The sun is a big, fat ball of plasma whose radiant light is a source of energy ripe for the taking. All you need is a solar cell to convert it into electricity, and you're living off the grid. Enter the Solio ($100), from Better Energy Systems. Just larger than an iPod, the Solio is a solar-powered lithium-ion battery that you can use to power most smaller gadgets like cellphones and iPods (laptops suck too much . . . er, drain too much power).
The coolest thing about the Solio is its three solar panels that unfold like a Japanese fan. With a good dose of sunlight, they charge the built-in battery, which in turn powers your power-hungry portable. For cloudy days or deep-space missions, you can still charge the Solio using its AC adapter.
The problem with the Solio is that the number of different kinds of incompatible power connectors is about the same as the number of people who have been victims of alien anal probes. Which is, um, a lot. The cellphone version provides four power adapters for most Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung phones but no adapter for you iPod. If you buy the iPod version instead, you lose the cellphone adapters. Without a huge number of adapters, the Solio is really only good for a few specific devices and you can probably forget about your GPS, digital camera, or PDA.
Nevertheless, the Solio did successfully juice itself up through my window (it charges faster with direct light). It took about 12 hours of direct sunlight to get a full charge in Miami in January, and it ran my Samsung phone just fine. It took a little less than 2 hours to fully change my phone battery from the Solio. When running the phone directly off it, I got about 10 minutes of talk time for every hour I had spent charging the Solio. Also, it took about 2 hours for Solio's battery to recharge a drained iPod battery, which is about the same as you'd get out of the wall. Not too shabby. I liked the power indicator: press a button and a green light flashes the number of flashes tells you how much charge is left.
We think: A great thing to have for your next camping trip or whenever you have to live off the grid for a while. As long as you have the right adapter.