(This is the first in a regular weekly series of spotlights on green technology that's accessible to you and me. If you have a product to suggest, please send a note via my contact email.)
There are plenty of solar charger options for smartphones, but Voltaic Systems has just introduced a $299 bag for your Apple iPad or other tablet computers that doubles as a solar charger. The case will also work with smaller electronics, so you can get it for your tablet and also use it for other devices that I will list in a moment.
The product, aptly named Spark (although I hope it doesn't take things that far), includes 8-watt, waterproof solar panels with a peak output of 6 volts, 1,333 mA or 12 volts, 667 mA for those that want to get technical about it. For the layperson like me, that means that you can charge your iPad in approximately 10 hours in direct sunlight. It will probably take a little less time than that for another sort of tablet, according to Voltaic. (Remember, you don't have to leave it baking the heat to get sunlight, lest you worry about the electronics getting too hot.)
The case includes a battery, so that you can use to run the tablet if you've drained the internal battery and need a boost. The battery will take about 10 hours to charge fully; you can also charge it the "traditional" way, via a USB port. And, you can actually charge the battery and a tablet (or two tablets if you want) simultaneously, although I am guessing that will affect the charge time.
The bag measures 13.5 inches high by 11 inches wide by 2 inches deep. As you can see from the photo, it is one of those utilitarian looking things that comes in either a charcoal or silver color, with meshy pockets inside. The material that the case is made out of is recycled PET plastics (aka reincarnated soda bottles).
There is a two-year warranty on the bag, case and panels; there is a one-year warranty on the battery.
Here is a list of some of the devices you can charge with Spark. It is not all-inclusive, so please consult the link to see if your particular gadget is listed. Two important things to note, the charger WILL NOT work with the Motorola XOOM or Acer Iconia Tab. If you're thinking of using the case with a digital camera, you'll need to adjust the voltage output and you will need an optional camera battery cradle.
The Spark is designed to work with the following (again, this is a partial list, check the link for the whole list):
Apple iPad, iPad 2, iPhone (all series), iPod (all series)
ASUS eeePad Transformer
BlackBerry Playbook and many handhelds including the Curve, Pearl and Storm
Flip SlideHD, MinoHD, UltraHD
Garmin GPS devices
Hewlett-Packard TouchPad, as wells as the Pre and Veer
Iridium satellite phone (with some settings changes and the proper adapter)
LG T-Mobile G-Slate and Chocolate (you will need an adapter for the latter)
Motorola phones including Atrix, Blackflip, Droid, Droid X, Pro and 2
Nokia N72, N900, N97, Mini, X3 and X6
Samsung Galaxy Tab, plus the Epic, Charge, Galaxy S and X, and other devices