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Accessories - USB Batteries for Cyclists
Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

 

USB Batteries for Cyclists

 

Josh Ross

 

USB Batteries for Cyclists: the Novobeam NBP3000 vs Noco XGB3

 

If you are riding with your phone powering your cycling computer, as I do, you might want to think about an emergency battery solution…

 

The RFLKT (which I use) and other bluetooth 4.0 options, don’t drain your battery the way older bluetooth accessories do, but battery life is still something I think about. My rides tend to be less than 4 hours, and I’ve yet to even be close to killing my phone battery. But I do occasionally consider doing a 200 mile ride, and that would definitely be longer than my Nexus 5 would last even without using it to power my RFLKT. Regardless, I would never like to be on the side of the road needing some assistance while also holding a dead phone.
 

One good option would be a case with a battery integrated into it. It’s a good option if you have a popular phone, and there is something available. I didn’t consider this for me. While there are certainly cases available for the Nexus 5, I like my phone to be as thin as possible, and I don’t like switching cases for a ride. It’s probably a silly objection, but I ride a lot. I just don’t want to deal with switching the case all the time.
 

Another good option, and something I’ve used in the past for other situations, is a USB battery backup. If you aren’t familiar with USB batteries they come in all shapes and sizes. It’s just a battery that has an “in” USB port and an “out” USB port. To charge it, you connect a USB cable to the “in” on one end and your phone charger on the other side. When you are out in the world, connect a USB cable that is connected to your phone to the “out” port, very simple.

 

It becomes trickier when you are going to be using it for cycling, because for cycling, I want it small, and water resistant. As it turns out there are a lot of options for one or the other of those needs, but I really only found two options that had both: the Novobeam NBP3000 and the Noco XGB3. After spending some time with both of them, I can say they are both fantastic options with slightly different features. Either option won’t be a bad choice.
 
First, the similarities.
 
They are almost exactly the same size and almost exactly the same weight. On Amazon, the Noco battery is listed as being 6.1 x 2.7 x 2.4 inches while the Novobeam is listed as being 4 x 1 x 1. When I measured them myself, however, I found that they were both about 4 x ⅞ x ⅞ inches with the only difference being that the Noco is square while the Novobeam is round.
 
Weighing them, including the cables they come with, I found the Noco weighs 110 grams while the Novobeam is 80 grams.
 

Novobeam NBP3000

Novobeam NBP3000

They store almost exactly the same amount of power. The Noco lists it as 11wh. With a bit of searching, I found this conversion: “At 3.68 V (volts), its full 11 Wh (watt*hour) capacity is the equivalent of 2989 mAh (W=A*V and m=1/1000, so Wh=mAh*V/1000).” Honestly, that could be wrong, but since it’s essentially the same size as the Novobeam, which is 3000mAh, I’m going to call it good enough for me.
 
Finally, they have an IP rating – the measure of protection provided – that is almost exactly the same as well. The Noco is IP65 and the Novobeam is IP66. Technically, that means the Novobeam has slightly better water protection, but the difference is a matter of how much water you can spray at it (6.3mm nozzle vs 12.5mm nozzle), so I don’t think it makes much difference in this discussion. I will say I can see why there is that slight difference; the Novobeam has a slightly tighter lid.
 

Noco XGB3

Noco XGB3

They both have an optional solar panel for charging. This isn’t something I tested, but I did get a chance to examine the Noco version, and it’s gorgeous. It’s very well designed and well thought out. I think if you were doing some touring on your bike, you could hang the panel during the day and have a charged battery at the end of the day.
 

Same weight, same size, same water and dust protection, and the same storage capacity. What’s different? For the most part, it’s just that they take slightly different design directions. The Novobeam is very slick. The status light (they both have status lights that glow red or green and flash to let you know what’s happening) is internally lit rather than externally glowing, and that is very indicative of the rest of the design.
 
While the Noco is rugged the Novobeam is understated. I’ll leave it to you to decide which style is more to your liking, but I will say that if you are the kind of person that drops things, the Noco is probably going to fit you better. It’s rubberized and it can clearly take a beating.
 
The Noco has a power button that needs to be pressed while the Novobeam just plugs in and starts working. The Novobeam comes with a very short USB cable while the Noco has a more standard length one. Again not a clear advantage to either, just two different styles.
 
The Novobeam is a bit cheaper at about $8 on Amazon vs $30 for the Noco, but we are hardly breaking the bank on either, so I don’t think that’s a clear advantage one way or the other.
 
I tested them both out for a few weeks in a variety of situations, and I think my personal preference would be the Noco if I was going to put it in my saddle bag and forget about it, and the Novobeam if I was going to also use it off the bike in my street clothes. The rubberized casing of the Noco is really fantastic but it’s a little sticky in your jeans pocket. On the other hand, even though the protection is the same on both, I feel like I’d be more comfortable with the long term durability of the Noco when really using it for what it’s designed to do.
 
I did carry them both in the rain and in the sun. Once they are in your jersey pocket, or saddle bag, they are completely forgotten. That’s the point, of course.
 

Small and ready to go in the saddle bag... Noco or Novobeam (and inner tube)

Small and ready to go in the saddle bag… Noco or Novobeam (and inner tube)

One thing I didn’t realize until testing, there is one limitation that neither of these address. The battery packs are both water resistant and would have no problem sitting in your jersey pocket or saddle bag while you were cycling in the pouring rain. What isn’t protected is the cable that’s necessary when you actually need to use the unit.
 
If you did need to use the unit, the best way to use them would be to plug the battery into your phone and let it stay that way for a while to charge. But there is no way for either of these to seal the connection to the phone or to seal the rest of the phone. I think what I would love to see is a pack that had the USB cables attached in such a way that the cable and battery was protected. That way you could leave the battery and cable in your saddlebag or jersey and not have to worry about it.
 
If I needed to actually use these chargers, I could throw it in the ziplock bag I keep my phone in when it’s raining and let it do it’s thing, but the whole idea here is I want to simplify. The things that are in my saddlebag I want to always be in my saddlebag, aside from race day, so that I never reach for them when I have a need and find I’ve forgotten them.
 
It seems there isn’t actually anything on the market that solves that problem, so I don’t think it’s fair to hold that against these two options. But if such a design existed, that’s what I’d want.
 

Even with the additional work I’ll need to do, I’m definitely going to be using these every non-race ride from now on. I think I’ll probably charge up the Noco, wrap the cable in a bit of saran wrap, and toss it in my saddlebag to be forgotten about until I need it. And in that way, it meets my need.  
 
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