These days, we all carry electronics with us lots of the time. Many of us use a smartphone, as an ultraportable way to stay connected.
This is no different for Marines.
For myself, I take no fewer than three electronic devices with me out into the field:

  1. A first-generation Motorola Droid ("Sholes")
  2. An old Sony PRS-300 book reader
  3. A ContourGPS HD digital video camera

These are all small, rugged and well-loved. Another commonality that they share is that they need to be charged periodically (the ereader can go weeks, while the other two need almost daily charging) and take USB for charging.

I first turned to a home-brewed solar charging solution, using an SLA battery, a solar panel and some bits and pieces purchased at SwapFest last year. This actually worked really really well, but that battery is heavy and the solar panel is both bulky and fragile - it broke at the end of my first field op, the glass shattered. This was still useful though, as it meant I had a handful of car-to-USB gizmos handy, and a couple of USB cables for charging things. When I could, I'd hook my geegaws up to whatever vehicle I could - note that HMMWV's don't have accessory outlets, so I had to connect to the utility van we've got, discreetly. I'm going to try and get some wiring harnesses to add accessory outlets to our HMMWV's for exactly this purpose, again discreetly. I don't need the motor pool coming down on me.

After this attempt, I went commercial, and picked up a Kiwi Solar Gizmo at the base PX. At first, this seemed pretty idea, being small and fairly well-designed. The trouble is that it simply didn't seem to work. I charged it from mains power first, and that worked beautifully exactly once for charging my phone. After that, it simply couldn't get enough sun to even charge its own battery fully. I've literally had the thing in the window of my barracks for a week, and it still shows only half a charge. It's probably not worth your time if you're looking to charge your phone with solar power.

Just yesterday, I received another, more expensive and better-reviewed solar charger, so on this next field op, I should be able to give that a shot. We'll see how it holds up.


21 May 2011