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Two New Ways to Power Your Smartphone With the Sun

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Like a lot of web workers, I travel a lot, so I try to minimize my energy use where I can. In honor of Earth Day, I’ve been testing a couple of solar chargers. The good news is that charger prices have dropped significantly. But their capabilities vary, so it’s important to select one that meets your needs.

Scosche solBAT II

The manufacturer sent me a Scosche solBAT II Solar Charger and Backup Battery to try, and I was surprised at how small it is, at approximately 4″ x 2.25″. It’s pretty light, too, at only a couple of ounces.

It comes with a case and suction cups that are designed to be mounted in a car window, with the idea that the charger will collect sunlight and store it in an internal 1500mA lithium-ion battery, ready to use when you need to charge your phone. There’s also a carabiner mount for attaching the charger to luggage or a backpack.

This charger’s small size and weight means that its solar cell is small and doesn’t charge very rapidly. The instructions say that it can take up to five days to reach the battery’s full capacity, so it’s recommended to charge the battery via USB (in about 3 hours), then use the solar cell to maintain its full charge.The charger outputs 5V at 500mA, which should be sufficient for many mobile devices.

SunCharge Universal Solar Cell Phone Charger

The SunCharge Universal Solar Cell Phone Charger from Choice Solar takes a different approach. It has a 5.5″ x 9.5″ panel, much larger than the Scosche, but the SunCharge is still pretty light at 3 oz.

Thus, it can charge a portable device faster than the Scosche, in 3-5 hours according to the manufacturer, but it has no storage of its own, and only works during daylight and in the right weather conditions.

It includes eyelets, but you’ll need to provide your own suction-cup hooks if you want to mount it in a window. The model I tried includes a “hydra” cable with five connectors: Mini USB, Micro USB, Nokia(s nok) 2mm thin pin, Nokia 3.5 mm thick pin, and Samsung connector. There are also specific models for Nokia, LG and Samsung phones.

Choice Solar also offers the SunCharge iPhone Solar Charger Bundle, which includes a SunCharge, a 5 pin connector, Kensington battery and USB cable. This bundle is compatible with most iPhones and iPods. Note that neither the Scosche or the Choice Solar chargers can output enough current to charge an iPad(s aapl).

The Scosche solBAT II Solar Charger and Backup Battery is available for $29.95 from the company’s website. The Choice Solar SunCharge is available for $39.95 plus shipping from the company’s website. The iPhone and iPod-compatible version is $79.95 plus shipping.

Both the Scosche and Choice Solar chargers do what they’re designed to do; you’ll need to decide which system is appropriate for how you work.

How do you charge your portable devices?