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Meet the smartphone powered by the sun

Chances are you’ve never heard of rugged phone manufacturer Kyocera, but the Japanese company was showing off a seriously cool tech innovation at MWC 2015: a prototype phone that can be charged by solar power. A nifty idea, but we can’t help but think the true market for this is wearables.

Kyocera’s solar panel is actually built into the screen of the phone itself, which is the only way it could possibly work. After all, if the panel was spread across the back of the handset, it’d never see the sun – just your palm and the insides of your bag or pocket. The idea is that every time you fiddle with your phone, the panel draws in solar power and converts it to battery charge, keeping you powered up.

It works via a special ‘Wysips’ photovoltaic layer sandwiched between the other layers of the screen. It’s completely transparent and only 0.1mm thick, so it doesn’t bulk up the panel or affect the quality of the screen (I certainly didn’t notice a dip in quality or any funny side-effects when checking out simple images).

Of course, you don’t get much power from such a small panel, so the phone won’t simply stay charged indefinitely and never need plugging in. Rather, it’s a way of slowing the battery drain to keep your smartphone from dying when you need it most.

Kyocera reckons the phone’s battery won’t drain at all in standby mode, but of course a mobile isn’t much use if you just keep it switched off, so you’ll still need to plug it in to get extra juice. And in standby mode, your phone is likely to be stashed away in a pocket or bag, unless you’re happy to leave it lying on your desk.

If solar power tech proves to be cheap and easy to implement then it could be another solution for longer-lasting battery life, acting in partnership with other methods such as wireless charging over a large distance. However, we reckon it’s much more likely to prove a success in the wearable market rather than mobiles.

After all, one of the major drawbacks of early smart watches is the crap battery life, with most of the buggers dying within a day. And since your watch is always there on your wrist, it could constantly draw in power even when it’s not being used.

If solar power conversion could be built into something like the Pebble Time Steel, which already lasts a supposed ten days between charges thanks to the low-powered e-ink screen, then there’s no reason why your wearable couldn’t last the best part of a month between charges. And that’s when we might actually be tempted to rock one on a permanent basis.

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