The Iqua Sun can recharge
cellphones, iPods and more.
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
Imagine a world where your cell phone or iPod never runs out of power and you can leave all your clunky chargers at home.
I tested three solar-powered devices that aim to make this world a reality: a backpack that lets you charge a variety of devices, a Bluetooth headset and a small, handheld electronics charger that clips onto your bag. And if the sun isn't shining, all of these devices can also be charged through conventional means.
—Iqua Sun, $100, www.iqua.com.
Love 'em or hate 'em, Bluetooth headsets are an essential accessory for a lot of people, especially business travelers and those who drive a lot. And because many people keep their Bluetooth headsets in their cars, they don't bring them inside to charge often enough. Iqua, a Finnish company that was founded by former Nokia executives, has created the world's first solar-powered Bluetooth headset, the Iqua Sun.
It works just like any other Bluetooth headset, but it has a tiny solar cell that extends the headset's talk and standby time when it is exposed to the sun or any light source. At $100 (or less at Buy.com or Amazon.com), it's competitively priced with other Bluetooth headsets.
It's a great headset for someone who spends a lot of time walking outside and talking on the phone because it's possible that you'll never have to use a wall charger to recharge your headset again.
Although the Iqua Sun is a great product, I am slightly hesitant to recommend it because Bluetooth users who buy it will want to get as much solar power as possible, meaning they'll will be more tempted than ever to indulge the annoying habit of wearing a headset while not on the phone.
— Voltaic Backpack, $250, voltaicsystems.com.
The Voltaic Backpack is a stylish and comfortable bag with solar panels on the outside; it's available in four colors and has a compartment to store a laptop. The bag comes with 11 of the most common connector tips for cell phones, MP3 players and other devices.
There are two cords attached to the solar panels, which allow you to simultaneously charge two devices. One cord connects to a small battery pack, which provides power for your electronics and can be disconnected to charge devices without the solar panels.
The other cord can connect to a car-charger socket in the bag, so you can use your device's car charger to receive solar power. That cord can also directly connect to a device that requires 10 volts of power.
To test the bag, I brought it to a local park, hooked up some phones and an iPod and started walking in the sun. When I was sitting on a bench connecting my gadgets to the solar panels, I felt like I was diffusing a bomb.
A red light on the front of the bag tells you if the bag is receiving solar power, and I was able to get power in the shade or when the bag was sitting by the window, though sometimes the red light was on and my devices were not charging. Voltaic says that four to six hours of sunlight will fully charge a cell phone, and one hour of sunlight will provide three hours of iPod playback.
I was able to successfully charge an LG phone, a Motorola phone and an iPod, though charging didn't always go smoothly. After disconnecting my LG phone, the phone still seemed to think it was plugged in and I had to restart it to get it back to normal.
Overall, I think there's great promise in solar backpacks, but I found this particular model to be too expensive and somewhat complicated to use. Voltaic does sell other solar bags, including a smaller backpack for $200.
— Solio H1000, $80, www.solio.com.
The Solio H1000 weighs less than 5 ounces and is a great item for campers, hikers or anyone who plans to be away from an outlet for a while. It has a carabiner clip so you can hook it onto a backpack and it stores power that you can use later, even if you aren't in the sun. I had to be in direct sunlight to generate power, and the Solio only comes with three tips to connect to your devices, though you can buy more online.
Solio says one hour of sunshine will provide 15 minutes of talk time on a cell phone or 40 minutes of music playback on an MP3 player. Although the device can charge only one product at the time, it's an attractive option because it's affordable and compact and didn't require a lot of messy cables.
(Etan Horowitz is the technology columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
(c) 2008, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
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