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04/14/2010

Solar luggage gives your phone an extra boost

One of the biggest problems when it comes to travelling with electronic devices is battery life. Even with modern battery technology, you are eventually going to run out of juice. However, Samsonite will soon be launching a carrying case complete with a built in solar panel. The company just announced that it is using a lightweight solar module -- the same kind used for military applications -- for its carrier bag.


Judging from reports on the bags, which were originally previewed in January, they would be able to charge a BlackBerry Curve when exposed to direct sunlight for 4.5 hours, although you wouldn't have much luck charging your 15 inch notebook.


Options for solar charging are becoming fairly common now. For example, Voltaic sells a range of backpacks and messenger bags with built in solar panels. Its backpack, converter, and messenger units produce four watts of power, meaning that an hour in the sun will give you three hours of play time on your iPod or 1.5 hours of cellphone talk time, according to the company. It also sells a more powerful bag, called the Generator, which will give you 15 watts of juice -- enough to extend your laptop runtime by up to four hours given five hours of direct sunlight.

Or, if you don't like the idea of lugging around a solar cell on your shoulder, you might want to make the whole thing more localised, and just buy a case for your mobile phone or MP3 player with a built in solar panel. Novothink is selling its range of Solar Surge solar-powered cases for iPods and iPhones. These devices look pretty neat. Two hours of exposure to sunlight will give you 30 minutes of talk time on a 3G network, and it includes an integrated battery which doubles the capacity of an iPhone 3G.

 I really like the solar planner on the company's website, which lets you estimate how long you would need to keep your cell charger in the sun based on weather conditions and activity. I chose 'overcast' (because I live in Vancouver), and told it that I would be talking on my phone for 30 minutes, listening to music for an hour, surfing the Internet for 30 minutes, and watching 10 minutes of video. Apparently, if I leave the charger in the sun for six hours, my iPhone won't lose any juice. In full sunlight (yeah, right) that figure goes down to four hours.

So, the next time you think about buying a laptop bag, or a case for your phone, look to the skies. It might give you just the extra juice that you need.

Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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