Tech Review: Portable (phone) Solar Charger


In the spirit of Earth Day, I figure what’s better than recycling… my old post that is.  Here is my original review of a mobile phone solar charger, along with an update written fresh, as in today.

Original Review Date:  Jan. 5, 2011 (see update later on in the post)

Hey travelers, ever wish you could have some reserve charging power for your cell phones while on the go?  No, oh, it’s just me, then… Anyway, I may have stumbled upon a neat gizmo that will help in those situations.

I was perusing Ebay recently for phones, err, I mean “stuff” (just out of curiosity, not really shopping – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), and just randomly searched for “solar phone chargers.”  Yes, Bubba’s geeky like that.  I imagined it would be nice to have one handy to top off the ipod/touch and cell phones while on the go, or just as an alternative means to using more electricity from our apt.  Plus, getting some “Green Karma” points doesn’t hurt.

I found this cell-phone sized gadget, that basically is a solar charged high capacity battery, from which you can attach cables to your mobile device and charge them.  Cool!  Soooo… I bought one.  Oh, be quiet…

 

I just received the unit yesterday, and used it today.  According to the website (but not in the manual, which was in Chinese and English – Hey, no “Chinglish” jokes, I speak that), it takes 16-20 hours of sunlight to fully charge the internal 2000mAh battery from empty, or 3-4 hours to charge it via USB cable via your computer (in short, there are 2 ways of charging it up).   I’m charging it via my laptop as I type this post.

There are 4 blue LED lights indicating charging strength (4 being fully charged, duh), and one red light that indicate either it’s charging by USB or by sunlight.  After charging it up for a bit it earlier in the morning, I was able to use the included cable and attachments (which fit various phones, from Nokias, to iphone, to Blackberry, and standard mini USB jack) to top off the ipod touch and my wife’s HTC Tytn II.  That used up 1 of the 4 blue lights.  Later, it nearly topped off a friend’s iphone until the charger was drained. All that charging used up one full tank on the solar charger.

After it was down to 1 blue light, I placed it in direct sunlight for over an hour (at least, lost track), and it managed to climb up to the 2nd blue light (yes, that was dramatic, wasn’t it?).  I imagine it might take a good day  or more to top it off, but I assume I won’t drain it completely each day, so hopefully a partial day of sun worshipping will be sufficient to boost it back up.

Here’s what I liked:

  • It’s “Made in Taiwan.”  That’s all.  Just kidding, but I can actually tell my parents, who will be so proud (uh, I’m Taiwanese American, hint hint).
  • High capacity battery
  • Simple design.  No moving parts.  It’s plasticky, but it looks like it should last (we’ll see).
  • Includes various connectors – Ebay seller can include other types if requested.
  • Light, small and portable
  • Being able to charge a device quickly when in a pinch.  We all forget to charge our devices once in a while.
  • Cheap: $23.99 USD + $11.50 International shipping.  Delivered in less than 2 weeks, during holidays, so not bad I suppose.  They also sell a lower capacity model for only around $18.

What I do not like so far (only a few):

  • Comes in a retail box, which was nicely bubble wrapped, but the contents in the box were not supported and rattles around.  I guess they assumed it wouldn’t break…
  • The solar panels have this odd blotchy look, which was normal, and they show this on their company site, but not mentioned in their Ebay description.  They should inform customers so they don’t think their product was defective.
  • Won’t charge some Nokias.  This is more about Nokia than about the charger.  Nokia still puts out phones that have BOTH a USB port and a separate charging port, and many don’t charge the phone when connected via USB to your computer. Sher-Mah (“Whaaa? in Mandarin)???  Even my 6 year old HTC has one widely used mini USB port, which is used for both data and for charging.. Grrhh.. So, if you have  a Nokia, do  search and see if it can “charge by USB.”  You’ll be surprised how many newer models don’t.

It seems to do what it claims to do, but more ‘testing’ is required.  Buy at your own risk, yada yada lawyer speak…

Latest Update, April 22, 2011:

I used the solar charger on both the Nokia E5 and Nokia N8, while they were in my possession from @womworldnokia.

What I wanted to know was whether the solar charger can be the sole source of charging energy, without relying on charging from the traditional outlet source.

Well, with a very efficient phone like the E5, it was ‘almost’ possible to keep the phone charged only via the solar charger.  That’s assuming you can have access to strong (as opposed to weak?) sunlight for 2-3 straight days, and that you don’t over use the phone where it drains within that time.  I think an efficient feature phone that has long battery life and standby time could conceivably be charged only with this charger, again assuming you can place it in a location to get the most sunlight during the day (duh, as opposed to night?)…

With a smart phone like the N8, the solar charger just couldn’t keep up with the power demand.  That’s not the fault of the solar device, it was advertised or designed as a sole power source.  Here’s my brief geek record keeping for a few days, starting with the charger at full charge:

Sunday, 12:37am – N8 charged up to 98% (yes, we geeks stay up late!)

Monday, 9am – charged from 29% to 40%, solar charger drained.

Monday, 5pm – charged fro 13% to 19%, drained charger.

All this with the charger placed in direct sunlight most of the day (hey I can’t babysit this guy all day!).

My conclusion:  This is a very handy (travel) device for a backup source of power for any type of phone.  It works as advertised.  You can quickly recharge the solar charger via USB port with your pc, or keep it in sunlight, and carry it with you as you travel.  I think it’s definitely handy if you have a power-hungry smart phone that normally won’t last more than 1.5 days.  So far, it’s been reliable, even after a few drops (hey I’m not perfect), but the rubber flap that covers the ports tends to come off, so I don’t use it.

 

Company:  Corriga, Inc. http://www.corriga.com.tw/

Model:  Dr. Solar CSDC-M10

Ebay seller:  http://shop.ebay.com/solar_corriga/m.html

 

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