If you are going off the grid for a weekend, you can use small solar chargers to power up phones, MP3 players and other devices – so which is the best?
Portable solar chargers have come on in recent years, but still have a way to go – they mainly require strong, direct sunlight to work reliably. At the bottom end of the market, you can easily get a 5 Watt, 12 Volt Solar Power Portable Panel that’s good for charging the small devices within a few hours (Click here for UK delivery).
Solio is one of the biggest names and one of the worst. It has spent a lot on PR – but the product sucks. Its three-panel designs, such as the Solio Classic (around $120, prices vary locally), simply don’t work very well. If you must buy a Solio because your Mum asked for it and she doesn’t know any better, get the Solio Hybrid 1000 for about $100, but you are better off buying the Freeloader which is equally unreliable but cheaper at about $70. Neither give enough consistency to let you go permanently off the grid and both gizmos generally take between four and six hours of strong sunlight to charge the average mobile phone. Another alternative is the AA battery charger for devices like GPS: in the UK try this Solar Powered AA Battery Charger. For phones and iPods you might be better off with a kinetic (wind-up) charger.
For better performance (although bulkier), try bags with built-in panels – the higher surface area of the panels translates direfctly into greaster power and reliability — like the Voltaic backpack ($190) or Reware Juice Bag (around $200). Both have built-in solar panels, which are useful if you’re out walking, and offer higher output.
Another alternative is the P-300 Soldius 1, a little $85 book-like charger that doesn’t have a built-in battery, which means it can’t store energy to dish out at a later point, but it does result in a lower environmental footprint. It seems to have faster charging times (two to three hours for a mobile phone, for example). Buy the P-300 Soldius 1 with iPod Tip and Mobile Phone Kit (1 charger kit) from Amazon.
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