With the way that Qi wireless charging is gaining popularity and widespread use for smartphones, I’m starting to look at standard USB cables in a different way. Like how they.. kind of suck. They’re typically too long, gangly, and tangly. There’s no real convenient way to store them either.
That’s why Nomad has done incredibly well. They’ve turned the USB cable experience up on it’s head with the release of their original ChargeCard up on Kickstarter not too long ago.
It was genius. It took something that we need (USB cables) and transformed it into a shape that we like and stores easily (credit cards).
The team didn’t stop there. Smart, considering the the profusion of compact and/or minimalist wallets that have been popping up within the past year or so. I happen to own and use a FlipSide Strata wallet with no extra space, which is why the ChargeKey by Nomad fit the bill. My keyring contains a couple keys, a few useful tools, and extra room to spare. Since my keys are never too far from me, having a ChargeKey means a cable is almost always on-hand.
Design & Construction
Right out of the package, it’s easy to tell that the Nomad ChargeKey is made very well. There is hard plastic at both business ends of the cable, but it has a soft and pliable silicone-type material in between.
It bends and twists as I please, yet springs back to the original shape when let go. Despite the fact that there are two different materials, the manufacturing process has them fused together seamlessly.
The ChargeKey is about as thick as many key-shaped USB flash drives, which is similar to a pair of stacked credit cards. The design of the built-in keyring loop is deliberately clever. There are similar products to the Nomad ChargeKey, which include a metal chain with loops. Those cables look more like trinkets and less like something functionally stylish.
There is enough of the hard plastic to pinch between the thumb and forefinger, making it easier to thread the ChargeKey on a keyring without having flesh get in the way.
The plastic loop area itself is open enough so that it works with thick split rings or even S-biners. Once clipped on a ring with your keys, the ChargeKey hangs down vertically (mostly) to stay tight with everything else. Personally, I prefer the S-biner for quick removal.
Even though the lightning connector sticks out a bit when the ChargeKey is up against a standard key, there are other and larger key shapes that will hide it. But it mostly just blends right in and becomes a part of the team. The ChargeKey has been on my keyring and banging around in my pockets for weeks. No scuffs, no damage.
There is enough of the hard plastic on the USB side too, which provides a good grip to plug and unplug the cable for charging. The USB connector has slid in snug – no rocking or wiggling – with every USB port I have. This includes laptops, desktop, external battery packs, extension cables, speakers, external hard drives, everything. The lightning connector works just peachy with the single iPhone 5 we have.
The Nomad ChargeKey charges as fast as any of my best cables. I also haven’t noticed much (if any) difference in the data transfer rate either through a USB 2.0 connection (even though the iPhone 5 prompted some nonsense about the cable not being “certified”).
As for drawbacks, I’d have to say that the short length of the Nomad ChargeKey requires a bit of thought or imagination in some situations.
Connecting to a wall adapter plugged into a power strip is no big deal. Connecting to a wall adapter plugged into a wall outlet (especially the chest-high kind) seems in need a makeshift shelf or hammock. Even though the ChargeKey fits snug, it’s not snug enough to let an iPhone 5 free-hang without slipping off eventually.
It’s never fun to be without a means to charge a smartphone when you need it most. The problem is that most cables are unnecessarily long and clunky for any kind of mobile and/or minimalist use.
The Nomad ChargeKey makes keeping a USB cable (iPhone 5 or Micro USB) extremely convenient, especially if you’re one to tote around an external battery pack. It’s easy to use, easy to keep track of, and takes up the least amount of space while providing the benefits of a standard cable.
The holy mantra of things to grab before leaving the house is “keys, wallet, phone”, right? Add the Nomad ChargeKey as another tool to your keyring, and that will be one more situation you’re prepared for without any added bulk.