Need Power?

We rely on Cell phones almost as much as our own eyes and ears in today’s world. It takes a little more than an app killer to sustain serious battery life to be able to keep up with taking pictures, twitter, facebook, and all that will kill your battery before you’ve even made a single phone call. So now what? Do we rely on solar chargers? Do we use our digital camera for pictures, and try and only use the phone for calls or maybe a couple of quick tweets?

I’ve developed a sort of system now for maintaining battery life during the day in the parks. Yes, it seems to be a science too…  I don’t care how good of battery you have, if you own a smartphone, you already know what I’m going to be discussing here.

First, if you own an iPhone or a Blackberry or a Droid, you know battery life sucks. At home or at work, we all use chargers, desktop cradles, car chargers, or something else to keep our phones going. Once it starts to die, your toast buddy.  For a social networker like myself, it’s easy to send out 200 tweets in one afternoon from the park, take 50-100 photos and update my status every 20 minutes.  Now, I haven’t made a single phone call and I can guarantee if I leave the hotel at 8am, my battery is in the red by 1 or 2pm, right?

So here are some options you can do, followed by my own recommendations based on tested devices and what I now know works, from trial and error.

1. The infamous ” larger or extended battery” from your cell phone carrier store. A good option, sure but it’s going to cost you about $30-$60 depending on your phone and or carrier. It will normally require you to get a different back case for the phone to accommodate the battery and most cases no longer hold the phone. So you may be upgrading more than just the battery. Not the best option if my personal case with a Droid 3. I would no longer be able to use the desktop cradle unless I make changes to it, and my current snap case would also no longer work. So now that $50 battery becomes $100 after your new purchases.

Battery life upgrade? About 50-60% increased

2. A solar charger. These can be purchased all over eBay and even at Home Depot or Lowes. They typically range from $15 to $50 and have various effects in charging the phones. Bottom line on these is the more you spend, the better quality your getting.  I spent $16 at Lowes for an entry level solar charger to test it’s capabilities.  It comes with a small, cell phone size solar panel that has a clip on it to hang off a backpack or whatever.  It also comes with multiple adapters for all kinds of cell phones.  A big plus, especially since the cost was so little.

You plug the charger into a laptop or desktop computer to charge it quickly and you need only 20-30 minutes.  It will charge from dead to full off the standard USB connection. If you decide to charge it by the sun, you’ll need a good 5-7 hours depending on sunlight. It works great for camping where you can easily leave the charger in direct sunlight during the day.  The charger, once fully charged gets connected by a small cable to your cell phone and with the press of a button, reverses the charge into the phone.  It typically takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to fully charge your cell phone, but once it is charged, the solar charger is now dead again, so you get one shot.  Then it is time to put it back in the sun and wait another 5-7 hours.  I find it very useful in the park for a quick “backup” but it still has it’s quirks.

The solar charger can be plugged into the phone and put in your backpack while your walking in the park or what ever to charge, but because it takes so long to recharge, it may be difficult to use it multiple times in the day. Or if your like me, and you and your spouse both have smartphones, your not really going to get much of a benefit to either of you but half charge at best.

Price is the biggest benefit. For $16 you really can’t go wrong with having it charged and in your backpack. It’s a decent backup.

3. A Battery backup. The backup is sort of an extended battery pack that is like the solar charger.  You charge it up usually from the wall or a computer and it’s ready to take with you until it is needed.  Once it’s ready, you simply plug it into your smartphone via a cable and reverse the power back to the phone.  It will do a much better job at recharging the phone is a faster time frame than solar, but same effect, once it’s drained, it’s done and will need to plug back into the wall for 2-3 hours usually.  The real drawback is the cost, where you can find cheap ones for $20 you can also get good ones for $50-$60.  Same thing as the solar charger, the more you spend typically the better one or longer battery life you get.

4. Bring your charger with you. Yes, this is an option! Did you know there are places in the parks you can plug in while hanging out and get some juice?  Stealing, yes, but emergency battery for your critical smartphone, yes yes!  Obviously Disney would not want you plugged into their power source, nor do I really recommend it, but in many restaurants, restrooms, and select outside spots you can find a spot to charge and being right from that 110 volt source the phone needs, it charges the fastest of all.  I recommend a restaurant, somewhere in the corner near the wall and you should be good to go.  Scope out your area first.

Keep in mind, the normal battery will run down around 1pm from a full charge with heavy use from early morning,maybe 2pm.  If you plan on lunch around 12-2pm then you should be fine for a 45 minute charge which should bring you back from near dead tonear half or more sometimes.  Take your time at lunch and to rest and your phone will thank you with a full charge, now your ready until dinner!

5. Laptop.  Yes, I usually carry a netbook for use in the hotels for updating and downloaded pictures from the camera each day.  By carrying that in a backpack (they weight almost nothing and they are small enough) you can fire that up and use your cell phone charger via USB once again to get some juice flowing back into your phone. Extreme?  Maybe, but we all know we look for ways to get every bit of power sometimes.  Especially when your checking in on Foursquare or Gowalls!

6. Solar Backpack. The most expensive, but coolest of all! The solar backpack has (typically) a full laptop battery pack built in to the back and it fueled by a few solar panels on the top or back of the bag.  You can fully charge them via USB or wall outlet before you leave the room, and then will continue to recharge during the day walking around. They hold the biggest amount of power, so you can usually charge 2-3 devices and they will keep recharging.  Keep in mind, it takes hours and hours to recharge these packs as they are larger, but the solar panels built in are also larger.

Being the most expensive idea of the group, backpacks can range from $100-250.  They are all over eBay all the time and can be widely found online from retailers.

OK, things to look out for and take notice of. All chargers are not alike!  What your looking for a “mAh”.  This is the term by which the power can be  stored. Solar chargers and battery backups are usually in the 1500-2200 mAh range for power.  Most of the solar backpacks have 4000-4400 mAh, a much larger storage of juice. Read carefully the ratings of each to know what your buying!! eBay has tons of cheap chargers for $10-20 and they will give you the smallest charge it will not be worth it.

Here is a good selection of what you just read about: 21st Century Goods


  1. All great options and I have tried a few of them. I settled on an Energizer XP8000 power pack for my last trip and was very happy with it. Charging the phone in the the room overnight, I could maintain the phone during the day for two days between power pack charges.

    1. Thanks for the comment Dave. I agree, I also looked into the Energizer one and I think i’ll be getting it soon. The solar charger I have works good, but not great… I might just get the solar backpack, who knows.

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