Gadgets & Apps

Solar Power: Turns Out That Yes, You Can Take It With You

Solar chargers, from top left: Powertraveller Solar Monkey, K3 Wind and Solar Charger, Solio Classic i i

Solar chargers, from top left: Powertraveller Solar Monkey, K3 Wind and Solar Charger, Solio Classic and Novothink Surge. hide caption

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Solar chargers, from top left: Powertraveller Solar Monkey, K3 Wind and Solar Charger, Solio Classic

Solar chargers, from top left: Powertraveller Solar Monkey, K3 Wind and Solar Charger, Solio Classic and Novothink Surge.

I've been thinking about solar energy lately. And thankfully, it's more interesting to think about right now than it ever has been. I'm looking for solar chargers — something light and durable that also works in partial sunlight.

Two things led me to look into all this — a bike and a boat.

As a cyclist, I rely on my phone to give me both music and a GPS map of my route. And as a newbie sailor, I like the idea of staying in touch — and using GPS to find my way.

All of that requires some juice, especially when you really get off the beaten path: As you may know, cell phones have a way of emptying their batteries as they desperately look for a network.

Given my needs, I want a charger that is:
1 - Charged up in less than 10 hours
2 - Lightweight — say, under a pound
3 - Less than 1-2 years old in its design

I found four devices on the Web that, from critics' and users' reviews, seem likely to do what I have in mind. I'll give them a try and follow up with another post later. But if you've already tried them out, share your opinion — and feel free to suggest other ideas if you've got 'em.

K3 Wind and Solar Charger
This is a pretty nifty and nice-looking little tool. It looks durable, and it's a no-brainer to pair solar and wind in one small device. You can charge it via AC outlet, if you want to give it a boost.
Meant for small devices, like cellphones and cameras, the K3 uses USB and has a compartment to store charging tips. The company claims an output that can charge a mobile phone five times.

The Specs
DC Output: 5V 1A; Maximum Wattage: 5 Watts
Battery Type: Lithium Ion 3.7V cell
Battery Capacity: 4,000 mAh
Dimensions: 3.0 x 9.3 x 3.1 in.
Weight: 10 oz (300g)

Solio Classic
This one scallops out into a flower-petal pattern. Solio's one of the more established companies, and their products have a reputation for being hardy — on their Web site, their customers have sent pics of the gadgets in all kinds of exotic locales.

They also recently began a BOGO (buy-one give-one) program — meaning that when you buy it from them, Solio promises to donate a charger and an LED light "to a family who live on less than a dollar a day," according to the company.

The Specs
DC Output: 3V 2A; Maximum wattage: 6 Watts
Battery: Lithium Ion 3.6V cell
Battery Capacity: 1650mAh cell
Dimensions: 4.72 x 1.34 x 2.56 in.
Weight: 5.6 oz.

Novothink Surge For iPhone
This is a charger case with a built-in Apple-friendly 30-pin connector for your iPhone. It includes a USB connector, so you don't have to remove the phone from the case to sync with iTunes. And it can charge itself via USB, as well.

The Specs
DC Output: 5.5V at 1A; Maximum Wattage: 5 Watts
Battery: Lithium Ion 3.7V cell
Battery Capacity: 1,500 mAh
Dimensions: 2.65 x 4.875 x .875 in.
Weight: 2.8 oz.

Powertraveller Solar Monkey
This light and small unit — it's about the size of a clamshell cellphone — is very versatile and can be strapped on top of a backpack. It's best to get it with a "Solar Nut" — a little dongle that regulates the power flow and also stores a charge on its own, helping to bridge the gaps when there's no sun.

It's small and flexible — but that means it doesn't have as much storage capacity as other units.

The Specs
DC Output: 5V at 200mA; Maximum Wattage: 5 Watts
Battery: NI-MH
Battery Capacity: 150mAh
Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.4 x 2.8 in.
Weight: 11 oz.

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