Taking your Android device off the (power) grid

To celebrate Earth Day this year, I thought I’d try to dosomething for good ol’ Gaia, and start charging my Android devices withouttapping into the usual power outlet. Instead, I took a look at a couple of optionsthat can harness the power of the sun for a charge.

While there are a number of solar-panel options out there,phones and tablets draw more power while charging than most solar panels canprovide in real time. That means that you’ll need to find a kit that stores thepanel’s captured solar energy in a battery, so that you can redeploy it to yourAndroid device later, at a more fitting output level.

I took a look at a couple of kits from GoalZero.com, a solarcompany inspired by the need for reliable power in the Democratic Republic ofthe Congo – in fact, with every purchase of a Goal Zero product, a donation ismade to an organization dedicated to ending illiteracy, poverty and hunger inthe DRC (tifie.org). So by opting for a Goal Zero solar product you can doright environmentally speaking, and help out on the ground in Africa at thesame time…sounds like win/win to me.


Switch 8 SolarRecharging Kit

The Switch 8 kit comes with three main component: the Nomad3.5 solar panel, the Switch 8 battery pack/charger, and a USB cord to connectthe two. Each of the Nomad panels folds up like a book, but comes with loopsaround the outside to allow you to hang it from a hook or attach it to abackpack, when you’ve opened it up. On the other side of the fold-open solarpanel is a transformer block that can output the collected solar panel, locatedbehind a zipper mesh screen that can hold the battery pack in place while thepanel is collecting electrons.

The Switch 8 kit is, by nature, a smaller kit – the panelsare relatively compact, and their smaller size means the panels are capable ofonly 3.5 watts (thus the name Nomad 3.5). It takes about 6-12 hours to chargeup the Switch 8 battery pack (depending on how much light is hitting thepanel), and then you can do a complete recharge of your smartphone in between 1and 3 hours, by plugging it into the USB port at the end of the unit.

Unfortunately, the smaller kit won’t have enough juice tocompletely top up your tablet from empty, but it can get it partway there – ifyou’re out on the road and the tablet is nearly dead, think of the Switch 8 asmore a lifesaver than a complete recharge solution.

It’s worth noting that you can also charge the Switch 8 byplugging it directly into a USB charger, or your computer – that way you cancharge up the battery even if the sunlight is at a premium.

The Switch 8 Solar Recharging Kit will run about $99.


Guide 10 PlusAdventure Kit

If you want a bit of extra juice, the Guide 10 PlusAdventure Kit is probably the better choice, especially because it’s only about$130. For that extra investment you get a bit more of everything.

In the Guide 10 kit, you get the Nomad 7 panel, which is(not surprisingly) about twice the size of the Nomad 3.5, and delivers 7 wattsof power. That’s sometimes enough to charge directly from the panel. If not, there’sstill a zippered mesh pouch on the opposite side of the fold-over solar panelwith the transformer, but this one connects to a recharger unit that holds fourAA batteries (included) or four AAA batteries.

The larger panel means you can charge up the battery pack inas little as two hours, and charge your smartphone up to two times on the samecharge. Unfortunately, it’s still a bit stingy when it comes to a full-ontablet, but it does charge it up substantially more than the smaller kit.There’s also a 12V connector on the transformer for sending power directly outto a device with a car-style charger.

Like the Switch 8, the battery charger here can also be chargedup from a USB wall charger in addition to the solar panel, and it comes withcables for both. There’s a power switch on the bottom of the battery/chargerunit that allows you to turn it on when you want to start sending power outthrough the USB port on the bottom (to your Android smartphone, for example).You can also click the switch over one notch further to activate a small LEDflashlight on the bottom of the charger unit.

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