$50 for a Wall Wart? No Way!
by Blake Linton Wilfong -- The Wondersmith!

I'm in the process of selling some of my old childhood toys on eBay. Turns out they're "vintage collectibles" now. Yikes, I feel old! Anyway, to facilitate this task, I visited COMP USA last week and picked up a delightful grown-up toy, the HP PhotoSmart 215 digital camera. It's amazing what beautiful photos this tiny bundle of technological wizardry can produce even under the poorest conditions: Just look at the artsy picture below, taken in a mirror with only the light from the naked bulb in my closet.

As with most digital cameras, the 215 drains alkaline batteries like a tribble gobbles quadrotriticale. If you use it a lot, you can spend more on batteries than on the camera! The user manual is littered with warnings about features that will drain the battery if overused. Worse, the camera can't use rechargeable batteries--probably because their voltage levels or maximum current output aren't high enough to satisfy its voracious appetite for wattage.

Fortunately for those of us who use the HP PhotoSmart 215 indoors, there's a jack for an AC adapter. But before you go digging in your closet for that old universal AC adapter, read this excerpt from the manual: "Only use an AC power adapter that HP has approved for use with the HP PhotoSmart 215 digital camera. Caution: Use of any other adapter voids your warranty and may damage your camera." Oh well, better pick up the HP adapter where I bought the camera.

The plot thickens. The friendly salesman back at COMP USA tells me they don't sell those. Ditto at Best Buy. Circuit City will sell me a genuine HP AC adapter for the 215, but they want about $50 for it. Yes, you read that right: 50 bucks for a wall wart!

Gee, aren't those things supposed to sell for $10 or so? What's so special about this AC adapter? Checking the almost microscopic print on the bottom of the camera, I see that its power requirements are 6 volts DC at 2000 milliamps.

2000 milliamps!?!? TWO WHOLE AMPS? That's a lot of juice for a gadget that runs on AA batteries! So much for the universal AC adapter in the closet; it's rated 300 milliamps. Looks like I'm out of luck. Or maybe not...

Radio Shack to the rescue! Checking radioshack.com, I find a new product called "Digital Camera Power Supply", catalog number 273-1695, for just $19.99. It's a universal AC adapter on steroids. Get these specs: selectable regulated output voltage of 3, 5, 6, or 6.5 volts DC at a whopping 2.5 amps! And it comes with 3 AdaptaPlugs which allow it to fit most digital cameras' power jacks, including the HP 215's. You do have to make absolutely sure you set up the voltage and polarity right, or you'll end up with an out-of-warranty fried camera. But that's a one-time chore that only takes a minute or two, easily worthwhile to save 30 bucks.

Needless to say, I bought one and tested it on my camera. Works perfectly. And with its various voltage settings and AdaptaPlugs, it's a lot more versatile than HP's AC Adapter--a better investment for the future, for a lot less money.

Which brings up the obvious question: Why does HP charge so much for their AC Adapter? Radio Shack isn't particularly famous for low prices, yet their price for a better product is about 40% of HP's. What's going on here? (In case you're wondering, they're both made in China--no difference there.)

Chalk it up to HP's profit-making strategy. I've read that they do something similar with inkjet printers. They sell outstanding printers at very low profit margins--then make a killing on the ink cartridges. This strategy isn't unique to Hewlett Packard; Epson, Lexmark and other printer companies do it too.

But at least you now know the secret to avoiding high prices on wall warts: Radio Shack. They have several reasonably priced universal AC adapters to choose from, along with a zillion AdaptaPlugs, so you probably won't ever have to buy an AC adapter anywhere else. Just say no to ludicrous prices for wall warts!

Legal mumbo jumbo I probably have to say: I take no responsibility for any damages or warranty loss caused by the use of Radio Shack AC adapters. I am only describing my own experience with them. Use them at your own risk.

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