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Seven off-the-grid chargers for your portable devices

Marco Tabini | March 6, 2014
When the power grid is close at hand, most smartphones and tablets have no problem lasting through a full day. But take that plentiful electricity away, and keeping our gadgets going becomes more difficult--despite many recent advancements, battery technology hasn't kept up with our constant need for more power. And given that these days we're taking our gear to more--and more-remote--places than ever before, having enough durable power is even more of a challenge.

At its core, the FRX3 is a portable radio that can tune FM and AM stations, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Weatheradio CanadaSAME weather-alert systems. The device also incorporates an LED flashlight that can be used for illumination and for signaling, and a digital alarm clock that supports both 12- and 24-hour formats. In the spirit of preparedness, the radio's handle glows in the dark, making it easy to locate, even in the middle of a pitch-dark night.

The FRX3's rechargeable battery is augmented by two external sources: a solar cell embedded in the handle and a hand crank that pops out in the front. Crank power that isn't being used by the FRX3's own functions is sent to a USB output for recharging your other devices.

I was able to test the FRX3 under a fairly realistic scenario: The recent ice storm that hit the northern part of the continent left me without power (and heat) for three days, during which this compact powerhouse provided me with an uninterrupted supply of light, power, and news coverage with very little effort. As it turns out, the kids also loved cranking the handle, which kept them occupied and entertained under the blankets. (Serendipitous because, as an adult, I rate the hand-cranking as the least fun part of owning this type of device).

Speaking of the crank, it works quite well. Charging an iPhone proved to be a predictably tedious affair, but my family nonetheless managed to produce more than enough juice to make an emergency call or two, and a few minutes of cranking provided plenty of electricity to power the FRX3's other functions for hours on end.

HiNation HiLight

If you're looking for something a bit simpler, HiNation's $185 HiLight, (4.5 of 5 rating) is among the best power solutions I've seen. Though it doesn't sport fancy looks or a slew of features, and it's a relatively bulky 7.5 by 7.5 by 1 inches, it does a few things really well.

First, the HiLight incorporates a large battery that provides 14 Wh of power through its USB port — enough to charge an iPhone at least three times, according to the company. The pack is supplemented by an equally impressive solar cell, which can fully recharge the HiLight itself in about ten hours' worth of sunshine. Unfortunately, the 1.0A output of the battery pack means that if you choose to use it to recharge an iPad or other tablet, the process will be very slow.

Second, the HiLight also sports a high-power LED, which makes it a perfect companion for either camping or emergency preparedness. I didn't get to test the light in a tent, but it was plenty to illuminate my living room during a power outage. (HiNation says a full charge provides 20 hours of light.) The device also features a special hibernation mode that helps the battery last longer when it's not being used, and a convenient rubber lampshade that helps you focus the LED's light in a smaller environment.

 

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