If you’re considering buying a solar phone charger either for yourself or for that eco-friendly gadget-lover in your life, it’s a good idea to give some careful consideration to how you plan on using it before you buy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly keen on solar power!
However, unless you need to charge your phone and other gadgets where ‘plugging-in’ isn’t an option, you might want to rethink your need for a solar charger.
I only say this because every phone comes with a charger already and energy has already gone into producing this charger. If you then get a solar charger in addition to this, it is unlikely that the energy you save in using solar power will compensate for the emissions and energy used to manufacture it.
So, if you only plan on using the solar charger in your house, I would suggest saving yourself some money and sticking with the charger it came with. If, however, you’re looking for a car adapter or other means of charging your phone off the grid…then, let’s talk solar!
Seven things to consider when buying a solar phone charger
Cost – You can spend anywhere from $30 – $120 for a solar phone charger, so given the range, money is always going to be a factor. It seems as though with solar chargers, you get what you pay for. Lower cost items may compromise quality, durability, and have lower output than items that cost more. The trick (as usual) is to get the most for your money.
Portability – Think about where the charger will most likely be used. Is it in the car or at a cabin where portability is less of an issue, or is it while back-packing or travelling where weight and size are more of a factor?
Output – Whether charging directly off the solar panel, or off the battery, you want to know what the output is as this will affect the charge capacity and rate for charging your device.
Battery capacity – Most solar chargers have the option of charging your gadget directly or charging the battery, which is then used to charge your appliance. Having a battery means you can charge it during daylight hours and then plug your device in overnight to recharge. So, compare the battery capacity when comparison shopping. If you have a look at your phone battery (in milliamp hours (mAh)) you will know how many charges you will get for your phone given the battery capacity of the charger. For example, you will get two and a bit charges from a 2,200 mAh battery for a phone with a 1000 mAh battery.
Charge rate – you will want to know how long it takes to fully charge the charger’s battery using solar power.
Compatability – many chargers now come with adapters for multiple devices (e.g., MP3 players, multiple phones types, USB powered devices) as well as multiple countries. Consider what you will need to get the most out of your charger.
Style – There are a number of different styles of solar phone charger out there these days. Clamshell designs have the solar panels placed within a hard outer casing that opens up like a clam to expose the panels to the sun. You then close up the clam to protect the solar cells while travelling. There are now variations on this design, but essentially the idea is the same. The solar cells are protected by a hard case that folds out in some form or other. The advantage to this design is that the solar cells are well protected. The disadvantage is that the case makes it heavier and it isn’t as compact as some alternative designs.
Thin-film solar cell technology has made flexible roll-out designs possible. Because this style of charger folds or rolls up very small, you usually get more solar cells, and therefore more wattage, for the same amount of volume of a clamshell charger. The disadvantage is that this style tends to come with a higher price tag.
There are also portable panels that can be strapped to bags or even bicycle racks to allow charging on the go.
Whatever the style, you essentially want something that is as big as possible when folded out (i.e. more solar cells) and is as compact as possible when folded up for portability.
Three solar phone chargers compared
Using the criteria or considerations above, I’ve compared three solar phone chargers currently on the market:
|Powertraveller PowerMonkey Explorer portable solar charger||Solio Classic Hybrid solar charger||FreeLoader Solar Charger|
|Cost (on Amazon)||$109.95||$99.99||$49.95|
|Portability||Compact and lightweight (5.6 oz without the case).||Compact and lightweight (2.75 oz)||Pocket-sized (5.3 oz)|
|Output DC||5 volts||3 volts||5.5 volts|
|Battery capacity||2200mAh battery.Charges phone three times and provides 70 minutes of talk time.||1,650 mAh battery.Charges phone more than twice and provides 20 minutes of talk time.||1,000 mAh battery. Charges phone once and provides 30 minutes of talk time.|
|Battery charge rate||Takes 10-12 hours to charge by solar assuming 100% efficiency. More realistically 15-18 hours.||8-10 hours to fully charge in sunlight.||5 hours to fully charge in sunlight.|
|Compatability||Includes mains travel charger for use in 150 countries.Compatable with the majority of standard mobile phones and USB connectors power up iPods, MP3 players, PDAs and digital cameras.||Claims to be compatible with over 3,200 devices and includes 7 adapter tips.||Charges mobile phones, Bluetooth headsets, digital cameras, PDA’s, GPS devices, MP3 players and digital cameras.|
|Style||Clamshell design with water-resistant rubberised design.||Hard case that folds out into three panels in a windmill-style configuration.||Hard pocket-sized case that solar panels slide out of from top and bottom.|
Ideally, all phones and other devices will one day come with hybrid chargers that can take advantage of clean solar energy as well as plug in to the wall. However, if you find yourself off the grid temporarily or permanently, a solar phone charger might be the perfect answer for keeping your technology powered using clean energy.