What does it say about our dependence on mobile gadgets, and their shortcomings, that USB battery packs and charging cables have become so ubiquitous lately?

I was wandering through two discount stores today—a Family Dollar and a Big Lots—and one thing I noticed on endcaps and stand-alone displays scattered all through both stores was a predominance of inexpensive no-brand USB battery packs and USB charging and sync cables. For just a few bucks, you can readily slip a spare charger in your pocket—which comes already charged and ready to use.

And that’s probably a good thing. I’m probably not as diligent about practicing battery conservation on my Nexus 6 smartphone as I could be, but even with the screen dimmed to half-brightness it won’t last a whole day in my pocket without spending some time plugged into something to recoup battery power. And keeping my Karma Go router up and running all day requires a bigger battery than it has.

As a result, I tend to carry two different USB battery packs on my person when out and about—the Choetech I reviewed here for my phone, and an Anker lipstick battery for the Karma. And if I’m carrying my gadget bag along, it has several more USB battery packs (even when I’m leaving some of them at home!). I also carry two wall warts and a half dozen USB charging cables tucked into the Digital Burrito, including a Lightning cable for my iPad Mini 2. (This comes in especially handy when I’m using my Teclast Kindow, as its battery drains if you just look at it funny.)

And I don’t think I’m alone in that. Few phones or tablets can last out the day without hooking up to something now and then, even with the best battery economy. And our society has adapted to that. Apart from USB battery packs, there are charging stations in malls, airports, and train stations, and most trains and buses now come with power outlets built right in.

You would think that the way mobile batteries drain so readily would lead to more advances in mobile battery technology. And there has been some of that, but not as much as one might hope. Why aren’t we using fuel cells in our smartphones and tablets by now?

Until some of these advances can be brought to the consumer market, we’ll probably have to get used to the unwieldy aspect of charging our devices from external batteries. Well, unless those devices are e-ink e-readers such as a Kindle or Kobo. The nice thing about e-ink is that it uses so little power, a tiny battery half the size of a smartphone’s can power a Kindle for weeks. Apart from the matter of eyestrain, that might be one of the most convincing arguments for reading in e-ink.