Portable solar chargers for your phone or laptop

John Adams, Imogen Oxley, Pete Cooper
Tuesday, 10th August 2010

Solar chargers ranging from the pocket-sized to backpack proportions - John Adams, Imogen Oxley and Pete Cooper test them out

While the summer sun is still with us I thought I would update you with our experiences of using a range of solar generation products. pico4.jpgOne of the most popular has to be the tiny Freeloader Pico. This is a very neat 800mA charger/power supply for mobile phones, Mp3 players, etc. It can recharge itself in 10 hours in sunshine or can be topped up using a USB port. It’s small size and neat appearance was a hit with our two female testers who used it to keep their mobiles going at multi day festivals. This portable solar charger is pocket-sized, and beautifully streamlined – designed to take up as little space as possible in your pocket or bag. The Pico will be fully charged within three hours via its USB cable – or from the sun alone in ten hours. Once charged, and connected to a mobile phone for half an hour, it provides 35 hours of power. It will also charge iPods, GPS devices and MP3 players. The amount of charge remaining in the Pico is clearly apparent in the number of red LED lights illuminated on the front. It recharged my mobile during the three days I was at Sunrise this year with no problems at all. At only £19.95 this really is a device worth investing in.


More power: a solar step up

If you want a bit more solar recharged power then the Powerplus Cobra Solar Charger/Powerbank may be just the thing. This is a large paperback book sized solar panel in a fabric case which has a removable 1000mA powerbank, and a range of adaptor tips and cables all neatly stored in two pockets on the back. It has attachment points for simple mounting, to rucksacks, bikes, etc., or can be used freestanding. The Cobra recharges in about 3 hours in full sunshine. I took it to the Snowdonia National Park to keep my iPhone’s GPS running. It clipped very neatly to the back of my day sack and didn't effect access to the pack or noticeably add to the weight. Despite the typically varied Welsh weather it kept on charging and easily kept up with my recharging needs.

For even more power there is always the Power Gorilla a portable power bank which can not only power/charge almost any mobile phone, PDA, Mp3or GPS but can also manage small laptop computers and netbooks. This is possible because it can out either 24V, 19V or 16V through its main outlet and 5V by a USB socket.

PG+and+SG+in+use.jpgI have had one for a couple of years now and regularly top up my iPhone from it plus I have used it successfully to run both an old IBM laptop and more recently my netbook. It’s capacity depends on the output voltage selected for example it is rated at 5,500mAh at 19V, so is probably as big as your existing laptop battery. It comes with a wide range of power tips to connect to almost any portable device. It is recharged either using the included international mains charger or by a Solar Gorilla folding solar panel.

The Solar Gorilla is the main reason I haven’t reviewed this product before. Originally the makers specified that the panels were designed for use only in really sunny parts of the world. However, Pete Cooper and I have both successfully used our Solar Gorillas in gloomy old Britain both to recharge the Power Gorilla and to recharge netbooks and laptops directly. I ran the Solar Gorilla in various places, primarily to recharge a small netbook laptop while out and about. It happily charged an old iPod via the Apple iPod cable which went straight into the USB port on the Solar Gorilla. It’s hard to say how long the charge took on the iPod and netbook but they were both fully charged at the end of an 8 hour period of sunshine.

Pete Cooper says: "These are serious bits of kit but if you want the best solar powered portable power for mobile devices look no further".