A poorly designed, out of date unit that is not nearly as durable as it looks and is unlikely to charge the large batteries in modern smartphones or tablets.
- Battery is reliable and holds charge well.
- Solar panel is compact.
- Battery has charge indicator.
- All-in-one package.
- Takes ages to charge with panel.
- Poor battery design – awkward shape for carrying.
- Proprietary connectors mean countless adaptors and cables.
- Low power – barely enough for small smartphone.
If you go into any UK outdoor shop looking for a portable solar charging unit for mobile devices, chances are one of these is what you’ll find. You might therefore think these are decent bits of kit, but they are not.
They look pretty rugged, with apparently reinforced sides, however these make little difference to the durability. I took one on a four month tour of Europe, strapping the solar panel to the rear load, as it appears to be designed for and as I have done with a Silva panel for years. Within a week the hinge of the solar panel was broken. I managed to repair it with cable ties, however within a few weeks more the power cable had also broken. The battery unit didn’t fare much better. I accidentally leaned on it in the tent (on soft ground) and the casing split instantly, revealing it to be very thin and flimsy, despite appearances. Better quality outdoor devices, such as those made by Garmin and Silva, easily stand up to this sort of wear.
On the electrical side the device is also something of a letdown. While the battery seems good quality and holds a charge well, it takes a while to charge fully (even charging from a wall-plug took 4-5 hours) and doesn’t deliver much power. I barely managed to top up a Nokia N97 and with only 2200mAh the device will probably struggle to charge more modern devices with larger batteries. Apparently you can charge devices directly from the panel but I wasn’t able to charge anything in this way.
The solar panel doesn’t really deliver enough output to top up the battery either. It took several days to recharge the battery in bright sunshine and in cloudy conditions you might as well forget it. It will probably charge quicker if the unit is stationary (rather than on the back of a bike or rucksack) but that isn’t really much good for outdoor use. The problem is that the panel is simply too small and doesn’t capture enough sunlight.
In addition to these problems is the basic design of the battery. Why the stupid mouse shape? It’s not exactly handy for putting in a pocket and the cable sticking out is a nuisance and a liability. It would be much more useful if both panel and battery had usb ports. For some reason Powertraveller have used proprietary connections, which also means you have to carry small adaptors for your device, which can easily get lost or broken. What’s more, the attachments for power-in are different for power-out so you have to carry even more cables and attachments. It’s one of the most poorly designed systems I’ve seen. To top it all off, the interface to the battery is needlessly complicated for such a simple device: why not simply make the thing output power when a device is connected rather than have to hold down the button to force the device to do it?
PRICE AND VALUE
At around £60 this isn’t a cheap device and if you have quick search on ebay you’ll find countless similar devices that are better designed. I picked up a battery for £15 that holds five times as much charge, uses usb ports, is much simpler, and isn’t much more bulky. Paired with a 5 watt solar panel it is considerably better than the solarmonkey. However, most UK retailers offer this or the even more lightweight Freeloader charger, which is like something you’d find in Poundland.
This is a poorly designed and outdated device. Why aren’t UK retailers offering customers something better?