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Solar Charger Roundup

9 April 2012 Leave a comment

This is a quick roundup of my favorite three solar chargers with their respective pros and cons.

Changers Starter Kit

Pros

  • Unique design
  • Social networking aspects
  • Detachable battery
  • Eco-conscious packaging
  • Micro-USB cable works well with the mophie battery pack
  • Standard USB port

Cons

  • Solar panel not very strong (needs excellent light source to work effectively)
  • Doesn’t always fully charge some devices

Details

 

JOOS Orange

Pros

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

Cons

  • No lights blink if the device is full
  • myJOOS software needs work (still not compatible with Lion)
  • microUSB cable difficult to insert
  • Yet more adapters

Details

 

Solio BOLT

Pros

  • Fast Apple-charging mode
  • Portable
  • Standard USB port

Cons

  • Can take several days to charge the internal battery
  • Too easy to leave the power on

Details

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Categories: Bolt, Changers, JOOS Orange, Solar, Solio

Efficiency

17 March 2012 Leave a comment

A recent Wired article reviewed four solar chargers, which included the JOOS Orange and the Solio BOLT.  One of the criticisms of the BOLT was that the smaller set of solar panels couldn’t compete well against the other products which featured larger solar panels.  Common sense would indicate that larger panels would be able to generate more energy.  Seems straightforward, right?  More panels = more power.  Well, yes — to a point.  However, the devilish details tend to make the facts a little fuzzy around the edges, which makes apple-to-apple comparisons difficult.

From what I’ve been told, the JOOS Orange has some of the best solar panels out there — it’s not just the size, but the quality and efficiency of the panels which allow them to generate so much power.  From my own experience, the larger panels and battery of the JOOS Orange have been distinct advantages over its competition.  Rarely have I been able to fully drain the JOOS Orange’s battery when charging up my devices.

WIRED’s article mentions that it took 9 hours to fill up the BOLT’S 7.4 Wh battery.  Now, what if the BOLT’s solar panels were so efficient that they could fully charge the battery in 2 hours, instead of 9?  Perhaps it is time to jump into the Delorean and set the course for the future.

What will solar chargers be like in 5, 10, or 20 years in the future?  If the nascent consumer solar charger market can make similar strides that computers have performed, then there is the possibility that solar chargers will be a common household appliance.  For that to occur, we’ll need to see great leaps in improvement in the efficiency of three areas: solar, batteries, and energy.

Solar Efficiency

The most obvious of the three areas.  Most solar panels are only 10 – 15% efficient in converting solar energy into electricity.  Being able to generate more power with the same surface area is a key goal.  But even the most efficient of today’s solar panels only reach around 20%, a far cry from the level that we’d like to achieve.  Ideally, a solar charger would be able to collect and store more energy than a person could reasonably use.

Battery Efficiency

The battery industry has tremendous potential and hurtles to meet current and future demands at both the consumer and industrial level.

Two decades ago, the word “battery” would have elicited thoughts of Energizer or Duracell.  The need for powerful and efficient batteries has become ever more necessary in a world filled with mobile devices (laptops, phones, tablets, etc.).  The third generation iPad increased its battery size to 42.5 Wh (versus the iPad 2’s 25Wh battery) to maintain up to a 10 hour charge while being able to power the higher resolution display and LTE networking.  The latest mobile phones struggle to go through a full day without draining their batteries.  The need for solar chargers to contain more efficient batteries is no less.

Energy Efficiency

Long before one should venture into the costly realm of installing a solar array for their house, one can perform other measures to reduce the amount of electricity they consume by using more energy efficient appliances, disconnecting machines from the wall when not in use, and just using less in general.

The aforementioned iPad increased its battery storage to be able to support the new features.  Phones such as the EVO 4G bleed through its battery due to its many antennae (WiMAX, 3G, WiFi) searching for signals.  A compromise between both software and hardware is needed to improve the overall performance and efficiency of mobile devices.  With less power used should lead to needing to charge the phone fewer times, which lengthens the life of the battery, in addition to improving the user experience with fewer charges.

To be able to meet the demand of charging up several mobile devices, I make use of four solar chargers (JOOS Orange, Solio BOLT, Solio Classic-i, Changers).  Still, this is only a small step towards a brighter and more energy efficient future.

Categories: Bolt, JOOS Orange, Solar, Solio

Solio Bolt

17 November 2011 2 comments

Solio Bolt

In August 2011, Solio released the Bolt, the successor to Solio’s Classic solar charger.

One of the new features to the Bolt is the Apple charging mode. Hold down the power button for five seconds, release, and the button should flash blue, instead of green. This provides for an optimized way to power up Apple devices, such as the iPhone and iPod touch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t officially charge up an iPad. Solio has hinted that they are working on a solution for iPads, though (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more!).

With roughly a third larger area for solar panels than what the Classic possessed, the Bolt does appear to charge up its internal battery a little faster than the Classic. However, since the Bolt has a larger battery than the Classic (2000 mAh versus 1650 mAh), the additional solar panel coverage might be necessary to help top off the larger battery. Despite the increased size in battery and solar panels, the Bolt can still fold down enough to be placed within a coat pocket. When the Bolt is in its collapsed form, it is actually thinner and not as tall as the Classic, but it is wider.

One of my favorite changes with the Bolt is the inclusion of a standard USB port, which reduces the need for specialized cables and adapter tips. I have had no difficulties in charging up a device by using a standard USB cable. A micro-USB port is also present to be able to externally charge the Bolt. I haven’t tried to power up the Bolt using another solar panel yet, which I’ve used to assist the Classic in charging its battery. However, trying to get to the USB ports is a pain, due to the rubber cover is secured quite tightly. I ended up using a set of pliers to open the cover. Like the Classic’s port cover, it is hinged by a thin strip of rubber. Time will tell how long this lasts, or if it will eventually break off in a year’s time.

Like the Solio Classic, one checks the battery level of the Bolt by pressing the sole button on the back of the charger. (1 blink = 1-19%, 5 blinks = 80-100%) A major difference, though, is that pressing this button also acts as an On/Off switch for the charger. Even if one just wants to check the battery level, one must also remember to press the button again, otherwise, the Bolt will be turned on, which can be determined by the button blinking every couple of seconds. This is one change I did not care for and preferred the Classic’s method of only staying on if it was charging another device. Otherwise, accidentally turning on the Bolt can needlessly drain the internal battery. I appreciate the simplicity of this device, but it seems that Solio tried to cram too many functions into the sole button. This might have been a time where adding a second button or switch (say, to check the power level) would have made the Solio a little easier to initially use without needing to refer to the user manual (you did read the manual, right?).

The Solio Bolt builds upon and improves on the capabilities of its predecessor . Due to the massive surge of mobile phones, the Bolt would be a useful accessory to just about anyone, especially those who drain their phone’s battery in a day’s time.

Categories: Bolt, Classic-i, Solar, Solio

Solio Update

1 September 2011 Leave a comment

I have owned the Solio Classic-i for a little over a year and the iPhone 3GS for two years.  As one would expect, the capacity of a rechargeable battery declines over time.  Yesterday, I performed an experiment to see how well the batteries have held up over time.  My iPhone was completely drained and the Solio Classic-i was fully charged.  I plugged in the Solio into the iPhone and let the charging begin.  Once the Solio’s battery was drained, I checked the status of the iPhone’s battery: 53%.

Considering that the iPhone 3GS’s battery is rated at 1219 mAh and the Solio Classic-i’s battery is rated at 1,650 mAh, these results are not optimal by any means.  Ideally, the Solio should be able to fully charge the iPhone and still have some energy remaining.

What does this mean?  If a fully charged Solio Classic-i can barely fill half of my two-year old iPhone 3GS’s battery, that seems to indicate that the Solio’s battery has lost a lot of its original capacity over the past year.  However, considering I have used the Solio at nearly every opportunity that I have had, this might be expected with the constant charging and discharging of the battery over the course of a year.  Bettery Energy Systems, the maker of the Solio products, has a YouTube video available on how to change out the battery in a Solio Classic-i.

In other Solio news, the Classic-i model is being replaced by the new Solio Bolt.   The Bolt eschews the triangular-petal design of the Classic-i and makes use of a more rectangular shape, which allows for a larger set of solar panels and a larger battery.  The website claims that the Solio Bolt contains a 2000 mAh Li-Poly battery.  The first batch of Solio Bolts has already sold out, so I’m waiting for my order to be delivered.

Categories: Bolt, Classic-i, Solio