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AT&T is rolling out solar-powered, publicly accessible gadget charging stations all over New York City–a trial the wireless carrier says it embarked on after seeing how difficult it was for people to get a charge for their phones in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. It’s a cool idea, and I’m curious to see if it spreads to other cities and wireless carriers.

It may sound pretty self-serving, since the 25 stylish-looking charging stations (made in collaboration with solar tech company Goal Zero and Brooklyn design firm Pensa) are clearly branded with AT&T’s logo and will be plopped down in public spaces throughout the summer. But they could be helpful to both tourists and locals, especially in the case of a power outage. Each station has three solar panels that charge its own batteries, along with various connectors to charge different makes and models of smartphones and tablets (a station can charge up to six devices at once). According to a report in The New York Times, users will be able to fully charge a smartphone in two hours or charge it a third of the way in half an hour.

While we’re on the topic of on-the-go and emergency charging, here’s a tip I picked up while stuck in a friend’s Brooklyn apartment during hurricane Sandy last year: buy a battery- or solar-powered phone charger to keep in your emergency kit at home (and/or in the car). I bought this one, since it was cheap (under $15 for the device plus two adaptor tips for different smartphones) and is easy to refill with rechargeable batteries, but if you want one that works even without batteries or sun, this one looks pretty sweet, too. Even with a couple of dozen new charging stations around, chances are there will still be a line to power up during a blackout.

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