Not long ago, power strips were mostly simple things: beige, about a foot long with four to six outlets and — if “fancy” — with an on-off switch. Times certainly have changed.
Shopping for a new power strip today takes almost as much research as for a new appliance. And with ever more electronics in our homes, including an increasing number that require frequent recharging, outlets are at a premium. What to consider:
1. Surge protection is a must
This feature keeps your electronics from getting damaged in a power surge, usually storm related, by redirecting unexpected increases in voltage away from delicate equipment. Even without a storm, smaller, less noticeable power spikes can shorten the life of your devices. Protection is rated by joules, a measurement of energy.
“For computers, home theaters and audio equipment, you should have nothing less than 2,000 joules,” says Michael Richard, director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ construction and maintenance department.
2. USB outlets are handy
In addition to the typical three-pronged grounded outlets, many power strips now include USB slots. Instead of plugging your phone's charging cable into an outlet adapter, just plug it into one of the USB ports, a real space saver.
3. Flexibility for big plugs is important
Oversized plugs, which are common these days, can cover the adjoining outlets on a traditional power strip, preventing you from using it at full capacity. New strips deal with this by spacing outlets farther apart or allowing them to pivot up to 90 degrees.
4. New models are designed to sit off the floor
Manufacturers know that we have numerous devices to plug in on tables and nightstands, often with cables of varying lengths that may not reach the floor. Easy access is key.
So they have developed tower-style and disc-shaped strips that can sit on a table and not look like an eyesore. Some even have a built-in wireless charging pad for smartphones.
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5. Small ones are perfect for travel
Hotels may not have all the outlets you need. Pack a small, lightweight, three-outlet power strip in your suitcase for extra juice.
6. A premium purchase can guard high-end devices
Whether it’s a home theater setup or an expensive computer, sometimes you want additional security. Some power strips come with top-grade surge protection, extra safeguards and warranties for damages to your equipment.
“Don’t go cheap,” Richard says. “And also consider something that lets you know when the surge protection is no longer effective. The real nice ones will just shut down when that happens, so you know it’s time for a new one.”
Chris Morris is a contributing writer who covers technology and video gaming. He previously was an editor at CNN Money and Yahoo! Finance. His work also appears in Fortune, on Nasdaq.com and on CNBC.