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Thread: Solar chargers etc

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    29th May 2004
    Athens, Greece, Earth
    Posts liked by others
    Blog Entries

    Solar chargers etc

    It's an undisputed fact that smartphones are taking over the world. About 30% of the American cell phone users are now using a smartphone and this trend is increasing; it increased at least 60% from 2010 to 2011.

    I can understand this trend, judging by myself. Two years ago, I was trying hard to find a cell phone without a camera since I didn't want a complex device. For me, the simpler the phone the better. Then a fellow member here was kind enough to offer me a used iPhone (yes, the original one). After using it for two days, I ran to the nearest store (I was in Orlando, FL at that time) and bought myself an iPhone 3G. It's been downhill ever since with an iPhone 4 being my latest phone, while my wife is using a 3GS. Oh, and the kids have their iPod Touches too.

    It's only natural that smartphones change our lives, in some interesting ways. For example, while I never had any songs stored in my phone before, nor did I ever care to take a music-playing device to the beach, this year our song-loaded phones became an indispensable accessory to our beach outfit. And while the iPhone 4 has sufficient battery to play songs all day long, when I first started using the phone as a music reproduction device, I was afraid that sooner or later I would run out of battery. That has yet to happen, but it always pays to be prepared, right?

    As I normally do when I need a new gadget, I googled "solar chargers" to see what was available. Soon, I placed an order for what appeared to be an interesting solar charger for our Apple devices. The device arrived and was soon put to test, during our next visit to the beach. We usually spend about 3-4 hours there.

    For those not familiar with solar charger devices, what they really are is a spare battery coupled with a solar panel. You are supposed to charge the battery when you get the charger, either via a computer USB port or via a USB wall charger. My new gadget took about 4 hours to get its battery fully charged. With my new toy charged to capacity, I was ready for our next visit to the beach.

    So on that first test day, I had intentionally left my phone uncharged (I normally charge it every evening) and as soon as we arrived at the beach, I connected the charger to it. It was a really sunny day, not a single cloud in the sky. The phone had about 50% of battery juice left, which was supposed to be perfect for the charger, since the instructions that came with it said that the charger might not be able to charge the phone's battery if it is almost fully charged. Well, I was surprised to see that by the time we were leaving from the beach, the phone had barely gained any charge at all.

    So almost three hours of solar power didn't produce enough juice to fully charge my phone? OK, the phone was playing music all that time but, still, I was expecting better results. Since my phone's battery wasn't getting much drain by playing music, I put the charger in a small box, where I keep all kinds of iPhone-related charger things, and forgot about it, feeling a little disappointed by its performance.

    Then, a few days ago, MediaDirect, a PR company that I usually work with for things related to the gun industry, sent me a message about a solar charger produced by an outdoors-related company namely Brunton. A small notice on that message mentioned that if I was interested in trying out one of these solar chargers, I could ask for one. I wrote to Kim Cahalan, the PR company owner, and told her that I would be interested at trying the new charger (named "Restore") and write a review about it. Kim was kind enough to put my name in the manufacturer's list and, in less than a week, the FedEx man delivered a box to my door. In the box, I found the Brunton Restore charger. That was quick, I thought.

    Here is the box minus the transparent cover

    So, I unpacked the charger and checked it out.

    Top view

    Bottom view

    First of all, what comes in the package:

    - The charger itself.
    - A cigarette lighter car charger, with a USB output.
    - A mini-USB to micro-USB adapter.
    - A USB to mini-USB cable, which is ingeniously integrated with the charger, as shown in the pictures above.

    The charger has two solar panels, which open up like a book

    The solar charger comes with a decent manual, in English, German, French and Spanish

    Some initial impression from the "Restore":
    • The charger appears to be very well-protected from the environment. Brunton (http://www.bruntonoutdoor.com/) has been in the outdoor business for more than 100 years, so rugged construction was expected. I didn't make any ... destruction tests, but the charger appears very rugged and well made. According to the manufacturer, Restore is water resistant and has a rubberized external shell.
    • The charger includes a short grey cable, which is used to charge the charger from a USB port but also to power electronic devices which have a mini-USB power connector (one of my twins has such a phone and Restore charged it just fine). Contrary to other chargers, though, Restore's cable is nicely embedded in the charger case, instead of being separate. In that way, it is more difficult to lose it. Great idea.
    • The charger manual is hidden under the carton box in which the charger and the other bits and pieces are stored. You have to be careful when unpacking, so that you do not throw the manual away with the rest of the packing material.

    Let's move on to a description of the charger itself.

    The charger comes with two solar panels, of 100mA each. The internal battery is a Lithium Polymer 2,200 mAh and the charger can supply 1,000 mA at 5V of charging current.

    The four blue LEDs which indicate a fully charged internal battery

    The charger has five LEDs on its top surface. The left-most one, in the shape of a lightning bolt, is green and blinks when the internal battery is charged. The other four are blue, and they indicate the level of charge of the internal battery. Good, sensible, understandable indicators, thank you very much.

    On the right side of the charger there is a USB port, to which you can connect either the supplied grey cable or any other device-specific USB cable to charge your phone or your other electronic devices. On the same side, there is a small switch with a small LED light, which can be used as a flashlight in case of an emergency.

    On the left side of the charger there is a mini-USB port, through which the charger internal battery is charged by connecting the supplied grey cable to a USB port of a computer or a plug charger, like the ones supplied with the iPhones. Also on the left side of the charger, there is another small button, and a red LED. This button is used to initiate a charging operation, which means that when you connect your phone or other electronic device to the charger, you need to press that button to start charging it. The red LED stays on, to indicate that Restore is charging your device. And that completes the description of the charger.

    When you first get your charger, Brunton suggests that you charge the internal battery. So I unplugged the USB connector from the charger and connected it to a USB port on my iMac. The green lightning bolt LED started pulsing and within less than an hour the internal battery was fully charged. The fully charged condition was indicated by the four blue LEDs lighting on the face of the charger.

    I then performed some tests to see how the charger worked.

    First, I connected one of my kids' iPod Touch, which had a completely exhausted battery. The iPod was fully charged in less than two hours by Remote's internal battery only (the test was done with the solar panels closed, so no solar power was available). Admittedly the iPod was not playing music during that time, so I couldn't directly compare Remote with my previous charger.

    Next day, I did the same test with my iPhone 4. This time, I had the phone play music while it was being charged. Again, the solar panels were closed and the iPhone was charged at about 50% of its full capacity when I connected the charger. Restore fully charged the iPhone battery within less than one hour.

    So the "charger" part of Restore works just fine. It's quick and efficient and can fully charge the iPhone in about 3 hours, from a completely dead battery condition. All I needed to check out now, was the "solar" part of the charger.

    What I wanted to check was how much time the solar panels would need to charge the internal battery. In order to do that, though, I needed (a) to drain the internal battery to a significant degree and (b) to let it charge by the sun.

    Unfortunately, (a) proved to be a little more difficult than I ... expected. I first connected an Alcatel phone I had, which used a Micro-USB charger port, using the grey cable that came with the charger. The phone battery was completely dead and the charger's internal battery was fully charged. The phone charged fine, but the charger's internal battery only lost 1/4th of its capacity. I then connected an iPod Touch, which also had a completely dead battery. The charger charged it up but again, there was plenty of charge left in the internal battery. So I then connected another iPod Touch, which had about 10% of its internal battery charge. This time only one LED was lit when the second iPod was completely charged. Finally I connected my iPhone 4 which was about 70% charged. The Restore charged it to its full capacity, before finally reaching the limits of its internal battery. So now, I could let it be charged by the sun.

    Well, I told you that (a) proved not to be too easy, right? But it was not just the difficulty of completely discharging the internal battery. The weather was against me, too. The day I planned to do the solar charging proved to be the first cloudy day of 2011 Fall. So I had to postpone the charging test until the sun shined again over my area.

    And then something even worse happened. I had to be admitted into the hospital, with a suspected stroke. Thank God, it was not a stroke, as the MRI showed, so I got released and allowed to return home. That ordeal delayed the completion of this review for another week or so.

    Eventually, after all the hoopla, a sunny day arrived. With some careful planning, I was able to have the Restore solar panels face the sun for the required time to complete a full charge. How long did it take? Well, it's hard to say, because there is no accurate way to tell what percentage of the internal battery is charged. The four blue LEDs, which show the charge of the battery are showing ranges of percentage, as per the table below:

    One LED: 0.00-24.9%
    Two LEDs: 25.0-49.9%
    Three LEDs: 50.0-74.9%
    Four LEDs: 75.0-100%

    It took about nine hours to have all four LEDs light up on the face of the device, but there is no way to know if the battery was charged to 75 or 90 or 100% of its capacity. Given, however, that even with two blue LEDs lit, the charger can fully charge a completely dead iPhone, I wouldn't worry too much about how much charge there is in the internal battery. As long as you have two LEDs glowing, you can fully charge a phone.

    So, overall, how did I like this charger?

    Well, it obviously is a very useful accessory, being capable of charging three to four electronic devices from a fully charged internal battery. And it is obviously capable of charging at least two or three devices after you let the sun shine on its solar panels for maybe a day. It is also rugged and well protected from the elements, and whoever designed it took into consideration that a separate charging cable can easily be lost or misplaced. So having it integrated on the device solves that issue. Its user interface is very logical (one green LED showing the device is being charged by a USB connection, four blue LEDs showing the charge remaining in the internal battery), so you do not need the manual to figure out what's going on (like you do with that other charger I had bought).

    So overall, yes, I did like this charger and it has replaced the other one in my iPhone kit box. It's a great product, doing what it is advertised to do, and which should last you for many, many years. The only thing I found missing from this charger is a set of interchangeable plugs, which would allow you to charge devices which do not use a USB cable. Since I do not own such a device, the lack of these plugs is unimportant for me, but it can be a decisive factor for other users. But then again, if the EU effort to standardize on cellular phone chargers plugs becomes real, then nobody will need an adapter to plug his phone to this charger.

    I want to thank Kim at MediaDirect and Brunton for offering me the chance to try this charger. Much appreciated guys!
    John Caradimas SV1CEC
    The M1911 Pistols Organization

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