Hobby Electronics, Soldering Advice,
electronics tutorials and more!

Internet and PC handy hints and tips

Impartial Reviews

Slimplug Compact UK Power Lead

Slimplug compact power lead retail packOne of the perils of lugging a laptop around is the risk of inflicting accidental damage – especially if you toss a laptop into the boot of your car, or maybe take one abroad when they're at the mercy of an airline's baggage handling system. 

One of the major causes of laptop damage occurs when the metal prongs of the PSU's mains plug are accidentally smashed into the laptop's LCD. The British "13A" (13 Amp) 3-prong mains plug is pretty robust and it can do a good job of gouging holes in your laptop's lid that way.

During a regular visit to a store I spotted a special mains plug which is designed with the travelling laptop owner in mind. The Slimplug is a UK-style twin core mains power cord that fits many laptop power supplies, but it has one big difference: the mains plug's metal prongs are spring-loaded and retract into the plug's plastic body when not in use, which removes the risk of them being smashed into the laptop during transit.

The designers behind Slimplug claim that it was the first ever folding-pin mains plug to be granted a product approval licence to British Standard BS1363 – the compulsory standard which you'll find stamped onto every British 3-pin plug. Apart from using it with a laptop, the Slimplug could equally be at home with a games console such as the Sony Playstation, to help prevent damage to the console when it's being stored away.

To use the Slimplug, simply slide back the latch on both sides and the plug's three pins will swing down under gravity, and then lock them into place by releasing the latches again. To close it prior to travelling, slide the latches with the pins facing upwards and they will drop back down into the body. The smooth action is troublefree and when I tested it, the pins are held firmly and the action worked perfectly every time without jamming.

Hold downwards and release the latches The pins lock firmly into place
To release the plug's pins, slide back the latches on both sides... ... and the pins swing out under gravity. Release the latches to lock them firmly in place.
Pins fold down out of harm's way when not required In use in a laptop bag
The pins retract fully into the moulding of the Slimplug. The fuse can be prised out but this isn't obvious, and it had me fooled initially! The Slimplug avoids the risk of metal pins being crushed into your laptop's lid or through your bag during handling in transit.

We've updated this article after more information came to light regarding the fuseholder. Contrary to what we said initially, the fuse is in fact replaceable by using a screwdriver in the (tiny) slot to prise out the fuse. This is not self-evident and it is not mentioned anywhere, as the fuseholder is such a good fit that it looks like it's just one moulding.

Twin core C8 mains connector A suggested 2-pole to 3-pole adaptor
A standard C8-style connector appears on the mains lead. This 2-pole to 3-pole adaptor is suggested if your laptop PSU uses this type of connection instead.

Another key aspect is that it's hard-wired to a familiar Figure-8 two pole (C8 style) mains receptacle.  The manufacturer clearly explains both on the packaging and on a label that it can be used with any device that uses a standard twin core connector, i.e. one which does not require earthing. No complaints there.

If, like my Sony Vaio, your laptop PSU has a three-pole C5 (Live, Neutral, Earth) connection then Slimplug points the way to Maplin's "Cloverleaf adaptor" which permits a twin-core mains lead to be hooked into a 3-pole laptop PSU. There's an important omission though: using this adaptor means there is no earth (ground) continuity, but this caveat appears neither on Maplin's packaging nor in their literature. An ordinary end-user wouldn't appreciate the possible significance of this point.

The chances are that you can get away with it in many cases; the Slimaplug will (hopefully) power up a laptop as normal, but only you can decide whether it’s worth the risk of running it without a safety earth connection. If no earth were needed then the apparatus would be double-insulated in the first place, and the lack of earth can also affect any mains filtering within the PSU. It's been suggested that commercial or business laptop users might find that the adaptor invalidates their laptop's Portable Appliance Testing approval, leading to all sorts of complications.

As it's designed solely for the British mains supply, if you travel overseas you'll also want to pack a continental  travel adaptor, such as the Maplin N49GH (not tested here). They convert one pin style to another, but they do not alter the voltage; laptop PSUs are often designed to operate from 110-240V a.c. anyway so the voltage won't be a problem, but you must check first. Alan Winstanley.


UK mains 3-pin plug to Figure-8 C8 connector
Fused 5A (replaceable)
Length of cable: 1.8 metres
Dimensions when closed: 50 x 55 x 22m depth approx.

Summary and Verdict

A unique way of avoiding potential transit damage to your precious laptop. Still slightly bulky but ideal for the regular traveller or business user. Use a 3-pole adaptor (not supplied) only if you understand the potential risk; an employer may prohibit it. Fuse replacement could have been made more obvious.

Other resources

www.slimplug.com Manufacturer's web site.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEC_connector Basic details of different types of mains connector

www.maplin.co.uk Maplin N13GA C5 three-pole to C8 two-pole adaptor