Do a Google search on "improve iPhone battery life" and you'll get about 7-million-plus results; it's been an ongoing search trend for the past seven years. Juicing your gadgets is a multibillion-dollar industry. Most companies, however, are focused on stored energy, rather than creating it on the move. Solar chargers are one solution, but they tend to be bulky and annoying to tote around. This might be about to change, though, with a bookmark-style solar charger that's less than half an inch thick.
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Solar Paper's appeal is undeniably its style. It's skinny and discreet and, as promotional photos show, it can even be used as a bookmark. It fully charges most gadgets in around 2.5 hours via USB. It's even smart — a sensor sends it into power-saving mode whenever the sky gets cloudy, to keep trickling energy to your device without shutting off. And it weighs just 70 grams a panel. (That's about three Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.) "We thought it should be slim and light, like a paper," says South Korean designer Sen Chang. For her, this is about "green energy, free energy."
Preorder prices range from $50 to $300 (more money gets you more wattage). Buyers also have the option to attach extra solar panels to the charger via a magnetic clasp — useful for charging several objects simultaneously. Extra panels do bulk up the charger, though. Best to stick with fewer panels for city strolling and take more for longer, outdoor trips.
This is the second solar product made by Yolk, a company founded in 2014. The first, Solarade, was marketed as the world's smallest solar charger and received rave reviews in the tech press, which inspired Chang to use her newfound experience in production and sourcing materials to make an even slimmer product. Her goal: to change the perception that solar chargers work slowly. The product sparked tremendous interest; the Kickstarter goal was $50,000 and more than $1 million was received.
Portable solar chargers have been done before, but with Solar Paper, "the thinness is new," says Cherlynn Low, staff writer at Tom's Guide tech magazine. She notes that people prefer using combined power options, such as a charging phone case, as two-in-one products address both power and protection. And solar products need sunlight; a cloudy day means a slower charge.
Of course, solar power isn't the only green option available for juicing up your gadgets. There's charging your phone by fire, water and even pedal power (using the kinetic energy built up by cycling). But something about using sunlight as a source of energy feels natural, and it's getting major support from President Obama. He pledged $1 billion for use on clean energy initiatives, and is pushing for solar panels in low-income homes.
This might be the dawning of the solar generation, and we can all appreciate that heat.