Freeloader solar charger wears many plugs

Solar Power International's latest solar charger has an attachment for charging digital camera batteries of different sizes. The unit also doubles as single USB charging unit for multiple gadgets.

LAS VEGAS--A look at Solar Power International's FreeLoader Pro solar charger shows how these can function as multipurpose chargers that happen to have solar panels.

The Freeloader Pro, which will be available in the U.S. starting next week, is a handheld charger made up of two small solar panels and integrated lithium ion battery.

Like the dozens of solar chargers on the market, the Freeloader Pro can charge up cell phones, GPS devices, and other small gadgets. What makes it versatile is the accompanying CamCaddy, an adjustable device for charging different sized block batteries for digital cameras, camcorders, or digital SLRs.

The FreeLoader Pro and CamCaddy on left. Martin LaMonica/CNET

The FreeLoader Pro's battery takes about eight hours to juice up by the solar panels (a larger solar array is also available, which will cut charge time to three hours). There's enough charge to run an iPod for 28 hours or 70 hours of standby power for a phone, according to the company. It can also be charged from an AC adapter.

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Because the Freeloader unit is equipped with a USB port, it can charge various devices. The primary use of the charger is to have portable power for camping or when someone can't get to an outlet. But the company has found that a number of customers are business travelers looking for a trimmed-down way to charge their various gadgets, said CEO Adrian Williams. Instead of carrying dedicated power packs for three or four items, a person could take the Freeloader, USB cables, and adapter tips.

"We don't way people to buy it because it's green. We want them to buy because it's useful. The green part is an added benefit," he said.

What about the battery itself, which over time will wear out? Walker said that, because of EU directives, Solar Power International will take back the Freeloader unit and replace the worn-out battery after two years for about $13. The material in the batteries themselves will be recycled, he said.

 

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