Summer’s here and the heat is on. While I’m not really a fan of the Indian summers, it does have a little merit in this particular sense – Solar power. A company called Solmate has designed this all in one solar powered portable charger that I just had to get my hands on to see just how handy a gadget it would be. I put it through its paces and here’s what I can tell you if you’re looking for such a device.
The design is what I really liked about the Solmate. It’s equipped with a solar cell (5.5v, 45mA) and built-in battery pack to store energy. It’s extremely lightweight making it very portable. Like most portable chargers, it’s bundled with plenty of connector ‘heads’ or ports to suit all kinds of devices – from mobile handsets small pin connectors to micro and mini USB ports as well as some proprietary connectors for older Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung models as well.
Sleek and lightweight
A connector for Apple products was also thrown in. Although it worked with no issues on the iPad, it initially encountered problems charging the iPhone 4, as anything that an iPhone is docked to sometimes needs to be a compatible accessory for it to work. It worked quite well with all other models including the new iPod Touch and older versions of the iPod.
The Solmate features a male USB connector on one end that can slide out and attached to a little extension cable (USB 2.0) for PC interfacing. Not only does this allow you to charge the device when you’re indoors but you can also transfer and store data to the Solmate Fusion’s internal 4GB (8GB model also available) of storage space (Flash). So not only is it a charger but also a thumb drive. The second USB port (female), located at the bottom is for the charging cable.
Plenty of connectors for all kinds of devices
A small Blue backlit display is placed just above the solar panel in front to indicate battery charge and device connectivity. It’s really quite handy since you can easily keep track of how much energy has been discharged or stored. It lights up when plugged to a PC. The Solmate also has a little space for tethering it to a cord that you could even strap around your neck or your backpack.
I found the Solmate Fusion to be an extremely handy device to have while travelling. Seeing as I usually have a couple of devices on me like an iPad, mobile phone and sometimes a PMP, I hate running out of juice at inappropriate times. The Solmate came to my rescue on more than one occasion and although it’s not designed to give your device - whatever it may be - a full charge, it’ll give you enough to watch a 20 minute video clip or get a little over an hour's worth of talk time.
Have sun, will charge
Since it’s so slim and lightweight, it was easy to just slip it into my pocket and not worry about damaging it. Although it does come off a little plastic-y, I found it to be quite sturdy as survived a couple of drops from over 3 feet. You can also leave your Solmate in the sun connected to your phone or other device (which should be in the shade) to charge on the go.
Solar charging took about 8.5 hours for the battery to fully soak up all the energy it needed for a full charge. Incidentally, it also charged quite a bit under halogen/standard light bulbs at close quarters. USB charging was of course much faster; clocking in at 3 hours and 10 minutes to fully charge the battery pack. Now don’t expect the Solmate to charge your devices as fast as DC would. It’s a much longer process, unfortunately. But like I said, you could simply plug it in and go about your business while it’s being charged.
There’s just one issue that bothered me about this device - even after I charged it to capacity, having left it idle for about half a day seemed to mysteriously drain the battery. Not by much, but a few bars simply dropped away.
The Bottom Line
With a price tag of Rs. 995 for the 4GB model and Rs. 1,495 for 8GB, the Solmate Fusion is a pretty reasonably priced portable charger. It’s definitely a handy gadget to take with you on a trip be it in the wild outdoors, long journeys or those annoyingly long commutes home after a full day's work where your phone’s battery is clinging dearly to it’s last bar. The little extra boost the Solmate provides can make quite a difference in most situations.