Monday, April 7, 2014

Whatever Happened to Solar Charging Phones?

Image from Phone Arena
A lot of interesting news popped up in my feed today, one of them being that wireless electricity is coming to fruition. Although the technology is still in the baby stages, and initially will likely be optimized for medical usage (and rightfully so), I started to wonder how long it would be before wireless electricity would be used to benefit everyday mobile technology, such as for charging. However, this led me to start thinking that we already have unconventional methods of charging our phones wirelessly (via a charging pad, which isn't the same as wireless technology which uses magnetic fields to produce electricity) which still isn't exactly widely implemented today. We also, at one point in time, used to have phones that entertained the practice of solar charging.

I only ever saw one phone that tried this, and it was the Samsung Replenish, a little known Android device with a BlackBerry-like physical QWERTY keyboard. It was one of the cheaper handsets at Sprint, but in my opinion was also one of the most unique. It was described as an eco-friendly phone due to the box it came in, which was made out of recycled material, and the phone itself was made out of plastics that were safe for the environment. Although the phone didn't have solar charging included right out of the box, it was the only Sprint phone that offered an alternative back cover with solar charging capabilities. It was said that this solar charger would give users an extra 20 minutes of talk time, as long as it was held at a 90-degree angle for an hour in direct sunlight. It required extremely tedious conditions to work, if it did work; regardless, it looked like the beginning stages of what could be the next big alternative charging technique for phones.

Yet, after the Replenish was pulled from shelves, I never saw another smartphone quite like it. Not only was that about the same time that most Androids ditched whole physical keyboard aspect, but there was also little to no emphasis on trying to add solar charging panels on to phones. Perhaps it was because the technology wasn't exactly advanced enough to make any real progress, but with it being nearly 3 years since the Replenish was on shelves, I do wonder if the concept was ditched completely, and why.

A phone that can make use of solar charging generally seems like a good idea for a couple of different reasons. For one, it could be used for countries or situations that have limited use of electricity, even if it is charged just enough to make one or two phone calls. On a less serious note, it could also encourage people to go outside... even if it is just for one hour to check and see if the solar charging actually works or not. But mostly it just seems like it would be handy in emergency situations or for places without a lot of electricity.

Would I buy a phone that utilized solar charging? I would imagine so; the more ways to charge, the better, because you never know when you're charging port is going to fry up or give out. Then what do you do? If you're lucky and you have wireless charging, you could use that. Or, if you have solar charging, you could potentially use that. It might just be there as a safety net or last resort, but I'd rather have a last resort to use than no resort.

I don't know what happened to solar charging, or if it will ever make a comeback. If you ask me, though, I think it would be cool to have this feature return - at least to some phones. It uses a natural resource to bring power to these important devices, so it seems like it would make sense to try and make smartphones work together with solar charging.

Readers, what are your thoughts about solar charging in smartphones? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!


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