Gomadic puts charge into solar power with SunVolt (February 4th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: Gomadic
Price: $99 plus $40 for Solar Cache battery
- Low price for entry into solar charging
- Durable build
- Newest in solar tech
- Battery essentially vital
- Precise alignment difficult
- Dark day? No charge.
Solar energy still has a ways to go for widespread adoption, despite its 'green' nature. It doesn't have a high power density, meaning that a large area of solar panels, intense sunlight, or both, is required for optimal energy generation. Plus, the panels are expensive. Reston, VA-based Gomadic Corp supplies the former Kickstarter project SunVolt Solar Charger, in an attempt to make solar charging available to the masses, at least for portable devices. Electronista checks to see if the SunVolt has worked around common issues with solar panels.
First of all, an observation. The SunVolt charger is by no means an instant charger. The SunVolt (which we tested) is a 10W charger, with the larger SunVolt Max capable of delivering 15W. The devices are generally portable, with the SunVolt weighing in at 4.7 pounds in our tested configuration. The SunVolt website claims the Max version weighs 5.75 pounds, pushing the definition of "easily portable" a little, but still in the realm of possibility.
The SunVolt comes in a convenient, and well-built nylon carrying case, with adequate protection for the device. We lugged it around, and winced a bit when it took a hit on the subway or just in normal travel, fearing for the delicate solar panel, but the case took all the knocks with no damage to the charger or contents.
As shipped, the SunVolt comes with an assortment of charger tips, including a 30-pin Apple Dock Connector, and various flavors of USB tips. If there's a custom need other than what's provided, the USB tips are adaptable. Plus, we found the 30-pin to Lightning adapter in conjunction with the SunVolt worked to charge a new Apple device without issue.
What doesn't come with the base unit, but we were provided for testing, is the Solar Cache Battery Pack. As far as we are concerned, this is a vital "accessory" for the device. As batteries will, it takes a charge from the panel with or without a device attached, and if the intensity of the sunlight allows, will both charge the device and take a charge.
This review process started with time from full depletion to full charge across an assortment of devices, ranging from iPhones, to portable electronics, through some children's toys. There were so many variables involved with charging plus variances in charging times across multiple runs, that there was no uniformity in data, which made comparisons effectively impossible. Suffice it to say, that the charger panel charges best outdoors, directly facing the sun, than it does in the winter pointed out a window even in strong sunlight.
The device doesn't suffer from its implementation, but rather the vagaries of solar charging. We found it to be well engineered, and sturdy from an design perspective. The sun and weather, despite both allowing for life on this planet, are the real issues. We used a multimeter to check for maximum charging, and therefore, optimal alignment with the sun, but not every user has that option, or the inclination to do so, and may want a product that can be set down, and "just work," to borrow a phrase.
The SunVolt itself does as it says on the tin. It charges portable devices like as if it was plugged into a USB charger on AC power. It won't provide enough power for a laptop, or other high-drain device, but it isn't meant to. We think that the price is right, but the utility of the device is hampered greatly without the $40 battery -- the price is right for the addition based on the greatly enhanced capabilities of the device with the battery installed. The four star rating we gave the product is with the battery. Without the battery, subtract one full star, as far as we are concerned.