FastMac's U-Socket may have veered perilously closer to vaporware territory after what seemed like anendless series of delays, but it finally started shipping out back in January to those patient enough to hang onto their pre-order, and we recently got our hands on one to see if it was really worth the wait. The short of it is that it does indeed work as promised once you get it installed, although that process may not be quite as painless as you're expecting. Read on for our full review.
Contrary to outward appearances, the complete unit is actually quite a bit bigger than a standard power outlet, and it requires at least a 16-cubic-inch electrical box to accommodate it. That meant we had to swap out our smaller electrical box for a larger one, which may or may not be an easy thing for you to do (it wasn't for us). Once in place, however, the U-Socket looks unassuming and gets the job done. The two USB 3.0-compliant ports have 12W of total charging power and are rated at 2.4A, which means it will charge a single power-hungry device like an iPad at full speed just fine, but slow things down if you plug two in at the same time (two lower power devices will charge just fine at the same time). You can also obviously have things plugged into the two power outlets while your USB devices are charging.
Those concerned about potential extra charges on their power bills also don't have anything to worry about, as the U-Socket is designed to cut off power to the USB ports when nothing is plugged into them -- something FastMac says will actually save you up to $25 a year in reduced energy costs, though that's admittedly tough to verify.
Of course, there are a few inherent downsides to a USB port-equipped power outlet, the most obvious being a lack of flexibility. Unless you're actually installing a new outlet, you'll likely be using it to replace one of your current outlets, which might not be in the most convenient location for charging your various devices. At $22.95, it's also one of the most expensive power outlets you're likely to find, and makes installing a bunch of them throughout your house quite a pricey proposition.
One other more minor drawback is that you obviously can't just go to the hardware store and buy a replacement faceplate if you happen to break yours. FastMac will sell you a replacement for $2.99, though, and it's even promising various colors and styles including wood and metal. A separate, more stylish "Decora" model is also now available to order for $25.95.
Unfortunately, while the U-Socket is now actually shipping, it's still not quite as readily available as we'd like. FastMac says it is "still catching up to the demand," and it's now listing a four to six week delay for orders on its website. The company cites its rigorous testing procedure as a partial reason for the delays, and says that it's trying to ramp up production while still maintaining strict quality control.
Despite those few drawbacks, however, the U-Socket is unquestionably a unique device, and an idea whose time has certainly come. We just hope that the both the size of the price tag and the device itself shrink a bit as it becomes more common.