You find yourself stuck in a situation where you need to make an emergency phone call but sadly your phone is dead with no power source in sight. You say to yourself, “I wish I had a spare one”. XPAL Power Inc. has developed a product for that and it’s appropriately called SpareOne. It’s a low-cost, vanilla emergency mobile phone that’s designed to be there just when you need it. It can call 911 with or without a SIM card and can operate as a phone with one installed.
The SpareOne, by XPAL Power Inc., runs on a single AA battery with a whopping shelf life of 15 years, with the supplied Energizer Ultimate Lithium L91 battery. You are also expected to get up to 10 hours of talk time.
I had an opportunity to review the SpareOne and was pleasantly surprised. At first glance, it resembles a typical cordless home handset with a solid standard tactile numeric keypad, but it’s very different indeed. Where you would expect the display to be is actually a translucent window that reveals the battery that powers it. The big Red Cross button in the middle is a one-press call to 911 or equivalent.
It offers a few other features not normally found on a typical handset. At the bottom right is a small button lock that prevents the keypad from being engaged. And on the top right is a light icon button to turn on/off its built-in LED torchlight that emits light from the head of the phone. Its bright enough to help you read a map, but not sufficient to illuminate a path through the forest. There is also redial and volume control and individual numbers keys that can also be programmed as speed dial keys.
Since there is no display, XPAL needed to be creative in order to offer some needed functionality.
There are 2 LEDs that flash though the window. The one directly above the volume button is the battery indicator. It’s somewhat utilitarian. When blinking green it indicates your battery level ranges between 40% and 100%; red, between 20% and 40% and a fast red means it’s time to change your battery. Perhaps, not as accurate as it could be. The second LED above the torchlight button is your antenna/network indicator. Again, it’s fairly vanilla. Blinking blue says you’re connected to a network; Blue and red indicates it’s searching and blinking red means no network found. You’ll need to memorize these or keep your little manual with you. Sadly, there’s no actual signal strength indicator, which could really come in handy to help you figure which direction to go.
The SpareOne will beep audibly anytime you press a key that you can be heard through the earpiece. It also beeps uniquely, almost reminiscent of a 1980’s video game, on power up and power down.
While you won’t get the same sound quality like you’ll get out of something like an Apple iPhone, the audio is quite respectable.
SpareOne runs on a GSM network, so if you have a SIM from a compatible phone you can simply pop the back cover and insert the same- quickly and easily. If you’re using an iPhone that uses a microSIM, inside SpareOne outer a SIM removal tool – it looks like a paperclip and an adapter that converts your micro SIM to a full-size.
Installing a microSIM can be a little tricky and something you should practice ahead of time. You see the microSIM simply sits in the adapter; it doesn’t clip or snap in. However, the SpareOne requires you to insert it facedown – so it might take a little patience. I found putting a piece of scotch tape on the back did the trick.
2 models covers most of the world
Important to note that if you are a world traveler, this is not a (quad-band) world phone. There are however, 2 different dual-band models; one offers 850/1900MHz GSM frequency bands that operates primarily in North America and Western South America; the other, 900/1800MHz covers for the most part, the rest of the world. Some countries will operate on either band and there are a dozen or so countries like Japan, South Korean and the Arctic region where neither will work.
The SpareOne website has a map and a comprehensive list of which phone will work in which particular country.
Calling features & SMS replacement
While it is a basic unit it does have a couple of surprising features for this type of phone. It gives you the ability to ignore an incoming call by pressing the red on/off button. You can also accept a 2nd call while putting the 1st call on hold.
Since there is no display, SMS text messaging would be impossible. However, in the event that someone sends you one, the phone will automatically respond to the sender by telling him or her you cannot receive a text message and to please call you back. You can also deactivate this feature. You can also send an SMS that simply says, “Please call me back,” to any numbers stored in your speed dial. This way people will at least know you can’t text back.
SpareOne not a smartphone, but a smart invention
SpareOne is not a smartphone, but a smart invention. It gives you the ability to place an emergency call; with or without a SIM card where no other communication devices are available.
It seems to be reasonably well built however it’s made of lightweight plastic and not really designed for harsh environments and would not likely stand up to a lot of abuse. It might have been a good idea for the company to provide a small padded waterproof pouch or case for easy transportation.
Now a used or cheap pay-as-you-go might fill a similar void and offer added functionality, but you’d need to ensure it works and the more bells and whistles you have the more that can go wrong. Plus with typical battery drain, you need to ensure it’s always kept charged which can be a challenge for some of us who multitask and suffer from forgetfulness and information overload half the time. This is not an issue with SpareOne’s 15-year shelf life, powered by the Energizer bunny, although I wasn’t able to test their claim.
Furthermore with a SIM installed, you can use it like a regular phone. It might even be a great idea for Grandma or Grandpa or for someone who says they’ll never need or ever use a cell phone.
The SpareOne retails for $69.99 and for its purpose is well worth it. You do need to specify whether you want a 900/1800 MHz or 1900/850 MHz model. Too bad you might need 2 if you travel the world. Regardless, for that price, you might as well get one and keep it in your glove box or throw it in your purse or backpack. You will need to memorize your LED combinations and have a piece of scotch tape handy if you plan on inserting a micro SIM. And of course depending on what elements it’s exposed to; you may need to keep an eye on the battery level.
-Emergency Call with/without SIM
-runs on single AA
-long shelf life
-SMS call me back feature
-not a world phone
-no display or signal strength indicator
-finicky with microSim
photo credits: XPAL Power Inc., Greg Gazin
Greg Gazin is the Real Canadian Gadget Guy.