Written by: Julian Fenn and Philip May special guest contributor from TechnoRV.com
05/26/2013 2:40 PM
In the world of high-tech, progress isn't always what you expect, especially when it comes to battery life. Everything from laptops and iPods to GPS navigation systems, and camcorders seem to continually need recharging.
So, what's to be done? First of all, there are some relatively simple tricks to extend the battery life of your phones, such as disabling the Wi-Fi when not needed, turning down the screen brightness, disabling Bluetooth (for a more detailed list, see the CIO Insider Article: "Smartphones: 20 Tips to Increase Battery Life"). But, there's only so much you can do. Most of us don't want to spend a couple of hundred bucks on a high-end phone and then disable all the same features we paid so much for. That would be like buying a Ferrari and disabling 8 of its 12 cylinders. Before you get too disheartened, there is a solution, and it comes in an unlikely form: solar chargers.
Think of having a solar charger the same as carrying around a spare tank of gas for your electronic gadgets. Let's take a look at a couple of chargers for different types of devices.
Cell Phone Charger (ReVive)
The ReVIVE Series Solar ReStore External Battery Pack has an 1,500mAh battery which is good enough to take an iPhone 4 from 0 - 100% charge in about 2 hours. There are three ways to charge the charger - using the sun, using an AC cord (included), or by using a USB cord (also included) to take energy from your laptop or other fully-powered electronic item. You can only charge 50% of it through solar, so if you need a full charge you'll need to plug it in. ($29.99 from Amazon).
GPS and Camera Charger (Freeloader Pro)
The Freeloader Pro has an 1,800mAh battery, which is more than twice the size of the Pico's giving it double the charging power. Since it also has two solar panels compared to the Pico's single panel, it will still recharge in around 8 hours of sunlight or 3 hours of USB charging. A nifty feature is the included CamCaddy which has adjustable battery contacts and connects to the Freeloader Pro, meaning that you can use it to charge your digital camera or camcorder batteries ($54.99 from Amazon).
Laptop Charger (Brunton Solaris 26)
In order to run or charge a laptop, you need some fairly hefty solar panels. We like the Brunton Solaris because of its portability. When folded, it measures 11" x 5" and weighs 28oz, but when unfolded, extends out to 22" x 40", enabling the solar panels to generate a max output of 26W. It is claimed to be able to recharge a laptop in 4-8 hours. The downside is that it retails at $648, although it has been listed on Amazon for less than $400.
Multi Purpose Charger (Solio Classic2)
The Solio Classic2 is an extremely versatile and compact solar charger boasting twice the capacity of the original classic charger. A day of sun gives you three complete charges on your portable electronic devices. It is also designed to switch modes, allowing for the most efficient charging of all devices. When the LED button is green, it is in CTIA or Normal charging output mode. To switch modes, simply hold down the button for 5 seconds and release. The button will then light up blue, indicating that it is now in a mode optimized for Apple products like the iPad, iPhone, and iPod. The 3 solar panels fold out to give a powerful 5W capacity that still charge its internal 2,000mAh battery in around 10 hours via solar and 6 hours via USB. ($83.80 from Amazon.
Solar Backpack (Voltaic Offgrid)
The Voltaic Solar Backpack is ideal for anyone who frequently backpacks and hikes, but needs to keep their electronic devices charged. The nice thing about this is that its 4W solar panels will charge its huge 3,000mAh internal battery while you are hiking or just out and about. When not it the sun, it can be charged from a USB or 12V outlet. It's not cheap, but you do get what you pay for. The backpack itself offers a dedicated laptop pouch, shoulder phone pouch, channels for headphones, and a high grade recycled PET (soda bottles) construction which is waterproof, lightweight and UV resistant. The price is around $230 from EarthTech Products.
The type of charger you need depends on you're purpose for it. Cell phones and iPods require only the smallest chargers, GPS devices and camera batteries require a little more battery power, with laptops requiring the most energy. Have fun, be safe, and may the power be with you.
Philip May and his wife have been towing a Jeep behind their motor home for the past three years while touring the US and then more recently, a Sprinter van for the last 18 months while running their company, TechnoRV. During that time they've driven almost 70,000 miles and visited every contiguous state of the US at least once.
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