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Here’s the scenario. You’re at the beach, sitting by the pool, hiking in the wilderness or working in your garden. You’d like to keep your phone or tablet charged but there’s no power source nearby, nothing to plug into for juice. The standard remedy is to go buy an external battery — or battery case — and keep that around for backup power. But backup batteries run dry, too. What then?
The sun. Yes, that big yellow ball in the sky has long been seen as a potential power source for our gadgets. But until recently, solar-powered chargers weren’t reliable. For starters, they were expensive. And more importantly, they took way too long to charge anything.
But that’s changed over the last five years: The latest batch of solar-charging gear is significantly improved and more affordable. I’ve tested products from BioLite, Goal Zero, WakaWaka and others, and while most solar chargers won’t power up your phone as fast as a wall outlet would, design and technology enhancements have cut charging times.
Why are they better?
More-efficient solar cells allow manufacturers to cram more wafers (those thin slices of semiconductor material made of crystalline silicon) into a smaller space, explained Norm Krantz, Goal Zero’s vice president of product innovations. That in turn leads to smaller panels that can output more power.
That’s a plus, Krantz said, but what’s really advanced are the electronics coupled to the panel and the tools that help consumers use it.