“Be Prepared- Play Prepared- Live Prepared”. That’s the tagline of a product I had the opportunity to review, the SpareOne by XPAL Power. It’s an emergency cell phone, hence the name. Unlike every other cellular device on the market, it doesn’t want to be your primary phone. It wants to be the one that’s there when you need it.
A Phone Like No Other
The SpareOne is an unusual device from a very unexpected source. XPAL makes Energizer-branded portable chargers and battery cases for iPhones, the Samsung Galaxy SIII, and HTC One series. If you could pick a company to be building a phone, they might be the last company you’d think of. They also have no pedigree of any kind of survival products. Nonetheless, the product is real and sitting right beside me. If anyone is wondering about the price, it’s $99.99 direct. The phone itself is emergency red and white in a traditional candy bar form factor. The buttons are oversized and wide spaced for easy use. Between the standard green and red buttons is a giant button for emergency calls with an emergency cross on it. It has a 0.0” display…wait, did I write that correctly? Yep, it has NO LCD screen whatsoever. In its place are a transparent window and a pair of multi-color LED lights for signal and battery life. Lastly, there is a button-activated LED flashlight.
Under The Hood
You might wonder what an emergency phone sold by a battery company is powered by. It’s a Lithium AA of course. I take that back; it’ll take standard alkaline and rechargeables as well, but XPAL highly recommends the lithium. They claim it’ll last you 15 years if you don’t use it, 10 hours of talktime, and 24 hours of the flashlight. In other words, it’ll work when you need it to. That theme is also backed up by the -22 to +140F (-30 to 60C) operating range and the double-sealed resealable waterproof bag it comes in. Also, while this phone might be light, its plastic seems durable. Under the rear panel, you have access to the GSM SIM, the battery, and a SIM holder that normally has a MicroSIM adapter. It also comes with an iPhone SIM removal tool on the backplate itself. As for the GSM radio, this phone comes in two flavors, 850/1900 for North, Central, and the Pacific side of South America. The other version is 900/1800 for everywhere else, save Japan and South Korea. They are uninvited to this party. Hopefully at some future iteration, this will come in a single version with a quad band radio.
This phone is familiar if you’re used to an old screenless touch tone phone like we used in the 80s and 90s. That being said, even a cheap calculator LCD screen would have made this a bit easier to use product, especially when programing numbers into memory. It’s a bit confusing having only the two LED lights to go on. With the oversized buttons, I might even would have recommended it as the main phone for someone like my father who is far from tech savvy. I do have another point of criticism and its not XPAL’s fault at all; the GSM carriers in the United States, AT&T and T-Mobile, tend to be lacking in rural coverage. The times you need it, you might not be able to get a signal. In Europe and elsewhere, where there is no GSM/CDMA divide, it’ll work just fine. This phone would also be a prime device for some sort of prepaid version should XPAL and a carrier partner want to go that direction.
Truth be told, it took me a while to do this review. I was busy with new responsibilities for Geek Beat and it took me a while to wrap my brain around what this product actually was. My approach changed as I started to view this as more akin to an emergency radio than an entry level cellular telephone. It’s stripped down and, at a penny under $100, a bit expensive for what it does, but if worst comes to worst, you’ll wish you had it. The SpareOne by XPAL makes no bones about what it is, an EMERGENCY spare cell phone. It deserves a permanent place in whatever survival kit you have. If you don’t have a survival kit, we have to talk.