As part of my long-term goal of living off the energy grid, I decided to get my feet wet with a small, inexpensive solar power charger for my iPhone and other small electronics. My Solar ReStore solar battery pack turned out to be a great way to get started using free energy from the sun.
Priced around $30 from Amazon.com, my Solar ReStore unit arrived swiftly in a white plastic bubble-pack mailer. The package is made of that rigid clear plastic that you need scissors to open and can give you a deep 'paper' cut if you are not careful. I cut off the top of the plastic with kitchen shears and carefully made a cut down the side to pull out the materials.
The charging unit itself is almost exactly the size of my iPhone, being a tiny bit larger and considerably lighter. The front consists of a solar panel. The sides offer a USB port, an AC charging port, an LED light on a long, flexible stem that wraps around the side of the unit, an LED light button and a charging indicator light. The back of the unit has a press button indicator showing how charged the unit's battery is - 20, 50, 80 and 100%.
My solar charger arrived 50% charged from the sun, which is apparently as much of a charge as the unit can get from solar power only. I hooked the unit to a wall outlet with the included AC adapter and waited around an hour to see the charge total listed as a full 100%.
From this point I connected my iPhone, which was down to a 20% charge, to the unit to see how long the stored energy in the charger would take to top up. It was a simple matter to plug my iPhone cord right into the USB port on the charger. At that point I clicked the sliding switch to "on" and waited. After two hours my phone was 100% charged. It only took an hour to bring me to a 50% charge, for reference. I disconnected the charger and plugged it back into the wall to get back to a 100% charge.
Since the charger has both a solar panel for energy charging and a battery to hold the energy, I am pleased that I can run my phone indefinitely off the power of the sun. While running the unit purely with solar has limitations (ie - you can only charge the charger to the 50% mark), I can easily work around those limits by paying attention to my use and charging habits. The price was excellent, I was pleased with the thoughtful accessories included, the LED light runs for 20 hours off a single charge, and I can be confident to have a working iPhone no matter when/where I go.
Besides charging my phone, I can also charge other electronics like a Kindle, Nook, Bluetooth, MP3 player, GPS unit or any USB-connectable handheld device. I will test this on my Toshiba Netbook next.
There are three ways to charge the charger - using the sun, using an AC cord (included), or by using a USB cord (also included) to take energy from your laptop or other fully-powered electronic item. This is convenient versatility.
Since I do a lot of camping and RV boondocking, I anticipate getting a lot of use from my Solar ReStore charger. I would also use this for overseas traveling, long car drives, cruise ship trips (any boating really), and in emergency situations when the power is down or unaccessible.
The two included window suction cups are useful for charging the unit in car or home windows.
The LED light is plenty to read by at night, or cook with, or provide enough low lighting to find your way around camp or a dark house. The flexible stem makes it easy to direct light where you want it.
I like the included cloth protective bag. It protects the solar panel when sliding around in my purse! It also lets my fingers know that I am not grabbing my phone, since they are the same size and configuration.
The unit does NOT have a clip, grommet hole or any way to attach itself to the outside of a backpack. Many units like this do come with some kind of attachment point you can clip a carabiner or bungie cord to. My solution is to place the solar panel facing out in a freezer strength Ziplock bag and duct tape the edges of the bag to the outside of my pack. It takes six hours to charge the unit (and again, only to 50% using the sun's energy), so you do have to make sure the panel receives as much light as possible. What's nice is that it does not have to receive direct solar light to charge - although direct light does help speed things up.
I would still rather see an upgrade of this unit have some kind of attachment point for clipping purposes.
A car-charging (cigarette lighter outlet) is not included, which would have been a thoughtful charging option for auto travelers on overcast days or at night.
The Solar ReStore charger is not designed to be used while charging. In other words, you can't sit in the sun and run your phone while it is charging in a continuous manner. You either charge the unit or suck the charge from the unit.
I was aware of this point when I bought it, but it's worth noting here. For the price, it's an outstanding charger. To buy an active solar electronics charger you need to step up into the $300-$500 price range and look at 'sherpa' type models.
You have to remember to turn the button off and on when charging your phone. It won't automatically start charging your phone once plugged in, and you have to also remember to turn the charger officially OFF once charging is complete, unless you wish to run the battery completely dry.
Altogether, from my research this is the best quality small electronic solar unit available for an entry-level price. I'm very pleased with the quality and performance of the Solar ReStore, the LED light is worth having for the price alone, and the accessory kit is thoughtfully assembled. Well recommended.
ReVIVE Series Solar ReStore 1500mAh External Battery Pack with Universal USB Charging Port for HTC , Motorola , Samsung , T-Mobile Android Smartphones / Kindle 2 , DX , Nook / AT&T and Verizon Apple iPod , iPhone and More USB Powered Devices
Note - I bought the Solar ReStore unit with my own funds