December '07 Gear Test: 3D Connexion Space Navigator, Purosol Sport/Marine, Solio, The Pod

The Backpacker testers try out some ingenious products for photo taking, map making, screen cleaning, and portable recharging.

3D Connexion Space Navigator

"Scoping out a route through mountain ranges and swerving canyons on Google Earth has never been so much fun," says our map editor. Unlike a conventional computer mouse, this 3-D version lets you continuously move through Google Earth without stopping to change controls to zoom, tilt, or reverse direction. "I can zoom onto Mt. Whitney, pan over the summit, then rotate 360 degrees in less than two seconds. This is the closest you can get to flying on your computer." One drawback: It only works in 3-D applications like Google Earth (see a list of other apps at 3dconnexion.com/solutions/cad/2aa.php); as a result, your computer must have two mice connected to it. Mac and PC compatible. $59; (800) 874-9001, 3dconnexion.com.

Purosol Sport/Marine

Dirt, grime, sweat, salt–they're all enemies to electronics. When our GPS units and cameras come back from field-testing, we wipe them down with this organic spray-on (other cleaners use alcohol and ammonia, which eat away the protective coatings on gadget screens). Purosol shined up every device reviewed in this issue and also works on watches and sunglasses. 1 fluid oz., $8; (626) 568-1100, purosol.com.

Solio

Until some genius creates a sub-ounce battery that can last 200 hours, we'll be packing the Solio solar charger to extend the life of our electronics on the trail. Instead of a direct connection from the solar panel to a depleted device, the Solio stores its collected solar energy on a 3.6-volt rechargeable battery. That means you get power when you need it, not just when the sun shines. When our tester's GPS phone died halfway into a 10-hour hike, he plugged it into the Solio; it allowed the phone to run and charge simultaneously–during the hike. We also charged a Garmin Edge 305, a 40-gig iPod, and a digital camera. "It works so well I now charge my cellphone with it at home," said our tester. The three-petal, flower-like design folds down to the size of an iPod and weighs 5 ounces. See the company's website for a list of the growing number of compatible devices. Recharge time varies depending on intensity of sun or cloud cover. $100; (510) 868-8714, solio.com.

The Pod

Five reasons our testers love this bean-bag style camera holder: 1) At 7 oz. and the size of a hamburger bun, it's lighter than a tripod. 2) It's water-resistant. 3) It screws onto any camera or video camcorder. 4) It eliminates blurry self-portraits. 5) It conforms to any surface, so you can rest it on a sign, your pack, or a slanted boulder. $15; (416) 593-0256, thepod.ca.