Crank it up, dude _ Motorola introduces windup charger for cell phones

Monday, January 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ The scenario is frustratingly familiar to cell phone users: a warning beep, ``My battery's going,'' then silence.

Who hasn't gotten disconnected?

But hold the phone _ a new retro innovation by Motorola Inc. may put an end to those sudden-death calls.

In a throwback to the days of the gramophone and the hand-cranked telephone, Motorola is introducing a new windup charger that should make it easier to stay in touch _ or harder to get away from it all, depending on your point of view.

Developed with London-based Freeplay Energy Group, maker of windup radios and flashlights, the FreeCharge is designed to keep dying phone batteries going when a power outlet is out of reach. Cranking its handle for about 45 seconds provides four or five minutes of talk time and several hours of standby time.

The 11 1/2-ounce handheld device, roughly twice the weight of the average cell phone, consists of a small generator unit that can be connected to a a phone.

FreeCharge will go on the market in March and cost about $65.

Ways to extend battery life have been intensely sought after for years.

Motorola product manager Gary Brandt said it is doubtful many cell-phone users in the United States will lug it around in their briefcases or hip pockets. Rather, he said, FreeCharge is aimed at boaters, campers, fishermen and those who want the device for emergencies and peace of mind.

He said demand could be stronger in Europe, where people are more accustomed to carrying wireless devices around and less willing to risk missing calls.

After seeing the windup charger when it was introduced last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, analyst Rob Enderle of the Giga Information Group said it should fare well.

``It took Motorola getting it small enough before anyone would even think about it,'' Enderle said. ``And it's not like you've got a lot of choice.''

For now, FreeCharge is compatible only with phones made by Schaumburg-based Motorola, the world's second-biggest cell-phone manufacturer. But by April it will adapt to phones made by Nokia and Ericsson too, Brandt said.