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Portable Solar Chargers - Go Green at Home or on the Road

portable solar charger

Whether a solar charger is your only option for adventures "off the grid," or you're just looking to green your everyday charging at home, portable solar chargers sound like a dream come true. Unfortunately, most solar chargers on the market today leave much to be desired. They don't charge fast enough. They never charge fully. Or they don't come with connective cables compatible with the device you need to charge.

Though by no means an exhaustive list, below are review summaries of some of the most-reviewed portable solar chargers on Amazon.com, representing a wide range of price points. May it inform your purchase of a portable solar charger, be it one on this list or another you discover on your own that demonstrates superior qualities.

iceTECH Solar i-101

If you're looking for a super-economical charger, this could be a good product for you. Just be advised you cannot charge devices while the unit is charging in the sun. Fully charge it first, then charge your device. It takes 1 to 2 days to fully charge in the sun. Some users recommend first charging the unit fully with a wall adaptor then never letting it lose its charge completely. It's also worth noting that some users have experienced confusion about the on/off switch. And you may need to purchase connectors to make the unit compatible with your devices.

That certainly sounds like a lot of cons, but may be balanced out by the price. Amazon Price: $18-25

Premium Solar Charger by XTG Technology

Considering the sun will only charge the internal battery up to 50 percent, customer satisfaction with this product is relatively high. About the size of an iPhone, this ultra-thin model is exceptionally travel-friendly. Users seem to be especially fond of the built-in LED reading light.

Though you can charge your devices when the charger is only at 50 percent, many complain that devices do not charge fully and/or fast enough if the charger is only at 50 percent. So if you don't mind a "solar" charger that needs an electric outlet to bring it to full capacity, the Premium Solar Charger could be a good choice. Amazon Price: $30-50

Brunton Explorer Foldable Solar Panel

At just 14.8 ounces, this foldable solar charger is made to fit comfortably into a backpack, glove box or large pocket, though that would have to be some large pocket, as the unit is 9 inches long (4.5 inches wide and 1 inch thick). The solar panels are made from Copper Indium Gallium diSelenide (CIGS) panels, the most efficient thin film solar technology, with 5 watts maximum output. In fact, the unit boasts a 90 percent efficiency rate, at least according to the manufacturer. Of course, the true test comes in the field.

How well does it perform for users? Overall, it performs very well. Though it does not have an internal battery, requiring you to charge your devices during the day when the unit is in full sunlight, it apparently charges fast. But for more flexibility you can purchase an external Brunton battery to store a charge for use anytime, anywhere.

It seems the biggest complaint with the Brunton Explorer is its compatibility with the iPod touch or, more appropriately, incompatibility. A number of customers report problems charging them with the unit, which apparently is a flaw within the iPod, not the charger. Amazon Price: $60-80

Solio Universal Hybrid Solar Charger

This weather-resistant charger with a built-in magnesium alloy shell sounds impressive enough. It's purported to charge at the same rate as a standard wall outlet and, in fact, also allows you to charge via a wall outlet, if you so desire (though it kind of defeats the purpose). With its own internal battery, that means you need not charge your device while the charger is sitting in the sun. The charger holds the charge, meaning you can charge your device anytime, anywhere, day or night. There's just one problem: It takes too long to charge

Numerous reviewers of this product complain that, even in direct sunlight, it takes anywhere between 8 hours and a day-and-a-half to charge fully (if it charges fully at all). In some cases, the product charges just fine at first, but evidently loses its efficiency pretty quickly.

A number of customers also report the connectors they need for their devices are not included. That said, you may purchase a Universal iGo tip system adaptor that should gives you the capability of being able to charge hundreds of different devices. Amazon Price: $65-90

PowerTraveller SolarGorilla Solar Laptop Charger

This thin, lightweight, weather-resistant product sounds like the ideal charger to travel with. It even comes with 15 different connectors to help ensure it's compatibility with whatever device you have in mind. But even a 1.5-pound device can start weighting you down if it's not going to do its job.

Without its own internal battery, the SolarGorilla requires you charge your device while the charger is in the sunlight. But some customers report the charger didn't charge their devices, even when left in the sun for hours. So if you're going to purchase this product, consider springing for the external battery. Amazon price: $220-250

NOTE: Though its name identifies this device as a laptop charger, it will also charge other devices.

Bottom Line

Portable solar chargers leave much to be desired. But provided you do not expect perfection, they are certainly an eco-friendly supplement to our device-intensive lives. From cell phones and iPods, to iPads and laptops, charging them with any amount of energy from the sun makes a difference.