency has no idea how long the fuel cell is good for before activation, or how long it lasts once activated. The flashlight they included really should hold a charge, not have to be lugged around with the fuel cell in tow.

Finally, this unit is $50. For $30 (and free shipping) I can get an ARC solar powered, hand crank unit which has a AM/FM/Weatherband radio, a flashlight, and a cell phone charger, that is smaller than this. That ARC unit will always work, guaranteed, never run out of charge, and they ship you the exact cell phone tip you need for free almost next-day delivery. So all the ARC unit is missing is the iPod charger. I suppose for the additonal $20 (plus extra tip fees) you are saving yourself a few minutes of hand cranking if the power happens to go out after dark. But the Medis Fuel Cell is not eternal, and I'm not comfortable with my understanding of how long it lasts before it completely dies and you have to buy another one for another $50. The ARC and other units I've tested are all eternal.

The Medis Fuel Cell is a great idea, but it needs some refinement before I can wholeheartedly promote it.

Emergency Preparedness Tips