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Festival tech: Leading the charge

How to keep your gadgets going in the middle of a field
Fri Jul 25 2014, 16:36
2014-07-03-13

AS YOU REJOIN our story, we've reached the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset. The tent is pitched and it's time to start experimenting with the various gadgets and gizmos that have started to embellish "getting away from it all".

In case you missed my first article in this series, I'm trying to ascertain whether our increasing reliance on gadgets and gizmos is starting to impact on getting away from it all. Are we getting so dependent that we can't let go? Is it a bad thing? In the last installment of my adventure, which took place over five days at last month's Glastonbury Festival, we looked at the "core" kit that the Internet of Things-savvy traveller needs.

So back at my tent, I had this cunning plan that I was going to use a 3G Mifi dongle passed through a Sandisk wireless USB device to create a WiFi network and media server for the tent. But that's been scuppered by two big problems.

The first is that the Three signal is strong, but the data connection is under a lot of pressure and its taking a lot of refreshes to get anything to display at all. That could well scupper a lot of my plans. Of course, one tent in the middle of nowhere is fine, the network can cope with that. But when you're in an area that becomes one of the biggest towns in England for that single weekend then your network needs some extra infrastructure or it's going to fall over.

The second is that the batteries in both of these devices are only estimated to last for four hours. I'm here for five days. And that presents a major problem. How the heck am I going to keep all this stuff charged?

So before we get on to the nitty gritty, let's talk about power. There are a number of solutions. I've got several portable chargers with me. Patriot's offering is the Fuel+ 6000mAh battery with two inputs, one at 1A and one at 2.5A for quick charging, or more powerful devices. Some models integrate 16GB or 32GB of flash memory too, which seems like a brilliant idea, but I expect mine doesn't.

STK's Tube Power Bank only holds 2600mAh but it's very pocket friendly, being about the size of two AA batteries end to end. It's hard to tell when it's charged and when it's dead, but it's nevertheless very good for emergencies.

STK also offers an 800mAh emergency charger on a keyring, which is a great idea, but unfortunately it didn't have enough "oomph" to register a charge on our HTC One M8 from flat, giving off a measly 0.5A.

By Thursday afternoon, it's becoming obvious that even 9000mAh isn't going to keep everything on charge for the whole time I'm here. I need more power, so I start to look at some renewable solutions.

EE's hollistic approach is, on paper, brilliant. For £20, ahead of the festival, you buy a charger, almost identical to the STK Tube Power Bank, but in garish EE green. Use it, and when it has expired, take it to the EE tent at the festival where they will swap it out for a newly charged one.

2014-06-27-15Solarmonkey Adventurer looks like a mock up of a satellite in near earth orbit, and has the technology to match with an entire layer of cables and adapters to make it work with just about anything. Unfortunately though, the supplied case doesn't have room for all these bits and that does have an impact on its portability. It's only got a 2500mAh battery, but that's fine - providing the sun is out it has double the number of solar panels, as it folds out so it recharges pretty quick.

The other one is a Freeloader Isis. It's smaller, and yet has a 4000mAh battery, with high density cells that suck in 50 percent more light, yet it's about the size of a small paperback. It also includes an integrated microUSB and Lightning port, and comes in a rubber case which is described as "bombproof", which might be laying it on a bit thick, but it's undoubtedly very sturdy indeed.

Both work very well. Solar has come on a lot in the last few years and it's actually a viable proposition for keeping your phone topped up. But I've got more than a phone to worry about. If only there was another source of energy that I could convert to battery power...

bioliteEnter the Biolite stove, an idea so simple it's a wonder no one thought of it before. It's a camping stove that burns driftwood - twigs, pine cones, bracken, anything you can think of. And as it burns, the heat powers a dynamo, which runs a generator that charges a battery. So in other words, make a cup of tea and a Pot Noodle, turn off the stove, plug in a USB cord and charge your phone. It really is that simple.

This technology is primitive and bleeding edge in equal measure, and as a result, the amount of charge is limited, but it claims to be able to get an iPhone working for 60 minutes. It's perfect for when you're properly off the grid, but we're 45 seconds from a tea stall. It's easier to go and buy one.

So as the unpacking continues, you can rest assured that I have options on keeping up my gadget-heavy festival for the duration. But will it be enough? And isn't it rather sad that suddenly, we've got to bring an a small electrical substation to the countryside? And come to think of it, will the 3G signal get any better anyway?

All of these questions might be answered next time, when I'll be looking at how, with enough technology, you can have a holiday without ever leaving the tent. µ

 

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