Solio Bolt, a solar charging product for mobile devices that’s been around for a while, has dramatically improved upon its original design since it first appeared. It’s more streamlined, simplified, and packs a walloping storehouse of power – enough to refresh my iPad battery twice over. But it’s also not just for iOS – it charges my GoPro and a few of my other digital cameras. It’ll even charge USB batteries.

I’ve never been a big fan of solar chargers because of a legacy of tried-and-failed attempts to get portable solar right. Typically, these products have been slow to charge, and even slower to recharge a mobile device. Historically, they’ve always seemed too bulky and simply not worth the trouble. Solio Bolt is different. Based on my semi-rugged testing experience, it stores about 2.6 times the battery of an iPhone 4 and about 1.9 times that of an iPad II. And it only takes about five hours to store up that much juice.

It’s also lightweight and compact. At 5.3 ounces and only 3.5” x 3.5” x 1”, this little beast doesn’t hog a lot of space in most mobile device cases or your camera bag. It blends niely into any day pack as well.

Juicing it Up

Using this charger is extremely simple – plug it in to your laptop or desktop with the provided micro-USB to standard USB cable to give it some juice. You don’t have to select anything or push any buttons. No buttons to fiddle with – Steve Jobs would like this product. It’ll figure out what to do and it will stop charging automatically so there’s nothing to worry about concerning over charging or over-heating.

Juicing Up iPhone

To draw power from it, there are two modes – blue-mode for iOS devices, and green-mode for all other devices. Press and hold the one and only button on the back for five seconds to switch modes. It’ll flash green or blue after you release the button.

Solio reccharges my iPhone 4 at the rate of about 10% every 15 minutes. A little longer for iPad [3] which really impressed me. In less than two hours I took an almost fully discharged iPad to full power.

Ideal for the Urban Jungle 

While Solio Bolt is ideally designed for the middle of the Pacific and its 27,000+ islands, even the once barely big enough for you and a gecko, the cool thing I found while playing with this device is how relevant it is in urban spaces.

How often do you find yourself in a coffee shop or other transient location without clear access to an outlet? This happens to me often enough to try to avoid such situations. And despite the fact that I carry with me a really cool Curly Cable, even if there is an outlet nearby, it’s usually too far away to plug in and use iPad. This is where I’ve found great benefit in Solio as an urban power source.

Combined with my Curly Cable, Solio is ideal for maintaining a full battery or charging iPad between flights, meetings, or prolonged trips and just those days when you’d rather work remotely.I’ve also tested Bolt while kayaking, hiking, and biking. It’s particularly nice to bike for a few hours and arrive with a full iPhone charge and while listening to podcasts along the route. Bolt comes in especially handy when I need to use the iPhone as a personal hotspot – a battery-intensive activity.

Solio Bolt really came in handy just last week. Some clown cut the main optical feed for T-Mobile and Comcast in my county. When the internet is down, the only place I can get a 3g cell signal is on my back deck and there’s no power outlet there. The iPhone and Bolt partnered up to provide a router that lasted through the outage. Sweet.

So that’s my personal perspective on this cool device that is likely to relevant in far more situations than you imagine. Next stop for this Bolt is the deep worrds and trails surrounding Mount Rainier.

My colleague, Andy Seidl will take this Solio Bolt demo unit off to Mount Rainier for a two week many-mile trek around the famed volcano. I’ll post his experience as an addendum to this article later this summer.