Though solar-powered phones (both real and concept models) have been around for a while, it is the first time that they are entering the mainstream consumer gadgets in a big way. Two major handset makers – LG and Samsung – started selling solar-powered cell phones this week. Price tag is around $300. Samsung’s model is a touch screen phone called Blue Earth which is made of recycled material and has a solar panel at the back. LG’s phone is called GD510 Pop with solar panel as an optional add-on.

Consumer demand for solar-based phones is hard to gauge, but makers are planning to market them as good for the environment as well as a way to hedge against running out of battery power.

Both the Samsung and LG phones have features that promote walking, such as software that measures distance traveled, and allow customers to calculate how much they can reduce carbon dioxide emissions with physical activities that replace driving.

“It is premature to say whether they will be successful, but overall it’s the right direction because people are increasingly interested in saving energy,” says Park Sung-min, a telecom industry analyst at Kyobo Securities in Seoul.

Samsung is aiming the Blue Earth model at premium customers, with pricing around $300. The phone, which can also be charged with a traditional plug-in cord, is initially available in Sweden; Samsung said it will quickly roll it out elsewhere in Europe and Asia.

G said the Pop phone will also initially be sold in Europe and be priced around $300 with the optional solar panel about $50. The companies said decisions are pending about U.S. sales.

Samsung said the Blue Earth phone can accept enough charge under an hour of normal sunlight to allow for 10 minutes of talk. LG said the Pop model permits about 13 minutes of talk after being charged for an hour under normal sunlight. The companies said the phones will also charge under artificial light, but more slowly.

Nokia Corp., the world’s largest cellphone maker by units and revenue, introduced a solar-based cellphone in 1997 but it didn’t continue in the company’s regular lineup. The company earlier this year demonstrated a concept phone that runs entirely on solar power.

Samsung, the second-largest maker, in June introduced its first solar-based phone, a bar-shaped model with a normal keypad and solar cells on the back. That phone, called Solar Guru in some markets and Crest Solar in others, was aimed chiefly at developing countries and sells for as little as $60. But Samsung also offers it in some wealthy European countries like France.

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