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PocketPal Solar PDA chargers
By Brooke A. Wheeler
When I purchased my Palm m505 and gave away my IIIx, one of the things I never really considered was how convenient it was to be able to swap out dead batteries for fresh ones when I was on the go. If I wanted to take my Palm with me for a weekend campout, I just brought along some extra batteries... it's amazing how quickly you can burn through batteries when you use your PDA as an eBook!
Recently, I read about the PocketPal on a website, and was intrigued by the possibilities. I went to the manufacturer's website to get more information. No Palm Computing devices were listed as compatible with the solar charger, but the output voltage (5V @ 400ma) sounded like it would be sufficient to charge my PDA, so I emailed the company, requesting more information. In response, they offered to send me a sample of their CF101 and CF101A chargers, modified to work with my Palm m505. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to evaluate these devices.
When I received the solar chargers several days later, I was immediately impressed by the quality of workmanship. The folding case is light and sturdy and the solar panels are sealed over with a clear, rubber-like substance that protects them from being scratched by the power cord when the unit is closed and makes the unit virtually waterproof. I certainly wouldn't recommend immersing the charger in water, but I don’t think that anyone would need to be overly concerned about a few drops of water either. The unit's small size and weight make it easily pocketable, and an excellent choice for the outdoorsman or anyone who’s looking to travel light. The power cord is about 3 ft. long, which provides enough length to set the solar panels out in full sunlight while leaving your PDA in the shade—another plus.
The website suggests that the charger will work with a 60-watt light bulb to recharge your device, and holding the solar panels up to a light did produce sufficient voltage to activate the charging circuit in my PDA, but I didn't try to test this out either because I didn't want to get the unit too hot and have the plastic melt on me.
I had to wait until the next weekend to test the CF101. Naturally, I expected the CF101 to recharge my PDA more slowly, but the results were unexpectedly disappointing. I followed the same procedure with the CF101 as I had with the CF101A, periodically checking it and adjusting the position of the solar panels so they were always facing the sun. Three hours after I set up the charger, the battery meter on my Palm showed about 1/3 charge and read 3.3V. I left it for about another hour, but when I checked it again, it didn't seem to have charged any further.
The CF101 and the CF101A may not look any different (apart from the model # printed on the case) but there definitely IS a difference, which becomes immediately apparent once you actually use them. I was favorably impressed by the CF101A, but based on my experience, I cannot say the same for the CF101. It is possible that my results with the CF101 would have been better if I had been able to attach it directly to the PDA instead of connecting it through the cradle, but the extra $10 for the CF101A still seems like a much better deal to me. Since the manufacturer sent me the two test units, he has indicated that he now has a connector available for the IIIc only, with more models due in the near future, which will allow a direct connection to the PDA, which would obviate the need to lug the HotSync cradle around with you. If you're considering ordering one of these, be sure to ask about that option.
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