Thursday, May 9, 2019

Solar Wireless Charger

After buying a new cell phone, I started looking around for accessories for it. Since my new phone uses a new-style USB C charging port, I had to buy new cables for it, but it also has the ability to charge wirelessly using the Qi format charging stations. Although the Qi system has been around for a decade or so, I've never used anything set up for it so I had to do some research before I started using it. It turns out that Qi has become the standard for wireless charging, and is being offered in new cars and in places that see a lot of transient foot traffic like coffee shops and airports. Even Apple has given in and is making their phones compatible with the system.

A normal Qi charger is a flat pad upon which you lay a suitable phone, and it charges the battery in the phone by use of an induction field. Induction is the property that makes transformers work and is related to the physics behind most electrical generators: If you pass a wire through a magnetic field, a small electric current is created (induced) in the wire. Generators typically spin a coil of wire through a strong magnetic field, although there are some types that spin a magnet inside of a coil to get the same results. Radio transmission uses the same physics, the magnetic properties of a radio wave passing over a conductor known as an antenna creates a weak electrical current that is then amplified to the where it can be turned into sound.The Qi system uses a coil of thin wire inside the phone's casing and a rapidly cycling magnetic field in the charger to create an alternating current (AC) in the phone, which is then rectified to the proper DC power needed to charge the battery.

I started looking around at various chargers on the market, but the $50 price on most of those made by reputable companies was too much for my budget (the new phone ate into my discretionary funds budget), and I didn't really want to buy something with only one use. I also typically carry a small backup (external) battery for all of the electronic toys I use, but my new phone came with a 3200 mAhr battery and that's more than most small backup batteries can hold. While looking for a battery with more capacity, I found this Qi charger with built-in solar panels and a few other features I liked, so I spent the $37 and got one delivered.

A short list of the features:
  • waterproof
  • dustproof
  • 10,000 mAhr capacity
  • 2 USB A ports rated at 2.1A each
  • standard micro-USB charging port
  • LED flashlight
  • 800 mA solar panels
  • FAA compliant, so you can have it in your carry-on luggage
  • just slightly larger that my new phone in its case
  • Qi compatible wireless charging

I've been using it while working at remote locations for the last two weeks and have come to a few conclusions:
  • The waterproof/dustproof claim is due to the construction and a rubber plug over the ports. It has survived light rain and a lot of dust in a short period of time, so we'll see how it stands up to the rest of the year's work.
  • 10,000 mAhr of power is enough to recharge both my phone (3200 mAhr) and tablet (4200mAhr) from completely dead to full charge and still have enough left to top off my e-cigarette. Lately I've been working in areas way beyond my normal service area, so I've been relying on digital maps and satellite photos for up to 16 hours a day. This battery is large enough to keep me going.
  • Having 2 USB ports is great when I have to charge the phone and tablet at the same time. The high-speed charge (2.1A) ports are designed for newer electronics and will “throttle” back for older items. Being able to plug the battery pack into my home charger overnight ensures that I start the day with a full backup.
  • The LED flashlight is behind a translucent panel on the back of the battery pack. It puts out a nice glow instead of a bright spot of light, but it's more than enough to see around you at night.
  • The 800mAhr solar panels fold up nicely over the battery pack and are held closed by a strip of Velcro. They are mounted on a vinyl/pleather material and sewn in so they aren't going to get lost. There are no visible wiring or connectors, which adds to the waterproof capabilities and reduces points of failure. 
    • The downside is that at 800 mAhr, it will take at least 12 hours of direct sunlight to fully charge the battery pack. The charging indicator starts to light up under most sources of light, but there is no way to tell how much the panels are putting out. I drained the battery pack and have not had a cloudless day since, and about 20 hours of diffuse light hasn't fully charged it yet.
  • Being only a little bigger than my phone, it fits in my lunchbox nicely and will fit in a coat pocket or small compartment of a backpack easily.
  • The Qi system wireless charging works on my phone, although you have to heed the warnings about the charger: since it produces a moderate magnetic field, you don't want to get credit cards or any other items with a magnetic strip too close while charging your phone or it can erase the data on the card.
  • Since the battery pack has two USB ports on it and it came with a short micro-USB cable for charging, I would have liked to see a place for storing cables. I may have to modify mine a bit and add an external pouch so I don't have cables laying around loose when it's not in use.

For what I paid, this seems like a decent addition to my preps. Having a way to recharge my phone and other various electronics gives me access to more information and tools to make life simpler. Storing 100GB of manuals and books on the tablet only works if I have some way to power it, and the new phone has several new sensors and options that the old phone didn't. I'll come back in a year or so and report on how well it stands the test of time.

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