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.