Sure, the splashy press events get all the attention at CES, but our readers know by now that ConsumerSearch loves to get past the frameless TVs and Internet-connected watches to dig up unsexy, practical stuff that could actually make a difference in how you manage your home. We've spotted a couple of new outlet adapters that look pretty cool and promise to help save you money on your electric bills.
Modlet wants you to master your wall outlets
NYC-based ThinkEco introduced its first and only product at CES: the modern outlet, or "Modlet". Chief Business Officer Mei Shibata told us "all of our electronics have evolved and become greener, except for the wall outlet." That's where the Modlet comes in. The chunky white box plugs into one wall outlet (it pretty much blocks both plugs in a double outlet, but only plugs into one), then you can plug your appliances into the Modlet. A small USB receiver for your computer connects wirelessly to your Modlet, displaying data about that particular outlet's energy use.
If you enter your area's electricity rates, the Modlet's software will tell you how much energy you're using in kilowatts, or in dollars. It can map your usage -- telling you when that outlet is drawing the most power. Beyond that, you can then program the Modlet with a timer, so you can instruct it to shut down power to a particular outlet at different times of the day.
Beyond the fact that it's just neat to be able to see your exact energy usage to a particular outlet, we think the scheduling feature is particularly promising. It would allow you, for example, to plug your cable or satellite box into one of the Modlet's two outlets, then a power strip with your TV, DVD player and game console into the Modlet's other outlet. Then you could choose to leave your cable-box on full time, but completely power down your other electronics during the hours you don't use them, say between midnight and 6:00 a.m.
Ms. Shibata told us that the Modlet is a particularly good choice for managing power to your computers and home-theater system. It wouldn't be as useful for appliances that always need to be turned on, like a refrigerator. She notes that you can add up to 100 Modlets to the same USB receiver; you then can name each of your outlets so you can keep them straight.
The Modlet itself, along with the USB receiver, will retail for $50; add-on Modlets will cost about $45. On the downside, the Modlet itself is pretty big -- measuring about 5" by 3" by 2" -- that's a sizeable chunk of plastic to plug into your wall. Right now it comes only in white, but Ms. Shibata told us they hope to introduce other colors that might blend better against other wall colors. The Modlet should be available in stores in a month or two.
Westinghouse intros outlet meters and power strips
Another pair of outlet adapters was introduced by Westinghouse. These aren't as sophisticated as the Modlet, but they'll be cheaper. The Smart Cell Charger is a small 2" by 2" by 1" box that plugs into your wall outlet; then you can plug in a cell phone charger, or any type of rechargeable device. When your battery is fully charged, the Smart Cell Charger then turns out the power at the outlet, so you're not sending wasted energy through your charger cable. Then the device checks and tops up your gadget's battery every 10 minutes. Another version of the outlet adapter includes a display showing your energy usage in kilowatts.
Both seem like good ideas (they won't hit stores until this summer, and pricing isn't yet known), but next to the Modlet they look more limited. Still, the Westinghouse adapters look like good bets if you tend to forget to unplug your cell phone charger. And we're not so sure why the adapter would need to check every 10 minutes to see if your battery was still fully charged. Wouldn't that process in itself waste some energy?
Westinghouse also showed a prototype of a new power strip. We keep hearing that we should turn off our whole power strip when we're not using our computers, but if you have a modem and router plugged into the same power strip, you really don't want those items to power down. The Westinghouse Smart PC Remote power strip (we think it needs a better name) gives you four outlets that can be powered down together, plus two additional plug sockets that stay on. That would let you plug a computer, printer and monitor into three of the four connected sockets, but plug your router and modem into the last two sockets on the strip. Then you can use a single button to power down your computer, etc. while leaving on your router/modem. Pretty handy.
The new power strips should be out sometime this summer, but we're not yet sure about pricing.