At the end of October of 2012 I learned an important lesson in living without electricity, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy; for 6 straight days. That signaled to me that either I own too many devices that are reliant on a man-made power source or I would have to find a more environmentally friendly way to create my own power for situations just like this. Since I am not a science wiz and my thought to create my own power involved many pounds of potatoes I figured I’d look for some more professional options of producing power. In comes Solio, the brand name of Better Energy Systems, Inc who is a private company based in Oakland, California who teams up with the United Kingdom and Kenya for solar power opportunities.
Solio believes that regardless of geography or economic standing, all people are entitled to clear energy and light. Solio also provides affordable, reliable power to rural communities in Kenya through the development of local entrepreneurship. By purchasing their products it helps to support that development. Just the thought of being able to have portable power in your pocket without the requirement of an electrical outlet is fantastic, all for the cost of the device once.
The idea of a solar charger is no longer strictly for the outdoors and camping for me. I happily used this Classic2 Solar Charger from my desk at work with minimal setup. Only requiring a pencil and a generally flat surface facing the sun. Even though Solio suggests you don’t use it through a window because of the possible UV coatings on the window. It was my only option while at work, but luckily I’m certain the window I used was too old to have any fancy UV coating on it.
My cell phone happened to be completely drained of battery and thought it was a great opportunity to charge it back up. As is recommended by the instructions, you should fully charge the battery pack to allow it to know it’s full capacity via electrical outlet. So with a charged solar battery pack and a dead cell phone it charged up my phone in 3 hours, while also capturing sunlight to replenish what was used up. 3 hours is a bit longer than it may have taken from a normal outlet, but since I wasn’t in a hurry for the charge to be quickly completed it didn’t matter much.
Once I had my phone charged, I figured while I still had a sunny opportunity I would just charge up the battery pack for the next use, since the battery can hold a charge for up to one year. Since my cell phone charging drained the battery to the range of 20-40% of its capacity, I was able to capture enough battery power from the sun to be charged at 60% before the clouds took over that prevented more charging.
The Classic2 Solar Charger has one simple button on the back to control everything; on/off, different charging modes, power capturing mode and discharging mode. All these modes are displayed for you on this button and as long as you have the flashes memorized or the directions handy, you can tell exactly what the blinking button is telling you. It even has an optimized charging mode for just Apple devices, since that will help it charge more efficiently.
As long as you have your USB charging cable for your device, you can power it with the Classic2. It has one charging port for your device and one for charging the battery pack (via micro USB) both covered to protect it from the elements. So essentially if you do have a power supply, you don’t need the sun to charge it, but just using it as a battery pack.
So many features of this solar charger make it so easy to charge without electricity. Simply fan out the solar panels and insert the pencil, pointed end towards the solar panels and place in the sun. The point of the pencil helps to show you if the device is in a shadow, as the pencil point should not cast a shadow. Though if you lose the Solio supplied pencil make sure to find another one because it won’t accept pens. Perhaps a thin twig will do instead.
This is a really great device, for a small boost of power or your daily device charger. Though there are a just a few things I was concerned about when using it. In a traveling use I could see this being scratched easily in a backpack with my other electronic devices. I did take great care to not scratch the solar panels themselves, for fear of not getting a proper charge. To avoid that I would try to find some small fabric bag to place the charger in it so it wouldn’t be directly scratched. But while it is knocking around with my other devices I would worry the solar panels would mistakenly fan itself open and cause a problem or automatically begin discharging. Perhaps a locking button could help it from falling open inadvertently. I took great care with the device to be sure not to drop or knock it. Realizing not everyone may be as gentle as I am, perhaps a rubberized outer shell may help lessen the impact of a blow and keeping the plastic from cracking. These options would be more of the rugged outdoors version perhaps. Similar to a bumper case for an iPhone or rubber enclosed portable hard drives.
I do like the one button light to tell you about the modes and charging status, though I found it a bit difficult to check on the status when set in a position near a wall or with the rear of it not facing me. However if the light was on the front where the sun should be it is less likely you could see it as easily. I’m not sure where the best place to put it would be, but I found the rear not to be the most helpful spot at all times. These suggestions surely do not attract from such a great product, they can only make it even better than it already is.
Solio offers several types of solar chargers and surely one to fit your need, from this larger device, to a mini 2-panel or a 1-panel mini clip on version. These options give you no reason to be without power again, check Solio’s website for more details.