The Hama Piccolino is as far as I know the smallest AC USB charger out there. Read on for a review.
The dangers of cheap USB chargers
The reason I bought the Hama Piccolino is that one of the chargers I had lying around was what you might call “unsafe”. This thing (DON’T buy one) is a classical example of why you should sometimes stay away from cheap Chinese sites. As the discussion thread on the product page clearly shows, that charger isn’t very safe. The thing about USB chargers is that it takes 110-240V (230V in my case) and turn it into 5V. There’s a lot of shortcuts to be taken to cut cost and size for a device like this; cheap parts, unsafe solder points, unsafe distances between copper paths etc. This can result in shocking you, shocking your player (with 230V), the charger catching on fire or melting etc- stuff which the charger linked to above has done. In my USB charging guide I mention some DX chargers that are a lot safer so there are cheaper options out there, but since I wanted a small charger I thought I’d try the real deal – the Hama Piccolino.
This thing is small, very small. The shape fits into any European socket; grounded, full size or half size and isn’t that much bigger than a normal half sized plug you might find on lamp cords and the sort. The USB port is on the top, which means the USB cable won’t get in the way of anything (like those giant AC adapters that take up half the sockets in a 5-socket splitter). It’s really well built, as one would expect from something that’s a “real” brand and the feel of the thing is certainly more sturdy than the DX counterpart.
The Piccolino outputs 800mA, which is a bit more than the ~600mA of most computers and 500mA of the USB standard. Note that voltage is what you need to worry about being exact, Ampere is put simply a measure of how much 5V power you can draw. The point is that higher voltage will fry your player, higher mA won’t. In fact, many players will charge quicker with a 800mA charger compared to a 500mA one, and those that don’t still won’t take damage from it.
As for compatibility, I don’t have any of the brands that require the two middle wires connected or some other scheme to work (Samsung, Creative etc) but it does work with iPods which require a whole other kind of interesting workarounds to get to accept USB chargers. It’s annoying me that manufacturer’s ignore these limits when writing the tech specs- since they managed to make it work with iPods they obviously know about the limitations, yet it doesn’t specify on the box what devices it works with. This leaves you guessing as to whether it will charge your device when you have players that tend to want their own brand chargers to charge outside of a computer.
There isn’t much to say about a device that does what it’s supposed to. The point of this reviews was to present a problem with cheap chargers and also present what I find to be one the best chargers out there with regards to form factor. You can get multi-port chargers or cheaper ones, but this one is special in that it’s so small. Hama being a German company means the charger has a Euro plug and I don’t think there’s a US version (at least there’s no UK version as that would be physically impossible with their plug). It should work with small converters however, if you can find one that doesn’t add any bulk. The suggested retail price of 16,99 Euro is a bit steep compared to many other chargers, but sometimes “you get what you pay for” isn’t just a gimmick. Personally I feel a bit safer plugging my expensive electronic devices into this than its $2 counterpart.