Editor’s note: This review arrived just past the deadline for the 2011 TechRepublic Geek Gift Guide, but it is a uniquely geek-friendly device that we didn’t want you to miss.

Let’s have a virtual show of hands. Please indicate if you have experienced the following:

  • A freak wind storm blows through your city, knocking over trees and power lines. It takes months to fully recover, and many (your neighborhood included) are without power for over a week.
  • A convergence of moisture and cold air arrive in just the right combination to create an ice storm that blankets your city and state. Trees snap, unable to bear the excessive weight. So many power lines go down that local utilities have to call in relief crews from other parts of the country. Again, you’re stuck at home for days with no power.
  • It is summer, and everyone in town has the AC cranked up on high. You’re working from home on an important project that’s due tomorrow, and rolling brown outs are making you anxious.
  • You reside in a state along the Gulf of Mexico, or the East Coast, and it is hurricane season. You’ve been pretty fortunate to date, but there’s a big nasty storm headed your way.
  • You are the boyscout type who likes to always be prepared. You’ve never been seriously inconvenienced by a power failure, but you’re troubled that you don’t have much of a backup plan for getting work done, or just checking email, aside from the backup battery/surge protector that gives you enough power to save your work without a crash when the lights go off.

Thankfully, for most people, there are options:

  • Stay with friends, siblings, or in-laws: This option, when available, has the advantage of being the least expensive. Provided you don’t mind sleeping on someone’s couch for a few days, and you and your hosts can mutually tolerate living in close quarters with one another, this is the way to go.
  • Car with laptop and charger: Perhaps the only option if a hurricane has blasted your city, but if your house is intact, and you still have working cable connection – but no power, well, we’ll call that Plan B. If you opt for this solution, be sure to raise the garage door, and even back your car out of the garage.
  • Portable gas or diesel generators: These can be loud, they take up quite a bit of storage space, and storing fuel can be an issue. More importantly, for people who don’t use them correctly, they can kill you. Each year there are numerous reports of deaths or near deaths from people who have run generators without adequate ventilation. Still, for many, this is a viable option.
  • Portable Backup Power Supplies: This is a relatively new option. There are some products that have been on the market for several years, but the knock on them to date has been bulk and reliability.

Enter the Humless Sentinel, a lithium based backup power supply. The Sentinel is about the size of a car battery, comes with a handy strap and carrying case, and a variety of very nice features that demonstrate that some thought went into the design of this product. In addition to 2 AC and 2 DC power outlets, it comes with 4 USB outlets, for recharging cell phones and other tech gadgets. Also packaged with the Sentinel are a universal cell phone adaptor and a very handy USB light. (Very helpful if you’re trying to type in an unlit house and don’t have a laptop with backlit keys.)

The Sentinel offers 25 to 40 hours of run time for a laptop computer. These times obviously will vary from one computer to the next. For those with large laptops or gaming computers of any kind, it will make a huge difference if you adjust your computer’s power settings before use. For users anticipating a need for backup power for longer, with no chance to plug in and recharge the battery, Humless also offers a solar charger.


  • Product: Humless Sentinel
  • 50Ah Lithium Battery provides 600Wh of power using DC
  • Battery rating: 2,000 complete charge/discharge cycles
  • Battery shelf-life 10 Years
  • Battery charge time 2.5hrs (from a fully discharged battery-pack)
  • Integrated 20A smart-charger with PWM high efficiency charging
  • 1000W Continuous / 2000W peak 120VAC Output (Pure Sine Wave)
  • Integrated battery protection / charge control module
  • Dual fusing for maximum overload and short circuit protection
  • USB 2 x 5V @ 500mA / 2 x 5V @ 2100mA
  • Outputs:
    • (2) 110VAC outlet; (2) 12VDC Outlet; (4) USB Outlets
  • Inputs:
    • Universal input for 12VDC charging; (2) DC socket inputs;
    • Socket for AC charge chord (100-240VAC)
  • Cost: $1495

The good

  • Very nice features: A very useful product to have around for those times when power goes out. Or to have available for camping, tailgating, or other events when having a power supply would be helpful.
  • Portability: Can be easily stored and just as easily pulled out and taken on the go.
  • Battery life: This depends on your frame of reference. This device isn’t going to keep your freezer going for days on end. But if you keep your freezer closed, most things besides the ice cream should be OK. This is a product that will help you stay productive in a pinch.
  • No noise and no fumes: It’s “green” especially if you purchase and use the solar panel accessory.

The bad

  • Price: At just under $1500, this isn’t a product that most people will go out and buy casually. Gas generators can be purchased for much less, making this product less attractive for some. Still, for people who have a legitimate need for a backup power source in order to stay productive, or for medical reasons, this is worth considering. (Those wanting more portability at a much lower cost, with a small solar panel included, might also consider the Humless Roadrunner for $495.)
  • Air flow: Just a minor observation that the top to the case can obstruct air flow from a cooling fan if you aren’t observant, which could cause the battery to overheat.
  • Weight: The Humless Sentinel is portable, but you aren’t going to go hiking with it. Small people, older people, and freelance writers with bad backs should all be careful about lifting this device.

Bottom line for business

If you have a home business and can’t afford to be completely without power for several days, then this is worth considering. If you work from home on a regular basis, and often work on high priority, high value projects with tight deadlines, then perhaps you should check to see if your manager will foot the bill for it. If you just can’t bear the thought of not being online to check your Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ updates, or of not playing Call of Duty for a few days, then you’d better hope Santa brings you this, because it would otherwise be hard to justify.

Definitely a product you’ll wish you had when the time comes that you happen to need it.

For dozens of other geeky gift ideas, check out the free downloadable 2011 TechRepublic Geek Gift Guide.