For most people, their cell phone is almost an extension of themselves. They are convenient and mobile, which means they are battery-powered. What if you forget to recharge, or are away from a source of electricity for hours or even days? Many have turned to solar cell phone chargers to fill in the power gaps, but have found that there are some downsides to these devices. Simply put, they often don't work as well as you would like. There are some standouts in this product line, however.
Solar Powered Cell Phone Charger Styles
Solar cell phone chargers consist of small solar panels that charge the phone's battery over a period of time, just as a 12v solar panel trickle charges a car's battery. The most common styles are windmill, folding and pocket-sized.
The best-known of the windmill types of charger is the Solio. The three mini solar panels fan out to gain the most of the sun's rays, while being small enough to fit in a bag or pocket when folded closed. This device gets good reviews, though most note that it must be in full sunlight to charge properly and cannot be placed on its side once opened. It features a built-in battery, which is a nice feature and adds greatly to the Solio's utility.
Folding solar cell phone chargers have the advantage of larger panels which make them more powerful than windmill types. When closed, they can easily be packed into a bag for transport. A popular brand is the PowerMonkey eXplorer. This line of solar charger is a bit pricey, however, and the PowerMonkey is no exception. Users give this brand stellar reviews on the Earthtech Products site, so if you really need a reliable cell phone charger, these chargers deserve your consideration.
Pocket-sized solar cell phone chargers are by nature smaller than those previously discussed, since portability is their claim to fame. They cost less and take longer to charge a phone, but also come with a rechargeable internal battery. The Freeloader Pico is an affordable example of this type of charger, and claims to recharge a phone in 30 minutes.
How Well do They Work?
Most solar chargers for cell phones also allow you to use an electrical outlet and/or your vehicle to cut down on the charge time. That's because using the sun to charge your phone may be green but it is also very slow-sometimes twice the amount of time is needed to charge a cell phone this way than in the conventional manner. The charger must also be in the sun the entire time, or the charge time will be longer still. Most come with suction cups for attachment to a car's windshield or dash, particularly helpful with the windmill type of charger. Almost every solar power cell phone charger I viewed could be used to recharge other accessories such as MP3 players, Kindle, iPods and various gaming devices. Some come with adapters for charging different devices and brands of cell phones, so check in advance whether a specific charger will work with your particular phone.
Most solar cell phone chargers allow for direct charging via your car's plug-in or an electrical outlet. This is by far the fastest way to charge a cell phone, usually taking only half the time needed using the sun. Consumer reviews note that it is difficult to charge a phone using the car's dashboard, since the windshield interferes with the sun's rays; many come with suction cups to allow for direct attachment to the glass, however. Posters on Reddit's Gadget Guide seem to prefer using a 12V solar panel to power cell phones on camping trips, forgoing the dedicated models altogether. On a more positive note, most of the chargers I saw could be used to recharge other mobile gadgets such as laptops, iPods and e-readers--but then, so can a 12V charging panel!
I also came across a June 2011 CNET review regarding cell phones that have a built-in solar charging panel on their covers. The idea seems like a good one, but the reviewer noted that the design results in a much bulkier phone as well as a bulked-up price. These also don't work very well through glass, and are more difficult to position correctly. The technology is fairly new, though, so perhaps improvements will show up soon.
As usual, there are many who prefer to make their own solar chargers and articles and instructions are easily found online if that is your preference. Check out the site Instructables, where you will find directions from other do-it-yourselfers.
Amanda Lacasse lives in a passive solar home and is looking into ways to segue into a more active solar lifestyle. Read more about all things solar by visiting http://SolarizedHome.com/.
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