Mobile Charging Choices

This year’s hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes definitely inspired me to dust off the emergency gear in my basement, such as the battery-powered lanterns, the shortwave radio, the first aid kit, the dynamo flashlight, and the like. It also made me realize, after going several days without power, my online lifeline to world is now my mobile phone (no landline). If it goes, so goes my ability to communicate. Not good. So I thought it would be a good idea to discuss here what you use to keep your mobile devices going through a blackout. Here are a few choices:

MintyBoost – It’s no wonder that, in the wake of these 2011 “acts of God,” our blog post about the MintyBoost became (and remains) one of our more traffic’d pages. This now-classic maker kit allows you to construct a battery charger for USB-enabled mobile devices. It works with iPhone, iPod Nano/Mini/Photo/Video/Shuffle, Blackberry, iPaq, and more. Everyone should have one of these. Of course you’ll need batteries to feed it for prolonged outages, but you can double your devices battery life on two AA batts. You can also retrofit it to solar power.

Solar Charger – I have one of the original Solio chargers (seen top). It takes around eight hours to fully charge a device, and that’s in good sunlight. And, of course, in bad weather situations, you’re not likely to have sunny skies. But it’s a nice power option to have around. Reports are that the Solio chargers have gotten better and there are many other solar charging solutions out there. Many of these solar device chargers retail for $80-$100. One of the cheaper ones that I’m intrigued by is the XTG Premium Solar Charger (second image above). It’s gotten good reviews and goes for only $28 on Amazon. And, without too much trouble, you can roll your own solar charger, as Steve Hobley did in this Make: Project.

Hand-Powered Generators – Years ago, a company (that now appears to be out of business), AladdinPower, sent me a review unit of their “Portable Handy Generator,” a hand-pumped flashlight and power generator. As a battery-less flashlight, it’s awesome. A few strokes and you’ve got a couple of minutes of flashlight power. As a device charger, it works, but your hand falls off by the time you get a usable signal.

I haven’t played with the all-in-one Eton/Red Cross “Safety Hub” seen here, but it looks great and has gotten some good reviews. It cranks up a built-in 7-channel AM/FM/weatherband radio, a light/emergency beacon, and a device charger. Besides the hand crank, it accepts three AAA batteries and AC power. It sells for $62 on Amazon.

So, what do you use to power your mobile devices when the lights go out?

This post is sponsored by Chevy Volt

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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