|The average technophile can find herself carrying an array of gadgets on the average day out: smartphone, tablet, digital camera, and so forth. Even with advances in battery technology, it's not uncommon to find one's power indicator creeping into the red during a day of normal use, or to see those vibrant, high-resolution screens we love so well go blank late into a day of heavy use. Plugging in may be no problem if you're near a power outlet, but what if you're off in the woods? What if you're looking to lower your carbon footprint but still want to keep in touch on Facebook or snap pictures on the go? Gomadic, a Virginia-based accessory maker, is looking to solve the power problem with the SunVolt, an eco-friendly option that allows users to "charge responsibly."
Gomadic's latest offerings are the SunVolt and SunVolt Max Solar Chargers. The two devices use photovoltaic cells to generate power to charge up to two devices in the case of the SunVolt and up to three devices with the SunVolt Max.
"You see these other options out there; very few of them can charge without a battery," says Gomadic founder Don Cayelli. "Other chargers, they come with small [solar] panels and a small battery. It seems like you're charging it from the panels, but what's really happening is that the battery is charging your device, and the panels are putting a little bit of power back into the battery."
The smaller panels on competitors, Cayelli continues, can't fully charge the attached battery in the time a user has them exposed to the sun.
"It would take days to charge a device or battery with the smaller panels, so people wind up just plugging them into the wall in order to top off the battery."
The SunVolts, by comparison, have larger solar panels that, according to Cayelli, generate power equivalent to plugging into a standard outlet.
The regular SunVolt's panel generates 10V, while the SunVolt Max, with its 150 percent larger panel, generates 15V.
"With SunVolt, it's like you open it up and -- bam! -- your device is like it's plugged in," says Cayelli. "You're taking energy from the sun. Typically, solar power charging implies 'slow,' but this is a high-powered charger. It's comparable -- if not identical -- to plugging it into the wall."
The chargers' efficacy is, of course, beholden to weather conditions. Cayelli says, though, that a not so clear day will still yield enough energy to charge at least one device. Using the included tip exchange, the device is compatible with just about anything that requires 5.5V or less to charge. It won't charge a laptop, but cell phones, digital cameras, Bluetooth headsets, GPS receivers, mobile hotspots, and tablet computers are all fair game.
The SunVolt chargers also come with an optional battery pack, which can be charged using the panels to provide even more energy on the go. The panels first charge whatever device is connected before storing any additional energy in the battery. The chargers come with a carrying case that converts into a stand, allowing users to adjust the panels to the optimum angle of exposure to the sun.
The accessories market is full of solar-powered charging options for the electronics consumer, but Cayelli believes Gomadic's SunVolt has the edge when it comes to real charging power.
"The panel is using a monocrystalline solar technology. That's the same sort of panel that you see on top of a house providing power. We're talking about the Real McCoy of solar charging, here."
The standard SunVolt portable charger retails for $100 on Gomadic's site, while the SunVolt Max goes for $130. Customers can also get a high-capacity battery pack for $40, car power port adapter for $15, and a digital camera battery charger add-on for $20.