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Review: Voltaic Backpack - Solar Power On Your Back

VoltaicPower is finite - just ask people that live in California, and suffer from frequent brown-outs. Batteries run down, that's a fact. Even re-chargeable batteries need some electrical source to power them to charge.

What if we could use the sun? Novel idea, eh? Well, that is exactly what Voltaic has done. They have turned a backpack into a solar powered charging station for all of your mobile devices! The Voltaic bag generates power via the solar panels in the exterior of the backpack. It is aimed at mobile devices, such as iPods, GPS, digital cameras, and cell phones. While it can run a laptop, Voltaic says it isn't designed for this. More than likely, the laptop would drain the power fairly quickly. Attaching devices & charging: The outside of the bag contains 3 solar panels (available in 4 colors). The energy is power from the sun, and it is stored inside the bag in a 2,200mAh Li Ion battery. If you don't have time to leave the bag in direct sunlight for the recommended 8 hours, you can charge it with the AC or Car charger - included with the bag. Voltaic-Backpack---10 When the bag is charged, you are given a visual cue. The Voltaic logo on the outside of the bag illuminates. If you are concerned about the fragility of the solar panels, don't be. Voltaic says they will hold up fine with regular use. They are fairly lightweight (the whole bag is 3.5 lbs), and can generate up to 4 watts of power. voltaic logo The Voltaic backpack has 3 voltage settings (3.5V, 5V, and 7.2V), which makes it easy to connect a very wide variety of devices. iPods charge at 7.2V & most USB & cell phone devices charge at 5V. You need to pay attention the power that your device requires, and select the proper one. If you overpower your device, there is a chance that you could damage your device. Voltaic-Backpack---22 It comes with a variety of connectors for connecting your devices. There are 5 cell phone connectors - Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, Sony-Erricson, and a Mini USB (thats the kind my Razr takes). While they aren't guaranteed to fit all types of phones, they are using the most popular connector styles, so have a good chance for a match. If your device is usually charged by your cigarette lighter, there is even a connector for that. Odds are you will be able to make your device compatible, and we like this! From what I can tell, you can only charge one device at a time. You have to connect to the Li Ion battery pack, and it only has one connector, and you have to set the voltage on that, for the particular device. This could be a problem for some, but for most of us, we only would use up the stored power when we are running low on battery of our mobile device. Construction and Fit: The bag is made from 840D nylon, UV resistant PU, and nylon mesh on the back. The bag has a very cool factor to it. I mean, you are carrying Solar Panels on your back. Internally, you have two main compartments. The outer compartment holds the Li Ion battery pack, has two mesh zippered pockets, and a few spots to hold your pens and pencils. The main compartment, is where you would put your laptop. It contains three compartments, one mesh and one nylon, and an interesting zippered pouch, with an extra soft interior lining. There isn't much padding inside this bag, so you will most certainly need a sleeve or case for your notebook, if you intend on using it as a notebook bag. front compartmentVoltaic-Backpack---18 Externally, there are two roomy zippered pouches on either side of the base of the bag. These are great for toting around your wallet, keys, etc. The shoulder straps seemed a bit stiff to me. I tried several times to adjust them, but I just couldn't get a fit that was comfortable on my body. Small Touches: When I said this bag was innovative, I didnt just mean the Solar panels. One of the most impressive features was a simple solution to the excess straps that are always hanging loose. Their solution is putting a snap at the bottom of the strap, which forms a tee. You simply roll the excess strap, and then snap together. We love little touches like this. Cable routing: They have taken care of this for you, internally. In fact, they have already routed cables to the external shoulder pocket, where you would keep the cell or iPod. The shoulder pocket fully opens and closes with velcro, so you can access all sides of the device. On the bottom is a grommet that the charging cable enters. While this is great for most items, it's not very functional for many of the new portable devices that have the charging port on the side of the device. Take my Motorola Razr for example. While you can make it work, by taking advantage of the side opening up, it doesn't look very good, and a bump here and there could break the connector off. Here is the route my Motorola Razr had to take. razrrazr on shoulder Day to day use: I don't think I could make this my day to day notebook bag. There aren't enough pockets and protection that I would feel comfortable toting my expensive devices inside it. While it would be nice to have the power when you need it, the fact is, I don't really need it. There is a niche market of gadget guys/gals that will love it, but for me, I am going to stick to plugging my iPod into the wall. That doesn't mean this bag isn't for you. Depending on what your needs are, the Voltaic Backpack could be your saving grace. You should think about the situations of how you would use this bag, and then see if it would be a match for you. Final thoughts: I like the innovation of a Solar powered bag. It feels great to help out the environmental, and carry around a bag with a tremendous cool factor. It would be great to take on a hike, camping, etc. A place where you can't get access to power for an extended period of time, this bag wins hands down. Even with a steep price, this product will find it's niche audience, and will accomplish the task well. Pros: -Charges and Powers a wide variety of devices. -Includes most of the adapters you will need. -High quality construction. Cons: -High price. -Lack of padding for Notebook. -Meager offering of internal pockets. 4 out of 5