green geek gift
February 4, 2013 10:31 AM   Subscribe

As a gift, I am looking for an "off-the-grid" charger thingy. I have read a bunch of posts and reviews on these things, but I'm a little in the weeds. Plus, it seems like this stuff is developing and changing rather quickly. Hoping you can help! Specifications after the jump.

- Something that involves an activity that can be done while working at a computer, like bike pedals under the desk, would be ideal. Or something that charges up when you're doing something you'd normally do, like walk around. Or something solar. Or something that you crank. Probably in that order?
- Should be able to power something useful, if even just a little bit or over a long period of charging. Cell phone, for example. We don't own ANY Apple products, FYI.
- Should more or less "work" and not just be a novelty
- Can involve some geekish assembly, but not too time consuming
- Would be great if it came from a cool, small-to-medium sized company
- I am not against hiring some local maker person to, um, make it for me
- Price range is $50 - $200, preferably on the middle-to-low end of that range

(anon because it is a gift)
posted by anonymous to Technology (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
First, this isn't actually anon. Ask a mod to do that for you ASAP if your intended recipient reads AskMe!

Second - I purchased an emergency radio as a Christmas gift this year. It has a Li-ion battery to keep a charge, hand crank to manually charge it up, a solar panel on top to charge without human input, and a USB charging port if you need a quicker way to guarantee a fast full charge. It also can charge a cell phone. (Also radio and flashlight)
It says it will only provide a partial charge to your phone, but if you leave it in the sun or a brightly lit room while you charge your phone it will continue to feed power through the radio and into your phone until both are fully charged again.

So it could be considered "off the grid" if you plugged your phone into it while in your office - let the office lights charge your phone instead of using additional power from the wall.

It was $40, which is a bit below your stated range - but they probably have models with more functions and/or larger capacity battery if you need to stay within your range.
posted by trivia genius at 10:45 AM on February 4, 2013

We just purchased this solar charger for my boyfriend's mom for Christmas. She's trying to get into lightweight backpacking, and it's very well rated. At the time of our purchase, it was $90, though I think it's $100 or so now...?

I don't have any information from actual use experience though.
posted by ethidda at 10:50 AM on February 4, 2013

The GoalZero stuff is lovely, but it's the same kit as you can get from DX/AliExpress except in a nice box and with a retail markup. If you want US-made, there's PowerFilm, but I don't think they're in the affordable range.
posted by scruss at 11:32 AM on February 4, 2013

REI was selling a gadget recently, which used kinetic energy (like walking with it in your backpack) to generate a charge to recharge your cell phone, etc. The name iGo sticks in my head, but eesh... oh! here it is! actually works, but not cheap either...
posted by acm at 11:38 AM on February 4, 2013

We have a power monkey extreme, which is awesome but at the high end of your range.
posted by tealcake at 11:41 AM on February 4, 2013

The Wirecutter has a couple of recommendations for kinetic, crank and solar power chargers. I find their recommendations trustworthy (they're not paid ads).
posted by biscuits at 11:41 AM on February 4, 2013

It's been my experience (doing emergency communications preparations in San Francisco) that most battery and cell phone crank and solar chargers are crap.

Small solar chargers are almost useless and most crank chargers for cell phones and cheap underpowered and don't work as expected with smart phones like the iPhone.

At $200 you might want to explore bike powered chargers.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:44 AM on February 4, 2013

I have the GoalZero kit that ethidda linked to, and I used it over the summer to keep my cell phone charged when I was bike touring. It works pretty well if you've got pretty good sunlight (and predictably significantly less well on overcast days).
posted by Vibrissa at 8:37 PM on February 4, 2013

@bottlebrushtree do you know of bike pedal powered chargers for use while working at a desk?
posted by lalalana at 11:00 AM on February 5, 2013

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