February 22, 2009
What it is: About the size of a pocket dictionary, this charger opens like a book to reveal two solar panels that will power up personal electronics. It's a back-country traveler's dream, assuming the travel is in an area where personal electronics will function. Cameras or satellite-based devices such as GPS? Sure. Cell phone? Maybe not if you're way out there.
How it works: The smart traveler will charge up the Solstice's internal battery via the wall charger before hitting the road, then rely on the sun's rays the rest of the way. FatCat says a full solar charge can take 5 to 10 hours in the sun. Placed on a windowsill indoors during the short days and faint sun of a northern winter, it took all 10. Beyond powering cameras, GPS and cell phones, FatCat suggests using the device's range of 4.5 to 9 volts for devices with internal batteries, everything from two-way radios to MP3 players to PDAs.
The good: One full charge on the internal Solstice battery took a Garmin GPS device from dead to completely charged once and to three-fourths charged the second time. This would be handy, say, in the Boundary Waters of Canada and Minnesota, where navigating by GPS guarantees you won't miss a portage. And this way you don't have to power down as frequently to conserve energy. Also, FatCat sells a backup ChargeCard portable battery pack that can be charged off the Solstice ($49.95).
The bad: You have to know your device's input voltage, often listed on the device, but it wasn't on my GPS. I went online to find it. Although FatCat says there is little danger of damaging a device at these voltage levels, mismatched voltage might simply mean your device won't function with the Solstice. In that vein, I'd prefer that the voltage-designation switch on the Solstice were more difficult to move out of place.
Cost: $99.95 suggested retail
Available from: stuffjunction.com