Toshiba's direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) first hit our radars when the prototype was released in 2003. This week, the company finally began shipping the Dynario - its first commercial fuel cell charger. So we've taken a look at the charger and its uses.
Over the last few days I've charged two mobile phones, a PSP, an iPod 5G and a handful of other music players and devices and things have gone pretty much flawlessly.
The only annoyance was the need to charge the internal battery of the fuel cell. I didn't know what was happening at first and couldn't figure out why charging of my phone hadn't begun but a call to Toshiba sorted that out.
Refilling is easy and, thankfully, appears to be very well engineered. A small connector ensures the refill bottle is correctly inserted and only then will valves in the charger and the bottle open to allow methanol to be squirted inside.
A refill bottle of methanol holds 50ml so can refill the Dynario's internal 14ml tank just over 3.5 times. Toshiba estimates one refill is enough to charge a mobile phone battery twice so a bottle should last about 7 charges. Your mileage will vary according to the gadgets you're recharging and I feel like it was lasting a little longer than advertised, although I didn't measure it.
The fuel cell won't work with every portable device. Its 5v, 500mA output is suitable for charging most gadgets that accept power over a USB cable or others that use a single lithium-ion battery or several batteries in parallel, but not those with batteries connected in series.
You can get a quick idea by checking the voltage on the battery or in the gadget's manual to see whether it's 3.6v or 7.2v. The former is okay, the latter is not.
And even then not every product will work. Some products implement proprietary power control signalling on the USB connector so won't be able to talk to the Dynario, but in general you'll should be safe with most mainstream gadgets.
Toshiba tested many products available in Japan and found about four out of five worked fine. Some are listed on the company's home page but the list isn't exhaustive. For example, it lists the latest PlayStation Portable, the PSP-3000, but I found it also worked on the original PSP-1000.
An important device missing from the compatibility list is the iPhone 3G. Toshiba said it tested several phones and found some accepted the charge and others didn't. It's hoping to fully support the iPhone in future versions.
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