When the idea of procuring and testing solar powered battery packs came about, it seemed like a good idea. In fact, it seemed like a natural progression from the conventionally powered battery packs tested here over the last year or so. The thought was that if it is possible to keep all of our e-gadgets topped off by using these portable power banks, it would be much better if those power banks were charged by the sun. The difference, however, between a good idea and the flawless execution of that idea, can sometimes be pretty big.
When it came time to check out some solar powered batteries from Solio, I was pretty psyched. Getting to play with, test, and review the majority of the products seen here in this column is one of the best aspects of this job. For this test, I thought it would make for an interesting experiment to see if I could keep my phone (HTC Vivid PH39100) charged for a whole month using nothing but the rays of the sun.
Sadly, this experiment, was cut short by not one, but two product failures. Product failure number one occurred on the Xcellerator+Hub setup. After its initial charge using the included USB cable and a desktop computer, I was unable to fully charge the rather smallish 2000mAh Lithium Polymer battery. After a full day in the sun, complete with me heading out every hour to make sure it was still aimed properly, the Hub never registered more than a ⅘ charge. Worse still, by the time the sun went down, the Hub had a fairly pronounced bulge in its case which made feel a bit uneasy about using it. The last thing I need is a Li-Poly battery melting, blowing up, or catching fire while tucked away in my bag. By the time the sun rose the following day, the Hub had fully discharged.
Product failure number two occurred after I accidentally tried to open the Classic 2 the wrong way. This device is comprised of a 3200mAh Lithium Polymer battery and 3 small solar panels that are affixed to a central hub. While the design is both ingenious and quite attractive from an industrial design standpoint, it is also its weakest link. I didn’t force the device open on the day that the failure happened, I just did what I would normally do to open it up, I just did it in the wrong direction. When I did this, I heard a series of clicks come from the hub portion of the device, and after that I could see that several tabs of the plastic hub were protruding into the opening at the center of the hub making it impossible to slide the included pencil into that space. Determined to make it work, I propped the Classic 2 up against a brick with its solar panels aimed at the sun and hoped for the best. The best never happened. My brief moment of carelessness killed the Classic 2.
There is, however, one positive bit to share about these Solio products. The Clip-Mini rechargeable flashlight is still going strong. Three weeks after its first charge, it still provides a bright light, and the whole unit shows no signs of wear or weakness.
The idea of charging a portable battery pack using nothing but the sun is a good one. Making it happen, even here in the land of sunshine, is not particularly easy. It will be interesting to see how products like this get improved as time goes by. Until then, especially with this review in mind, I’ll stick to a conventional rechargeable battery pack.
See video for counterpoint (sort of).
**Full disclosure: These products were provided at no cost for the purpose of testing/reviewing, to think otherwise would be silly.