Charge any USB compatible device with Solar power! (November 11th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Solio from Better Energy Systems
Price: $79.95 - $99.95 US
- Works with all iPods, most iPhones, and other USB chargeable devices. Classic has three charging blades and folds up with a good hinge design. Hybrid 1000 has built-in carabiner clip. Very portable chargers.
- Cable connectors may come apart imperceptibly and prevent charging. Instructions may be hard to understand. LED indicator interface not explained well. DC to AC inverters may damage the internal lithium ion battery. Carrying case sold separately.
As energy prices fluctuate and people advocate moving to "green" technology, it makes sense to explore solar options for charging our growing collection of iPods and phones. Remember, your device's wall charger uses electrical power when it's plugged in; even when a device isn't connected. One solution to your power and money drain is the Solio line of portable solar chargers, produced by Better Energy Systems in the UK. Solio makes three devices that use solar power to run or charge your indispensable electronic devices. The Hybrid 1000 ($79.95), Solio Classic ($99.95), and Magnesium Edition ($169.95) vary in design and battery capacity, but work similarly, so MacNN evaluated the mid-range Classic and the Hybrid 1000.
DesignThe 5.6oz Solio Classic Universal Hybrid Charger has three solar panels with a battery inside. The panels charge the battery, which in turn charges or runs almost any USB powered device, including iPods, cell phones, PDAs, and digital cameras.
The three panels hinge and fold out like fan blades. The aesthetically look is effective at gathering the light for power. The hinge is hollow in the center, like a doughnut hole, and Solio provides a rubber spike on a suction cup so that the Classic can be stuck to a window for maximum exposure to the sun. I found that I could hang the Solio on a skinny tree branch, or use a pencil through the hole, and position the Solio classic like a tripod or an easel. The three fan blades help this model charge in the sun a bit better than the Hybrid 1000, which only has one charging surface and is shaped like a big blade.
The connections to the Solio Classic and the Hybrid 1000 are an exercise in minimalism. There is only one button on the Classic and two on the Hybrid. The Classic uses the one for power on, off, and lights it up to indicate the status of the battery. There are two cable connection ports: One cable charges Solio's battery, from either USB or AC, and the other cable connects your devices to the charger. Initially charging the Solio from the computer takes less time than using the Sun, which might not be very cooperative at this time of year.
UsabilityThe one-button design includes two lights, so it's difficult to know the charge status of the Solio Classic just by looking at it. I downloaded two PDFs and read a FAQ in order to get all the information on the LED status states. Here is the info, collected in one place:
• A solid red LED indicates charging, by AC, sun, or USB.
• The red flashing LED indicates that Solio's internal battery may have been damaged. If you see this, call or contact Solio for help.
• A solid green LED means the device is fully charged by ac, sun, or USB.
• When you charge a device with it, the flashes green at even slow intervals.
• Pressing the button causes the LED to flash green and the light flashes in groups to indicate the battery charge. 4 or 5 flashes indicates it's fully charged, 3 flashes indicates 75%, 2 flashes for 50%, and one flash is 25% full.
The status light isn't exact though. For example, Solio may flash twice after it has been left in the sun for several hours, but it may be only 70% charged. This is enough to charge an iPod or iPhone.
The AdaptersWhen I used the USB adapter with the Solio and iPhone, the adapter unplugged from the proprietary cable by just a few millimeters. It took me about ten minutes to figure out where the fault was and why my phone wasn't charging. The Hybrid 1000 built-in plug seems too thin to fit the adapters, so you have to angle them into the port, instead of plugging them in straight through. This was not explained anywhere.
The USB adapter seems like it was poorly engineered. The exposed metal shell for receiving a USB cable should have been enclosed in plastic for another centimeter. The result is that as it is, the metal snags on clothing and could cut skin at its corners; it just seems unfinished. I'm not sure why Solio had to engineer a completely new connector, but that problem is fixed in their newest model, the Magnesium Edition. This uses iGo connectors, which do not suffer the same problems and iGo connectors are readily available at Radio Shack across the USA.
CompatibilityThe Solio classic comes with a mini-USB and tips for Sony Ericsson, LG, Samsung, and Nokia phones. The USB Port Replicator tip powers iPods and iPhones, as well as a variety of digital cameras. The 3G iPhone is not supported yet, at the time I wrote this review. The Hybrid 1000 only comes with the USB Port Replicator tip, a Mini-USB tip that powers Motorola, Blackberry, Garmin, and iriver, and a Nokia tip.
If the tip you need to charge your model phone isn't included, Solio sells other tips for $9.95 to $19.95 on their web site. They also offer a handy carrying case, called the TREAD case, made from recycled rubber tires for $24.95
Battery lifeSolio says "About 60 minutes of sunlight can provide nearly 10 minutes of talk time or 4 hours of standby on most cell phones, although performance can vary." It's unclear what are the real numbers, simply because devices have such varying power demands. Clearly, devices that use less volts and less milliamps (ma) are going to charge faster and last longer on solar power. In terms of iPods, the iPod Shuffle will charge faster than the iPod nano, which will charge faster than iPod classic. I'm unsure where iPod Touch lies in the hierarchy, because it has WIFI, Nike+, and the larger screen to power.
The Solio Classic is equipped with a rechargeable lithium ion 3.6V 1.65Ah battery. The nominal output is 3V at 2A, but by using a step-up regulator inside, the device provides 5V at well above the 500mA spec that the USB standard requires. This is a good thing, because it means devices charges slightly faster than when connected to a computer. Solio claims that the Classic and the Hybrid 1000 battery hold their charge for a year, but that remains untested for this review.
ConclusionThe Solio Classic and the Hybrid 1000 are fine products and work well, once you navigate how the plugs work. The battery life is good and it does the trick, especially if you need power in settings where the Sun is plentiful and an outlet is miles away. You get better results if you charge your device before it is completely depleted. My only negative experiences involved the poor documentation concerning the LED and its meanings, one loose cable connection, and unshielded connectors. I decided that both the Solio Universal Hybrid Chargers warrant a 4-star rating, but expect some initial frustration with setup.
Technical Specifications:"A full Solio H1000 will charge a typical mobile phone once or give 10 hours of MP3 music - just 1 hour of sunshine = 14 minutes talk time or 40 minutes of MP3 music; depending on type of device and intensity of sunlight."
- Nominal DC Output: 3V 1.2A
- Maximum Wattage: 3.6 Watts
- Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Ion 3.7V 1A cell
- DC Input: 5-6V 0.4Ah
- Dimensions (LxHxW): 7.8 x 0.71 x 2.6 in. (198 x 68 x 18 mm)
- Weight: 4.6 oz. (131g)
- Temperature Range: -4F to 131F (-20C to 55C)
"A fully charged Solio Classic will charge a typical mobile phone more than twice or give over 20 hours of iPod music. Just 1 hour of sunshine = 20 minutes talk time or 50 minutes of MP3 music; depending on type of device and intensity of sunlight."
- Color: Gray or Orange
- Nominal DC Output: 3V 2A
- Maximum Wattage: 6 Watts
- Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Ion 3.7V 1.65A cell
- DC Input: 5-6V 0.4Ah
- Dimensions (LxHxW): 4.72 x 1.34 x 2.56 in (120 x 34 x 63.5 mm
- Weight: 5.6 oz. (156g)
- Temperature Range: -4F to 131F (-20C to 55C)