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JOOS Orange

21 August 2011 Leave a comment

Product Size

One of the most disappointing things about the state of many solar devices is that they more closely resemble a bizarre, hobbyist’s electronic project which was constructed in the basement on Saturday afternoon rather than a device intended for consumer use.  Fortunately, there are a couple of companies who are applying a proper level of aesthetic taste to their products which make them both useful and visually appealing.  Solio’s line of chargers were the first set of devices I noticed which embraced both form and function, but Solio’s devices certainly aren’t alone now.

Enter the JOOS Orange, by Solar Components, LLC, which has already been on the market for a year, which surprised me that it took so long to discover this brilliant device.

Construction

The JOOS Orange has similar size and weight to a Kindle, yet it has a very durable feel to it.  It’s compact enough to be easily carried in a backpack, but too large to be tucked into a pocket (like the Solio Classic or iGo Charge Anywhere).  This device is ideal for using at home, in a car, or on a backpacking trip.

It can continue charging when submerged in water and even survived getting shot.  I didn’t try shooting the Orange, but mine did get a little wet in a rain shower and has shown no problems.  One distinct advantage I’ve found with using the Orange is that it has a maximum operating temperature of 60 °C (140 °F), which is ideal for charging the device in a hot car.

The device has a decent sized hole which serves as a security hole, placed in a steel substrate.  I could imagine making use of the security hole by running a security cable through it and locking it to a porch so it doesn’t accidentally “walk away” while it is charging outside.

The two adjustable legs on the back are a welcome feature to be able to prop up the device without the need of a pencil or other object.

The microUSB port is covered by a rubber “foot”.  Unfortunately, this plastic feels like it will eventually bend, tear, crack, and eventually fall off.  I estimate that the rubber foot lasts about a year before it falls off.  I have also found trying to plug in the cable to the microUSB port can take a couple of attempts to insert properly.  If the Orange was very thin, then using a microUSB port might have made sense, but I imagine that a standard USB port could have also been used, which would have been ideal to use with cables which already can be powered over USB.  I also found that the cable connection could be somewhat tentative and could easily stop charging a device if the device or cable was nudged or bumped.

The JOOS Orange comes with a bevy of adapter tips — 6 in all.  I ended up purchasing another tip to be able to charge up a Nintendo DS.  However, for my needs, I have only used the adapters for the Nintendo DS and for the iPhone/iPad.  I appreciate the number of tips they offer by default, but it does mean I have yet more tips laying around the house.  Perhaps if Solar Components had gone with making use of the iGo adapter tips, I could have conserved on the number of cables and tips I owned.  Also included in the packaging is a plastic pouch to keep all of your cables and adapter tips neatly stored.

I found that when the JOOS Orange was connected to either an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, the connection could be intermittent, often connecting and disconnecting on its own.  However, I have not encountered this problem when connected to an iPhone 4S.

Since this is a green-minded product, even the packaging of the box has been constructed from recycled paper.  Brownie points earned for that nice touch.

Battery

With a 5400 mAh battery, it can easily charge up the entire battery of my iPhone 3GS, with plenty of power to spare.  After charging my iPhone from 10% to 100%, it drained the Orange from full to around half (3 green blinks).   Ideally, the Orange should be able to charge up an iPhone several times (depending on how old your phone’s battery is).

Due to the larger set of solar panels and decent sized battery, I have not been able to completely drain the Orange in the several weeks I’ve had it.  The battery is of a sufficient size that it can charge up a phone with plenty of power left over, which then allows the Orange enough time to recharge itself.

One major advantage of the JOOS Orange is that it can provide sufficient power to be able to charge up an iPad, which has been a shortcoming of many other chargers due to the higher power requirements demanded by the iPad.

While the device is charging, a green light will occasionally flicker to indicate how full the battery is.  This works if the device is charging, but it does not provide a very effective way to determine the battery’s charge without using the companion myJOOS software.  A more ideal method to determine the battery’s charge would be a button which can be pressed that will then display a row of LED lights to indicate the battery’s state (i.e. the battery on a Mac laptop).  The most befuddling thing about displaying the battery’s charge is that it will not blink when the Orange is full.  My Orange had been charging in a car, and when I took it out, none of the lights were blinking, which concerned me that either the heat of the car had caused the Orange to either shut down, or even worst, die.  Fortunately, the device had charged in the hot car just fine and was full.

Software

An April 2010 Wired review remarked that the myJOOS software was not originally available for the Mac, but the good news for those Apple-loving users is that myJOOS has been brought to the Mac.  Plug the JOOS Orange into your computer and start up the myJOOS Dashboard, which will give extra information, such as how full the battery is, or how much solar energy the device is currently producing.  This last feature isn’t too ideal unless you have the Orange sitting in the sun while connected to a computer the same time.

Now for the not-so-good news.  I make my bread and butter as a Mac and iOS developer, so I can be quite picky about software.  When I try out a new piece of software, I like to poke around and see if it has that expected look and feel of a proper Mac application.  Perhaps some of the details I will point out may not be important to everyone, but I feel that this software requires a lot more polish so it can properly compliment its hardware sibling.  As I mentioned, I write software for a living, so some of my opinions might be quite critical.

Installer

Installers are rarely seen for Mac programs these days, unless the program needs to install a set of necessary files in specific locations (such as support files or drivers).  If the installer is needed, it might be better to just compress and archive the installer package as a Zip file, instead of packaging it into a disk image (DMG).

Whenever I do see a installer, I hesitate, unless an uninstaller has been provided, as well.  I wanted to know what files are being installed on my system, so with the installer program running, I went to  the Files > Show Files menu.  The first thing I see in the list of files is ./Dashboard.app.  This made me nervous, since every Mac with Mac OS 10.4 or later already has an application called Dashboard in the main Applications folder.  As a precaution, I backed up the original Dashboard before continuing with the myJOOS Dashboard install.

I continued through the remainder of the installation procedure.  When it was complete, I was initially a little lost at what got installed and where it was located, so I looked through the Applications folder.  The original Dashboard had not been affected, so that was good.  I didn’t see anything under myJOOS, either.  After a little further searching, I found the Solar Components folder, which contained the myJOOS Dashboard folder, which ultimately contained Dahsboard.app and a host of other folders and files.  Ideally, a Mac application should be be encapsulated as a single application bundle which is placed into the Applications folder.  The nested folders architecture works well for Windows, but it feels out of place on the Mac.  If there are support files that are needed by the application, then they should be either located within the application bundle or placed into an appropriate location such as the ~/Library/Application Support/ directory.

Considering that this software works with external hardware, I assumed that the installer was necessary to install an appropriate driver to communicate with the JOOS Orange.  After looking through the list of installed files and checking the list of running kernel extensions, I could not find any proof that a another driver was used to communicate between the hardware and software.

Unless there is something specific to be installed, my recommendation would be to wrap the myJOOS Dashboard software into a single application bundle and distribute as a disk image, and do away with the use of an installer.

Icon

For whatever bizarre reason, the application’s icon has been limited to a highly pixelated 32×32 image.  The icon file needs to be properly formatted for various resolutions (512×512, 256×256, 128×128, 32×32, 16×16) for a proper visual experience.  This is one of those little issues that is easy to fix to provide for a cleaner look.

Main interface

The interface is pretty simple, which shows how full the Orange’s battery is, and it can also display how much power the device is generating at that time.  In my tests, I’ve noticed the battery charge meter fluctuate, depending on the current voltage.  At times, this produces erratic results on determining the state of the Orange’s battery.  Overall, it does give a decent estimate ofthe charge of the battery.  There are several fields indicating the number of Watt-hours uploaded.  Since this program doesn’t come with a Help system, I wasn’t able to get any further information from this besides what little was mentioned within the EULA.

Menu system

myJOOS Dashboard contains the traditional application menu, but the About Dashboard and Preferences menus are non-functional.  Instead, most of the functionality is in the single Program menu, which contains two menus: About and Exit.  Exit works as expected, but on a Mac application, it should be named “Quit”.  Fortunately, the Quit Dashboard menu under the application menu is present and functional.  The About menu (which should also be linked to the About Dashboard menu under the application menu) displays an About screen.  On the About Dashboard window is an Installation Details button, which gives a lot of nitty-gritty details about the installation, which really is not even necessary.  How many users would really care about seeing the Installation Details?  Probably not many.  This is an option best left out.

Java

If all of the org.eclipse references and non-traditional menu system didn’t already tip me off that myJOOS Dashboard was developed in Java, there was one more test to prove it.  Run myJOOS Dashboard under a fresh copy of the newly released Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”.

On the Mac, Java has always been a second-rate citizen — at least, until recently.  With the recent release of Lion, Java has been even further demoted since the Java runtime is not part of the initial Lion install.  To run the myJOOS software under Lion, the Java runtime will need to be installed first.  Another mark against Java is that any application developed with a deprecated technology (such as Java) will not be accepted into the Mac App Store.

This process of the Java runtime being an optional component is reminiscent of what Apple did with Rosetta in Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard”.  Now with Lion, the PowerPC-emulation capabilities provided by Rosetta have been removed all together.  Might we see something similar happen with Java in the future?  I hope not, but don’t bet against Apple to not do such a thing.  Apple has become notorious for discarding what it has deemed old technologies (even when those technologies might still be used frequently).  While I can understand that Java might have been used to provide for a cross-platform solution for myJOOS Dashboard, it might be in the best interest of the future of the Mac version of myJOOS to be ported to a native Cocoa-based application.  (And did I mention that I’m a Mac and iOS developer?  Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

Update [ 3 December 2011 ]

The JOOS Orange website current makes note that the Dashboard software does not currently run on Mac OS 10.7.  I tested this and was greeted with the following error message:

Error Message

 

I contacted the company and they let me know that they are working on a fix.

After all of that nit-picking, do I like anything about this software?  As a long-time Mac user and software developer, I greatly appreciate that a Mac version was created.  It is very heartening to me to see that Apple has returned to a stage where it is worthwhile for third parties to write software for Apple’s hardware.  The JOOS Orange is an excellent device, and I would like the companion software to reflect that same level of quality.

One further note about software: the myJOOS website mentions an iOS app is also in the works and should be available by the end of 2011.

Pros

  • Large battery
  • Large solar panels which produce a decent charge rate
  • Strong, durable, and waterproof
  • myJOOS software available for both Windows and Mac
  • Adjustable legs
  • Works in hot conditions
  • iPad compatible

Cons

  • No lights blinking if device is full
  • myJOOS software needs work
  • microUSB difficult to insert
  • Loose cable connection to iPhone3GS and iPhone 4 (iPhone 4S works fine)
  • Yet more adapters

Details

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Categories: JOOS Orange, Solar, Solio

Solio Extended

1 August 2011 Leave a comment

Several months ago I purchased a solar panel recharger with the lengthy description of “3, 6, 9, and 12 Volt Solar Panel With AA and 9 Volt Battery Charger (Model No. ES884)” at Harbor Freight. This odd device is the result of a mad scientist’s frankenstein effort infected with feature creep. The panel comes with alligator clips, 5 DC-style plugs, a 9-volt battery charger, and the ability to charge AA batteries. Singularity was not in the design of this device.

My original experimentation with the ES884 was to just try it out and perhaps charge up some batteries. However, I have finally found better use for it. Fortunately, one of the various DC jacks included plugs into the DC port on the Solio Classic-i. I set the ES884 to 6V and stuck the panel in bright sunlight. With the Solio not exposed to the sun, but linked up to the ES884, the red LED on the Solio lit up, indicating that it was getting enough power for a charge.

Encouraged by the success of this experiment, I looked at other solutions to assist in charging the Solio.  One of the accessories which comes with the Solio Classic-i is a USB-to-DC adapter, which can charge up the Solio from a computer’s USB port.  Since a USB port typically gives out a maximum of 5 Watts of power, I was curious if I could create a system which could generate at least 5W of power to be able to charge up devices via USB (Solio, phones, etc.).

I already had a 2W Coleman solar panel, but that wouldn’t produce enough power for this experiment, so I picked up the larger variation of this solar panel, the Coleman 6 Watt Solar Battery Trickle Charger at Menards for around $50.  (Note: This solar panel is marketed by Coleman, but produced by Sunforce.)  The Coleman panels come with “Quick Connect Cables” which allows for easy switching between different cable ends (12V male car adapter plug, alligator clips, etc.).  I went to Batteries+ and picked up a 12V female car adapter for around $8.  With the female car adapter connected to the solar panel’s cable, I was able to take a typical 12V-to-USB converter and plug it in.  I initially picked up a $12 RCA 12V-to-USB adapter, but it made an odd buzzing noise which concerned me.  I then found a Belkin adapter I already had.  What I am currently using is the AT&T car charger for iPhone, which also contains a USB port on it.

  • 6 Watt Solar Battery Trickle Charger ($50)
  • 12 Volt Female Car Adapter ($8)
  • 12 Volt Male to USB Car Adapter ($12+)
  • Solio Classic-i ($70)

With the addition of the 6W solar panel, I can easily fully charge the Solio’s battery in a day or two, depending on how much sun was available that particular day.  Disregarding the Solio Classic-i, the set up cost around $70 USD.  If the solar panel is getting hit by direct sunlight, it is also possible to connect up other devices to the USB port.  I have also powered up an iPhone 3GS, a 2nd generation iPod touch, a Samsung Flight phone, and the 2010 iPod nano.

The design of the Solio is wonderful, but it takes several days of consistent direct sunlight to charge up the internal battery.  Fortunately, the Solio was designed to get a little extra boost when necessary, and connecting another set of solar panels can help store more energy, which makes the Solio useful on a day-to-day basis.  Considering that I need to charge up my phone every day or two (depending on how much I use it), having a perpetually charged Solio makes it a more ideal device for me.

Categories: Coleman, ES884, Solar, Solio, Sunforce