Belkin 7-in-1 Retractable Cable Pack review
Your notebook bag may have an almost infinite number of pockets to store accessories, but there’s nothing more convenient than having a separate case with cables and converters.
Belkin’s 7-in-1 Retractable Cable Pack has the smallest case here, measuring 125mm high and 40mm deep. Unzip it and the two halves secure cables with moulded foam. An 800mm retractable USB extension cable can be used as is, or converted to Type B or mini Type B, the latter coming in five-pin and four-pin. The other half of the case holds two more retractable cables: a 1m RJ-45 network cable and a 1.2m RJ-11 modem cable. Finally, there’s an RJ-11 to BT phone-style adapter. All the retractable mechanisms are good quality and didn’t jam like the Thrustmaster headphones.
The Sweex Portable USB Cable Pack is a similar kit to Belkin’s, but is based around a single retractable cable – a USB extension. This can be converted into four different USB cables: Type B, mini-Type B (five-pin and four-pin), plus a second mini-USB format. There are also two pairs of converters to change the extension cable into an RJ-45 network or an RJ-11 phone cable. The only absentee is an adapter to a UK phone socket.
A prominent warning on the packaging asks you not to make unusual connections with the kit – for example, USB to RJ-11 – as connecting this will damage your laptop due to the voltages involved. The kit comes in a leather-effect case but, as you can’t use three cables simultaneously as with Belkin’s kit, it isn’t as good value.
But the Zip-Linq Road Warrior Kit is the daddy here. Its zip-up case is over twice as big as Sweex’s and includes plenty more. Two retractable 1m USB cables are accompanied by a mouse and a 1.2m CAT-5e network cable. A useful addition is the red adapter, which converts the latter into a crossover cable for connecting two computers directly. One of the USB cables is an extension, but the other is a Type A-to-mini-Type B (five-pin) and this connects to the mouse. We found the mouse a frustration to use, as it constantly went to sleep (even after a few seconds) and took several seconds to wake up again.
Three USB adapters are included for the extension cable. One is slightly unusual, as it forms a Type A-to-Type A lead, while the others are Type B and mini-Type B. The final components are a USB-powered LED light and a retractable headset incorporating a microphone. Again, we found quality lacking: the headphones could only handle mid-range frequencies, so are only really suitable for VoIP use rather than music. But at £21, the kit offers good value if you need everything in it. Otherwise, Belkin’s is a better cable-only kit.
The Thrustmaster Nomads’ Pack 2 is arguably the odd one out here, but could be a useful kit if your notebook doesn’t have a number pad and you need one. Most notebooks double up a section of the QWERTY keys with the number pad keys, but if you need to do calculations on a regular basis a separate number pad is essential. This is a USB device, but comes with a PS/2 adapter as well. Rather than have a double-height “+” key, it moves the “-” down and adds a backspace key. Similarly, it loses a double-width “0” key to add an extra “000” key.
The kit includes one of the smallest USB mice we’ve ever seen. It’s an 800dpi optical device and, despite being only 40mm wide and 75mm long, it’s surprisingly usable and even includes a scroll wheel. And with the retractable cable, it’s tidy too. Finally, there’s a pair of stereo headphones, but they’re as disappointing as Zip-Linq’s. Again, mid-range frequencies punch through, giving you a headache after only a few minutes of music. If it weren’t for this, the £18 price would look reasonable but, as it stands, you’re better off buying quality items individually.