Brunton SolarPort 2.2
Get recharged anywhere you can find sunlight
SolarPort 2.2
A few months ago, I went on a business trip which was fantastic by all accounts, except for two things. First, I had to wake up at five in the morning to catch my flight out. (I'm really not a morning person.) Second, I had to deal with the added weight and awkwardness of toting rechargers for my laptop, minidisc recorder, MP3 player, cell phone, and my Handspring Visor's NiMH AAA batteries.

In my long-held tradition of not learning things until it's too late, I found out about the Brunton SolarPort 2.2 during my return trip -- I kid you not -- when I picked up the in-flight magazine to occupy myself after the laptop's battery gave out.

If you're an outdoorsy person, you've probably heard of Brunton. They make gadgets for, well outdoorsy people. These days that means GPS receivers and tiny FM radios as well as standbys like compasses, portable stoves, and binoculars. And of course the SolarPort.

The SolarPort's stated raison-d'Ítre is to supply power to electronic gadgets when you're miles away from the nearest electrical outlet. All you have to do is connect it to your device with one of the eight supplied adapter plugs and open the clamshell, aiming the revealed solar panels toward the sun.

Even if you're not planning on setting up a tent in the woods anytime soon, you can see the benefits. If you spend a lot of time on the road, the SolarPort can reduce your dependence on finding an outlet (or deciding what to plug into your car's cigarette lighter first) in order to recharge or use one of the many portable gadgets that are becoming increasingly essential. And skin cancer notwithstanding, how can you get more environmentally friendly than the sun?

I like the design of the SolarPort, which is lightweight but reasonably sturdy. The size is right, about the same size as a VHS cassette when it's folded, and a little heavier. Just about everything you need to adjust it to your particular device is along the hinge: a switch between 6 and 12 volts, and male and female mini connectors. Unfortunately, you'll have to carry the various adapter plugs (one of which is a car cigarette lighter-style adapter) and suction cups (for window mounting) in a separate container; I wouldn't have minded sacrificing a little extra volume on the SolarPort to make it all self-contained.

Speaking of adapter plugs, I was a bit surprised to find that none of them fit in my Toshiba Satellite Pro. My collection of similar adapter plugs from Radio Shack had a few sizes that the SolarPort didn't, but my poor laptop remained out of luck. However, the included plugs supported every other device I own that uses an AC adapter or a car's cigarette lighter, and it's entirely possible that another trip to Radio Shack would have solved the problem.

The SolarPort provides 2.2 watts of electricity, which seems to slow recharging somewhat (my minidisc player, for instance, uses a 7-watt recharger). If that's an issue, you can easily connect multiple SolarPorts through the hinge connectors. That's not much of a benefit if, like me, you're trying to cut down on carry-on luggage; but if you're planning to recharge your laptop as you drive from, say, Montreal to Toronto, it might be worth the expense.

Originally appeared in The Computer Paper (August 2002)
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