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Hands-On: New Belkin Conserve Power Strips

The Conserve Socket

The Socket might sell more units if it accepted those little Glade air freshener plug-ins. As it is, I’m trying to figure out where and why this device makes sense.

Measuring about 2.5 inches square and 1.5 inches thick from the wall outlet, this demure device seems pretty brainless to operate. On the left side, there is a three-position switch marked with ½-, 3-, and 6-hour settings. On the top is what looks to be a gray power button, under which is a green LED. I’m not crazy about the “lemongrass” color visible along the back of the unit, but that’s just me and the fact that I own practically nothing that matches that color.

To test the socket, I grabbed an external Blu-ray burner in my office, figuring that perhaps I might need it to start loading software on a machine, then forget about it, leaving the drive to draw 3W around the clock until I eventually remember it. A device such as the Socket could be set for the 1/2-hour mark, and I could walk away, knowing that my drive would be shut down without my presence. That was the theory, anyway.

I plugged the Socket into my power strip, then plugged the drive’s AC power brick into the Socket. For a moment, I was confused by the fact that I couldn’t turn my drive on, then I remembered the Socket’s top-mounted power button. I tapped it and—ta da! Power to the drive. Seventy minutes later, I knew something was wrong. The drive never powered down. Moreover, the green LED that I expected to be on wasn’t. It has turned on when I pressed it down to start the drive, but that was it. Now I noticed that upon releasing the button, it went dark.

I tried the test once more, and this time it shut down at 30 minutes 0 seconds on the nose. Same thing with the second retry. I don’t know what happened on that first attempt, but everything after that worked perfectly.

Now, I received my samples from Belkin around June 23rd, a few weeks before official release. It’s entirely possible that I got a slightly wonky pre-production unit, despite arriving in full retail packaging. But that’s not my chief concern. Zoom in on the image below and you’ll see four usage examples shown on Belkin’s product page: space heater, phone charging, coffee machine, and toothbrush charger. Of these four, the only one that makes sense to me is the space heater. Practically every handheld electronics device I own registers a 0.0 W draw on my Kill A Watt meter once the device is charged. There might be a small background draw too small to register on the meter, but come on—if it’s that small, do I really want to pay the $9.99 list price for the Socket? I don’t use a standard coffee machine, but even I know that the $29.99 Mr. Coffee at Target features a two-hour automatic cut-off, so that application is out assuming you want your coffee warm for more than 30 minutes in the morning. But I have yet to own a space heater with an integrated timer, so that makes sense.

One last note: Many devices plug into the wall in very inconvenient locations, such as behind dressers or book shelves. In such cases, accessing that top power button could be a real pain. I would’ve like to see some sort of unobtrusive extension trigger that could clip onto the power cable as a bundled option for these occasions.

In short, I like the idea of the Conserve Socket, and I’d like it even better in a discounted three-for-$20 package. I just question how useful it really is in everyday homes. You definitely do not need one for your toothbrush.