Recently, I started to become fascinated with portable solar chargers/batteries. Something about being able to charge up my many gadgets anywhere the sun is shining appeals to me. (Of course, I'd have to actually remember all the necessary USB cables as well, but no matter.) It's not as if I'm some huge outdoorswoman, but my inherent paranoia about getting myself into a sticky and potentially lethal situation in the middle of nowhere gives me an appreciation for survival gadgetry. Clearly, I've lived in the city too long and watched/read one too many horror stories (see: The Ruins). Not that having my MP3 player fully charged is going to save my life, but at least I could perish to some death metal.
Last week, I got my hands on one of the many portable solar chargers to hit the market in recent years, the IceTech Solar i9005. In fact, this unit is also a battery, which can also be charged via the sun's rays. Here's the thing, though: it's a brick. Well, not quite. The device measures 5.4 inches by 3.1 inches by 1 inch and weighs 8.5 ounces. Although reasonably compact in the scheme of things, it's still a great deal larger than anything I would carry for its purpose. I want something that folds down to the size of a matchbook and still manages to fit USB out and a built-in battery. Oh, and what the heck? Let's get really wishful here and make it weigh about an ounce. It's true: tech editors are a difficult bunch to please. However, the Solar i9005 works as advertised, and I have to say it was pretty neat to sit out in the CNET courtyard at high noon and recharge a battery while sitting nowhere near an outlet.
The Solar i9005, which sells for between $70 and $90 online, works with "99 percent of MP3 players, PDAs, and cell phones," or anything that uses a voltage of between 4.5V and 9.0V (a switch on the side lets you choose the proper setting). IceTech includes seven adapters for various devices, mostly cell phones, although--bizarrely, since it's a portable setup--there's no case for carrying the charger/battery and all the adapters. If there's no sun in sight and you're just using the i9005 as a backup battery, it can be charged through the wall with the included power cable.