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SpareOne hands-on: the phone that runs on a single AA battery, holds a charge for 'up to 15 years'

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Xpal's SpareOne cellphone promises is powered by a single AA battery and promises up to 15 years of shelf life. We went hands-on with the device at CES 2012.

Gallery Photo: Spare One hands-on photos
Gallery Photo: Spare One hands-on photos

While we'd be hard pressed to recommend it as a primary phone, the SpareOne makes a compelling case as something to toss in your car's glovebox or keep in the house in case of an emergency. In fact, that's one of the main selling points of the Xpal-distributed GSM device, which is powered by just one AA battery that will give you up to 10 hours of talk time should you need it. As for looks, the candybar-style handset lacks an LCD of any sort. Instead we find a unique design that embraces its battery (constantly visible through a layer of plastic) yet comes off as fairly plasticky and cheap feeling — though we weren't expecting a metal and glass construction here. There's also an LED atop the SpareOne that functions as an emergency flashlight.

Packaging for SpareOne boasts that the device can "keep its charge for up to 15 years," but that's entirely dependent on the battery placed inside and has no correlation with the actual hardware. The estimate is based on the included Energizer Ultimate Lithium battery combined with a reusable "isolator" that prevents drain when SpareOne isn't being used; you'll need to remember to remove it before placing a call. In any event, don't expect the same longevity if you stick a Rayovac in the thing.

Though nowhere near exceptional, call quality was adequate for the type of situation that would see you turning to this device. Speaking of which, it's worth pointing out that (like other GSM phones), you don't need an active service plan to dial for help. An expired or inactive SIM allows for emergency calling on the SpareOne, which will be available in two models tailored to different international frequencies: 850/1900MHz for North America along with some parts of South America, and 900/1800MHz for other regions. It should ship by the end of Q1 for $49.99.