Power Traveller Solar Charger: Power Monkey Explorer
I'd hankered after a solar charger for my various gadgets for some time, but always put off actually getting one on the belief that the technology would get better and better. After a couple of months of using this neat little combination from Power Traveller I'd say it was worth the wait, but things still aren't quite perfect.
The set, retailing at around £65 includes a chunky weather proof battery which you can charge up either via the included fold-out solar panels, a direct hook up to the mains, or via USB port on any computer. Once charged (or even once partially charged) you can then connect the battery to your phone, MP3 player or whatever other gizmo you have that fits one of the myriad of interchangeable connectors, and directly transfer the juice to your device. Frustratingly you can't plug your device into the battery whilst it is charging from whichever of the three sources you have chosen. This is arguably bot much of an issue if charging from the mains or USB as you will no doubt have your regular charger with you and can plug that directly to the source, but I found it to be limiting when using the solar panel; the main issue being if you need to make a call (or use your device) before the unit has charged.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to some when buying solar chargers for this is that most won't charge camera batteries, or anything that ordinarily charges via a transformer / 3 pin plug combination. It is possible to buy such devices, but they generally don't come as standard on the light-weight products like the Power Monkey / Explorer. Not a show-stopper by any means as you really should read the spec before buying, but something to consider.
In terms of performance the combo worked pretty well. Charging from the mains and USB is a doddle, but solar charging by contrast was less than ideal. I used the unit in a variety of environments, from a cloudy day in the Peak to 30degrees in the direct sun in the French Ardeche. Even after a day in the latter the battery never took on as much juice as it would do via USB or mains. A friend on the Ardeche trip had a competitors' model which fared worse so we concluded that the technology still isn't quite there yet to enable an instant charge - or at least it isn't there on a £65 unit. That brings me on to value for money. For £65 you get a lot of kit, all presented beautifully in a hard plastic box so no complaints there.
One omission as far as I am concerned is a car cigarette lighter adapter. Again you could argue that if you are in the car you should already have your car charger to hand, but the thing I liked best about this set up was the versatility of it. I managed to charge various different models of phone and MP3 over a 4 week trip to France.
All in all, a well priced, very cool product that does what it says it does, just don't expect instant energy directly from the sun.
Update - 15-Nov-2010
In response to the review I posted today, here is a statement from Power Traveller:
Thanks for the review. Your comments re the solarpanel's efficiency are valid and our recommendations would be to use the solarpanel to top up the powermonkey once the unit has been used to recharge your chosen device. Six hours of good-to-excellent UV will recharge the powermonkey by one third.
The option to daisy-chain ie. connect the solarpanel to the powermonkey and then charge a mobile etc is not offered on the explorer for safety reasons.
The powermonkey has to regulate the amount of current going in and out when connected to the solarpanel to protect the device being charged from spikes in UV. If we did away with this feature, the possible cause of a UV spike could be that it would send the gadget being recharged back to factory reset mode.
The overall efficiency of the solarpanel, particularly in low level UV conditions, will be improved next year as we introduce a rolling change and implement MPPT technology in the product.
Here is the spec from the Power Traveller website:
Ultra compact, tough, powerful and Made for iPod approved, the powermonkey-eXplorer is water resistant and made from rubberised casing so can take whatever life throws at it, yet it remains the lightest, most versatile portable charger available today.
Featuring an LCD screen that displays battery capacity and the level of charge, the powermonkey-eXplorer also has short-circuit protection, over-charging protection and anti-discharging protection. The included mains charger has interchangeable heads for UK, Europe, US and Australia - so you can use it in over 150 countries around the world!
Available in 4 fantastic colours; Blue, Grey, Pink and Yellow - stylish and essential!
Each powermonkey-eXplorer kit contains...
1 x powermonkey-eXplorer portable charger
1 x solarmonkey portable solar charger
1 x universal mains charger which will work in over 150 countries and has interchangeable heads for UK, Europe, US & Australia
Tips for: Nokia and mini Nokia, Retractable USB cable, Micro USB, Mini USB, Samsung G600, iPod / iPhone tip, LG Chocolate, Sony Ericsson wide connector, Female USB, DC4.0 for Sony PSP
1 x pouch for storage
1 x User guide