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A fully charged PowerTrip can deliver five full charges to your smartphone. (www.powerstick.com/www.powerstick.com)
A fully charged PowerTrip can deliver five full charges to your smartphone. (www.powerstick.com/www.powerstick.com)

Powering up

Let the sun shine, and it'll keep you charged Add to ...

Sunny days are a real treat, especially as winter approaches. They warm the heart, improve morale and now, they even provide a power source for many of those electronics that run our lives.

Smartphones, e-readers, cameras and music players all live in our pockets, purses and bags, get used a lot, and tend to run out of juice at the most annoying moments – for example, when you’re on the road trying to make a sale.

Backup batteries abound, but most need a USB port or A/C plug to recharge them once they’ve provided a power transfusion to a hungry device.

But if you’re nowhere near a plug, don’t worry. The sun can often do the job.

Enter the PowerTrip, from Ottawa-based Ecosol. In a package about the size of a deck of cards, the PowerTrip houses a battery that you can top up via the usual USB port or wall socket (the plug swivels out from the side), or using the solar panel that fills most of one side. Just sit it on a sunny windowsill.

Like its USB-powered sibling, the PowerStick, it comes with several connectors that will feed devices with micro- or mini-USB ports, and it will connect to Apple devices. A fully charged PowerTrip can deliver five full charges to your smartphone; a microprocessor prevents phone damage from overcharging. I tested it with a BlackBerry, followed by a Kobo e-reader, both of which the PowerTrip handled with aplomb, with plenty of power left over for other devices. A power meter on the side of the battery shows the state of the charge.

The PowerTrip comes with a handy cloth bag that holds the battery and the connectors. The connectors plug into a full-sized USB port on the side of the PowerTrip, or you can just use a standard USB cable to charge devices instead.

Oh, yes – as an added bonus, it also has 4GB, 8GB or 16GB of memory. Prices start at $109 (U.S.) for the 4GB model.

Trickle charging your phone while on the go can help avoid those embarrassing moments when it cuts out in the middle of an important call. Several computer bags offer built-in solar panels for just that purpose.

The $159 solar backpack from Eclipse, for example, can provide up to four watts of power from the flexible panel on its front pocket. It connects to devices using a car charger adapter, and has enough power to feed a phone or music player; laptops, however, are beyond its scope.

Its padded computer pocket holds a laptop with a screen as big as 15 inches, and it also boasts a generous compartment for books and clothes, and several accessory pockets, including a front-zippered pouch that holds pens and CDs, and even has a removable clip for USB memory sticks or keys.

Either sunshine or room light can power the $89.99 Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750. It’s a slim, flat little beast with solar cells across the top. Once it’s charged, it can get by without a ray of light for up to three months. The press of a button on the keyboard lets you know whether ambient light is sufficient for charging and, if you’ve installed the Logitech software, it will also launch an app on your computer showing charging status and remaining power.

The keyboard talks to the computer via a tiny USB wireless transceiver that’s small enough to remain in the port all the time and can also connect to other compatible devices. The touch is surprisingly good, with slightly concave keys.

There are, of course, devices that want fresh batteries inserted from time to time, rather than allowing themselves to be recharged. There’s a sunny solution to that issue too: the C. Crane Solar Powered Battery Charger. The device’s battery charging time varies, depending on the type and capacity of the battery, from a couple of hours to several days.

The lid of the charger can be positioned to catch maximum rays, and there’s a little meter inside the unit showing battery charge.

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