I have this bizarre fascination with portable charging. I can't quite explain it. In part, it's because the world of technology has expanded so massively that the need to recharge when on the road has expanded with it. But also, maybe even more, what I love is that portable charging is one of the tech fields where elegant design and usability are particularly prominent. After all, since the very point of a portable charger is to augment a portable device, something bulky will be counter-productive. The more user-friendly a portable charger is, the more likely you are to actually carry it around. It's sort of a cousin to camping gear (which I equally love) -- products have to be compact, light, easy to operate and be able to multi-task as much as possible. Only a few years ago, the ability to get a single charge from a device to keep your cell phone going was a major achievement. Now, especially with the explosion of tablets and eReaders, that's very old news already. Over the coming months, there will be a couple more looks here at some of the particularly-intriguing, related innovations in the field. (Literally, "in the field," in fact... ) This month, though, we look at some of the leaps forward in the basics.
The myCharge 6000 battery pack holds a serious 6000 mAh of power. (That stands for milliampere-hour.) It not only will charge a typical Smartphone up to four times -- but is powerful enough to nearly charge an iPad or similar tablet. And can charge an eReader.
What's most notable about the myCharge 6000, however, is that it comes with integrated plugs, meaning that there's no need to carry around cumbersome cords. An Apple plug, as well as micro and mini-USB plugs are built in, which is seriously impressive. (An upcoming model is reported to also have an AC adapter plug built-in, so you'll be able to actually charge the charger when on the road, but it hasn't been officially announced yet, so that remains to be seen.)
The device has a button that when pushed shows your power status, how much is left. And there's a solid on/off switch to start charging.
The myCharge 6000 is a bit bulky, about the size of a large pack of playing cards, but that's hardly problematic, since it is surprisingly light and can still easily fit in a coat pocket. It retails at the time of writing for $100, but can be found online for $58.
The mophie packs a respectable charge, and is 4000 mAh rated. It can charge Smartphones three times, and 30 percent of a tablet, which is enough to keep you up-and-running. With a charging output of 2.1 amps, it charges fairly quickly.
There are no integrated plugs in the battery pack, so you have to carry your own. However, it comes with a micro-USB plug for charging the Powerstation. There a USB port for plugging in your various adapters.
However, what stands out with the mophie is that it's remarkably small and extremely light, tiny enough, in fact, to fit in a shirt pocket. For some, such a compact size may be the most preferable feature.
The mophie has a stylish design and sleek finish. Pressing a button will show your power status in and LED indicator. Press the indicator to start charging. At the time of writing, it retails for $80, which is pretty close to online prices.
ZAGG makes a wide variety of portable products, notably keyboards, though much more. Its portable charger packs a big punch, 6000 mAh, which can provide four recharges for most Smartphones and will charge an iPad (or similar tablet) up to 60 percent of capacity.
There are two USB ports, which means you can charge two devices at the same time, which is a notable feature. It will support two Smartphones at once, or one phone and a tablet -- know that with two high-power devices connected (for instance, two tablets), the ZAGGsparq may automatically shut down. It will then have to be reset by simply plugging it in again. But that leads to another nice feature: the device also has a built-in AC wall plug, so if the charger runs out of power when you're away from home, you can just plug it in to store it up again. Further, it comes with an EU adapter plug for the AC wall charger, so it can be used in Europe with no additional accessories need. However, there are no adapters built in; you have to supply your own cords or plugs.
The biggest negative is that the device is fairly heavy and bulky. So, the question is whether you're someone with need of charging two devices at once or want a charger with a built-in AC plug. The retail price at the time of writing is $100, but it could be found online for $70.
With any charger, you will always face the reality of depleting it after usage. So, if you're on the road for a long time, away from a wall outlet, and your charger itself is empty, you could be out of luck. But there is a new breed of charger that resolves even that. A solar charger.
Navajo Manufacturing, the Hottips Solar Cell Battery is not the most powerful fellow on the block. It's only intended for small handheld devices (like Smartphones), but not tablets. The output rate is just 600 mAh (although the battery size is double that of it smaller sibling below, giving it a "volume" of 1200 mAh), good for almost two charges of a Smartphone. However its value lies elsewhere -- as a very light, tiny solar charger that should always be able to provide emergency power for a phone or MP3 player when you need it. If you keep the device in the sun, it will continually recharge -- it will also charge from ambient light (like a lamp), though more slowly. And if you stick it away in a drawer, it'll still hold 70 percent of power for 30 days if kept in the dark.
It comes with three proprietary tips for standard USB, micro-USB and Apple devices, rather than standard ports. (Though not ideal, it's designed that way because the charger is so small. There simply isn't room for USB ports.) The company sells additional tips. Also, an AC adapter is included, in case the device is out of power at night, and to charge it full. (In truth, most serious charging will be done with the AC adapter. Solar panels are efficient according to their surface space, and the surface here is tiny. The solar battery is pretty much to keep it topped off.) By the way, in a nice touch the Hottips battery includes a little but quite bright flashlight, adding to its benefits as a small, emergency device.
Charging begins when the On switch is flipped. Because the battery has a solar panel, it will constantly charge the battery when a green indication light on. When solar charging, though, there's no way of knowing how the status of charged the battery is, which is a shame. However, if you're using wall charger to charge battery, an indicator light on wall charger will inform you when the battery is fully charged. The device is quite inexpensive, only $20 at the time of writing.
Similar to its bigger brother, the small and light Mini Solar is also for small handheld devices only, not tablets, with the same output rate of 600 mAh, though the battery volume is half the size, enough for approximately a full charge of a cell phone.
In many ways, the two work the same. Because the solar panel will constantly charge the battery, but there's no way of knowing how charged the battery is. However, when using the included wall charger, indicator light on the charger will inform you when battery is fully charged. And it too holds 70 percent of power for 30 days if kept in the dark.
And similarly, the company, Navajo Manufacturing, recommends charging the device first with the wall charger, though there's no user guide to tell you this. Mostly, the solar panels are for topping off the battery. Oddly, though, the wall charger for this device uses a different connecting plug than the same wall charger for the larger solar battery, so if you have both, you can't swap one wall charger between both devices. Also, there's no on/off switch.
There is one notable thing about the Mini version that is nicer than the other model -- it has built-in Apple and micro USB plugs. The cords are short, and slightly flimsy, but if you handle it carefully they seemed quite stable. Also there is a mini-USB cord for the included AC adapter, in case the device is out of power, and it's night. (Again, ambient light from of a lamp can charge the battery, though slowly.) It retails at the time of writing for $16.
The xeMilo is another a hybrid solar charger, though by comparison on steroids. This is an elegantly designed, very well-made, high-end portable charger from a company, Revolve Electronics, that calls itself "Environmentally Responsible," using recycled plastics in its products and donating 10 percent of their profits to socially conscious companies. (Note that the company makes numerous chargers, not all of which are solar.)
The xeMilo has a 4400 mAh internal battery, slightly under the level of the highest-powered chargers discussed here, but will be able to charge your Smartphone up to three times, as well as charge eReaders and other devices, including tablets (though you won't get a full charge with such power-devouring devices.) There are also two USB ports, plus a mini-USB port for charging with an optional car adapter or connected to a computer. You can charge two devices at once, as well as charge the internal battery all at the same time. Especially nice is that there's an AC adapter plug built right into the xeMilo, letting you charge it directly in a wall socket. Lights show how much power is stored in the internal battery, and it will hold its charge for months. It's not the smallest, lightest kid on the block, weighing 10 ounces, and at 6 x 3.5" is about the dimensions of a small remote control, but it's nonetheless respectably portable. It's also worth noting that unlike most chargers, the battery is replaceable.
But most notably, this is also a solar charger for road warriors. If you're nowhere near an electrical outlet and need power, its front screen provides a large solar panel to recharge from the sun (or, more slowly, from an ambient light source). Most solar chargers will take quite a while to fill up to full power because surface area is what impacts how efficiently solar panels will work, and the xeMilo is no exception -- but because it has a reasonably large solar panel compared to most, and high quality silicon cells, it charges much faster, taking about 17 hours to fully charge its internal battery, albeit under ideal sunlight conditions. (It only takes about five hours of ideal sun conditions to store enough energy to charge a Smartphone.) Still, no matter how good a job the xeMilo does, you'll always face the issue of all such devices: limited solar panels due to limited surface space. Ahhh, but that's where Revolve's technology kicks in with an impressive option.
And that option is its companion accessory, the Sol-Sport. This is a very thin, ruggedly-made, portable solar panel that folds open to provide significantly-added surface space that will charge much faster. The added benefit is that in an emergency if you're nowhere near a power outlet to recharge your Smartphone (or charge a non-solar charger), this will allow you to do so, using sunlight. (Two important things to note: 1) the Sol-Sport is made up only of solar panels - it's not a storage battery - so there needs to be immediate access to sun for it to work, and 2) because Smartphones can be temperamental about the source of power they use, you can't charge a Smartphone directly from the Sol-Sport -- you must use the Sol-Sport to first charge a battery/charger, which will then "condition" the power for use to charge you Smartphone or device.) Revolve offers two models, headed by the Sol-Sport 5, [http://www.revolveusa.com/index.php?p=1_83] only about the size of a TV Guide, which generates 5 watts of power to solar recharge a Smartphone in only about two hours. The smaller Sol-Sport 2.5 provides half the wattage and will charge a smartphone in perhaps four hours. Though not as powerful, it's half the width and even more portable, something you could simply stick in a coat jacket. By the way, a Sol-Sport should work when connected with any charger, but it's guaranteed to work with one from Revolve.
(Side Note for math geeks: the xeMilo has 1.2 watts of solar charging capability. The Sol-Sport5 generates 5 watts of solar. Together, therefore, you get 6.2 watts of solar charging power. That's why the combined charging time is so significantly reduced.)
By itself, the xeMilo is a very good portable charger. While it doesn't carry the 6000 mAh capacity of some, it's plenty powerful. It's also not the smallest or lightest device to carry, and there are no built-in adapter plugs, however, it has a built-in AC charger which is a major plus. But the main reason to consider the xeMilo is its hybrid solar charging which, if you have a need for such a thing, extends the device's usability significantly.
However, it's when combined with a Sol-Sport panel that the two devices together are unique in helping overcome the limitations of solar charging. The panels are of course less convenient to carry around and use than a charger alone -- but if you have a briefcase or backpack they're so thin and small enough to easily pack away. And though they don't store a charge, they are particularly of great use for those who expect to be far away from an electrical source, for instance when hiking. Or for the eco-minded.
At the time of writing, the xeMilo retails for $125, but could be found online for $71. The Sol-Sport 5 should be available for $70. The company also offers various "packs" with a charger, Sol-Sport panel and accessories bundled together, though the reviewed xeMilo is not part of any pack.