Talking tech since 2003

I try to go camping at least once a year. The past few trips haven’t been far from Harrisburg; in fact, they’ve actually been within the city’s limits on islands planted in middle of the Susquehanna River. There are enough trees to surround a campsite, but if you take a few steps out past the treeline, you’re staring at the large structures that make up the skyline of Pennsylvania’s capital. It gives the trip an almost apocalyptic feel — like we’re roughing it because civilization and all its gadgets have been wiped out.

Except that’s not the case. We all still carry our smartphones, and the glow of the campfire competes with those of our displays. Civilization isn’t gone — bright lights are a mere half mile away, though so are the power outlets that would normally be charging our phones. That problem — battery life — rears its head pretty quickly.

mpowerpad-2-shotThat’s why I’m so intrigued by the mPowerpad 2, a solar charger from Singapore-based Third Wave Power. The company claims it is the “world’s most versatile solar charger,” able to charge an iPhone with just one hour of sun. Granted, that sun needs to be good sun; even Third Wave Power says that “charge times may depend on weather conditions,” so you won’t be back on your iPhone after an hour of cloud-filtered light. But even with that disclaimer in place, an hour to “charged” is impressive.

The mPowerpad 2 is also expandable, and will allow users to add on to increase its charging capacity. According to the Third Wave Power website, the charger can be taken from 3300 mAh to as high as 11600 mAh. For some perspective, the iPhone 5s battery is 1560 mAh.

Devices can be charged via USB, and there are two ports onboard so you and a friend can both charge your devices at the same time. In addition, the mPowerpad 2 also packs in a reading light, a flashlight, an SOS signal, a radio and — this is one I’d like to try myself — ultrasonic insect repellant.

Oh, and don’t get it into your head that you can only charge the mPowerpad 2 using the sun. You can just as easily charge it from a wall outlet or using USB power. That actually makes it less like a solar charger and more like a portable battery pack that just happens to include solar charging.

The mPowerpad 2 isn’t available yet; at least, not in the U.S. A company spokesperson tells me the device is already on sale in Asia and is in the midst of a limited European launch. It should be coming to the United States in March 2014, though Third Wave Power has yet to line up any U.S. retailers for a launch. The mPowerpad 2 sells for $129, which isn’t much more than you’d pay for a good external battery pack, and you get the added benefit of being able to charge other devices and do so using solar power.

If you ever find yourself away from the grid, it’s a product you may want to consider. And until it launches in the U.S., that’s all you’ll be able to do with it.

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