An entrepreneur tests the latest sun-powered briefcases.
(FSB Magazine) Austin -- As the owner of Greenling Organic Delivery (greenling.com), a food service company based in Austin, I'm often out in the field - literally. Like many entrepreneurs, I spend most waking hours surgically attached to my phone, a T-Mobile Dash that I use mainly for voice calls and calendar tracking. I'm lost if it runs out of juice, so I was excited when FSB asked me to test solar-powered bags - small pieces of luggage with external solar panels that can charge small devices such as PDAs and cellphones. (None of the bags I tried generate enough juice to charge a laptop.) I tested all three bags by running my Dash until the battery was dead and then timing a full solar charge outside, taking note of sun and cloud conditions during each test.
VOLTAIC'S MESSENGER, $229
This laptop carrying case comes in black, green, orange, and silver. It ships with an internal battery that charged my Dash in a bit less than four hours. But the Voltaic lost major points when it fried my phone as I tried to bypass the battery and charge directly from the panels, which, it turns out, deliver higher voltage than the battery. Note to Voltaic: Please idiot-proof future releases of this bag. The Voltaic was also finicky about sun - it stopped charging in both full sunlight and moderate shade. (voltaicsystems.com)
ECLIPSE SOLAR GEAR'S "FUSION"TM MESSENGER BAG, $170
This dull green bag was apparently designed to look used even when new. The low-profile solar panel gives it the lowest geek factor of all three bags. Sadly, the Eclipse also turned in the weakest performance: Six hours of full sun gave my Dash only about a 30% charge, after which I had to suspend the test. Also, the outlet is awkwardly placed so that the cord impedes fishing trips into the bag's interior. (eclipsesolargear.com)
REWARE'S JUICE BAG 1.0, $175
This solar backpack comes in green, gray, red, and camouflage. The soft solar panel is mounted in a flap that folds over the entire pack. I liked this bag's clean, functional design: The charging pocket is located on top of the pack, separate from the main compartment, so you don't have to worry about the bag's contents damaging your equipment. In direct sunshine a full charge took slightly less than three hours. (rewarestore.com)
BOTTOM LINE: I liked the Juice Bag's smart design and fast-ish charging. But unless you have to work for days in remote (and very sunny) spots, you're better off just taking extra batteries.