The Solio Hybrid 1000
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MCT)
Despite better battery life in today's gadgets, a little backup power is always best — and what more suitable source than the sun?
The Solio Hybrid 1000 from Better Energy Systems is a solar panel and battery in a light, slender case that can charge mobile phones, music players, digital cameras or portable gaming systems.
It has several adapters to cover a range of electronics, including three that come with the device: a mini USB adapter to power up toys such as Sony's PlayStation Portable, a female USB tip for Apple iPods; and one for Nokia N series handsets.
This portable charger boosts its own battery from either the sun, a computer's USB port or from a wall outlet using an adapter that is not included in the basic $79.95 package, available at www.solio.com.
The energy stashed from the sun or other sources sits in the Solio's rechargeable lithium ion battery, which can boost back gadgets at the same rate as if they were plugged into a wall outlet.
Pressing and holding its "start" button for about five seconds causes a green LED to flash one to five times indicating the Solio's battery level, one showing only 20 percent is left while five indicating it's fully charged.
The device's photovoltaic panel takes eight to 10 hours to charge completely from the sun, according to Better Energy Systems. With peak charging times between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., that means the process takes at least two days, and placing the device behind a window reduces the amount of energy absorbed.
Any shadows on the panels also will reduce its solar recharge time.
And for the panels to work best, they need to be in direct sunlight, requiring occasional repositioning as the sun moves throughout the day.
Those challenges were a factor over the course of a few weeks of testing, which revealed the Solio to take a lot longer than a couple of days to charge exclusively solar, thanks to a string of cloudy days.
Still, a fully powered Solio charges a typical mobile phone once — including an iPhone — or can provide up to 10 hours of digital music, depending on the device.
The equation Better Energy System offers is one hour of sunshine for 14 minutes talk time or 40 minutes of digital music. Regardless, after the Solio is fully charged, it can hold its energy for a year.
More realistically, however, a USB AC adapter — an accessory that plugs into a USB cord so you can plug it into an outlet instead of a USB port — charged the Solio much faster, although the solar panel served as a suitable backup trickle of power as the device dangled from its built-in carabiner on my backpack.
Weighing 4.6 ounces and measuring 7.8 inches long by 0.71 inches high by 2.6 inches wide, the Solio isn't small, but it isn't a burden to carry around as long as it's clipped to a bag.
(Stanley A. Miller II covers personal technology for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Reach him at (414) 223-5162 or smiller(at)journalsentinel.com.)
(c) 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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