The Stanford researcher Dean Eckles thinks that mobile devices and the apps embedded within are becoming extensions of our minds, and could grow to be the primary lens through which we look at the world. But unlike our brains--which can be fed on veggie burgers and organic Batter Blaster--cell phones, MP3 players, and laptops demand electricity, which is best derived from renewable sources like sun and wind. We'll rev up our roundup with a collection of mobile devices that have solar power built in, then move on to plug-in gadgets that can charge your portables. We'll also talk solar bags (computer cases, purses, and such), then look at what brave do-it-yourself have done. And off we go...Solar On Board
We've surveyed our readers on whether integrated solar is worth its weight in silicone; the answer appears to be yes, so we proceed. Apple seems to agree, and is pursuing patents to build solar power into mobile devices and laptops. Samsung's Blue Earth phone gleans extra juice from an integrated solar panel, plus is molded from recycled plastics. (Samsung's Reclaim is made from corn-polymer plastic and lacks the more heinous chemicals found in many electronics--alas, no solar). But if you're an early adopter hoping to get your hands on the Blue Earth you might have to settle for a toned down version for the time being. ZTE has announced a phone it calls the Coral-200-Solar, which is a pretty simple rig likely targeted at developing markets, but ZTE also looks to have its sights on an Android-enabled phone with solar abilities.
Looking into the future, Siemens has displayed some promising concepts that includes a cell phone with OLED display and onboard solar charging, and this trimmed down concept from Japan charges as it clings nicely to your wrist.
Cell phones that never need to be plugged in are quite likely the future, but they have a way to go. Solar media players are even harder to find, with only rare specimens like the Shiro SQ-S (only to be found in Singapore). External chargers are another matter, however, and new models spring up weekly. Some come off kinda pointless-like Kodak's solar backup battery that takes 28 hours to charge, or this gratuitous flash drive-while others fail the durability test (looking in your direction, Hello Kitty). Overall, however, technology is maturing quite nicely, as evidenced by the fact that guys like Steve Paine can blog his cycling trip along the Rhine on solar power.
We've had our peepers on solar chargers for a while, and some of the early entrants are still alive. Looking forward, this year's Maker Fair revealed a new solar charging system called GoBo large enough to generate and store power for a printer, and hot glue gun, or small computer, while Suntrica hopes its solar panels are small enough that you'll patch them on your clothing. Sollight's iPhone charger is affordable and small, though not perfect, while these two flashlights charge themselves as well as cell phones and other usb gadgets. This August, Sanyo released a new line of portable solar chargers to the Japanese market. They're quite handsome and every hour of direct sun offers a charge equivalent to 40 minutes of usb charging to a mobile device.