There is a lot of talk both from industry insiders and consumers about making green choices when it comes to products. Unfortunately, few products give you instant satisfaction. The sustainability story for most products is linked to materials or manufacturing. So we were quite excited by the prospect of the Solio, a handheld portable solar charger for everything from cell phones to iPods.
The sleek, three-armed Solio Classic is a hybrid charger, meaning it can be powered up by the sun or plugged into a wall socket to charge its 3.6-volt, 1600mAh lithium-ion battery that will hold a solar charge for a year. Weighing in at 5.6 ounces, it has a rated output of 4 -12V, 0 - 1 Amp (max) and a solar panel output of 155mA at 6V. Folded up, it fits in the palm of a hand. It comes with a wall charger and adaptors for foreign outlets as well as a kit of charger "tips" that allow the charger to work with a wide variety of cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras, GPS units and MP3 players. It also comes with a suction cup attachment that will hold the device on a window for charging.
After a short learning period, we found that the Solio works more or less as advertised. You need to plug it into the wall to create the initial charge. We used it on a road trip to Moab, leaving it splayed open in the car to charge up or charge our phones directly as we drove. While we were on rides, we would leave the Solio charging in the car. At night, we could power up the phones off all the juice it sucked up during the day,
We also took it on a trip to Europe, where it was extremely useful since we did not have to carry along wall-outlet adaptors for all of our chargers. On the plane ride, we used the suction cup to charge our iPods on the plane window -- a big bonus, since we did not have to bring a laptop for charging. After long bike rides or hikes, we left it on the terrace at our hotel and used it to charge everything up at night.
We appreciated traveling without the tangle of iPod, cell phone and camera chargers that normally clutter our carry-on bags. Typically, we have to carry different chargers for each cell phone. But, with the Solio, we simply carried the different device tips in a Ziploc bag. The one big downside is that Solio is not powerful enough to charge a laptop.
But our primary concern is that the Soilo charger is not intuitive to use out of the box. It took some tinkering to figure out exactly how to make sure that it was charging our electronic devices from the sun and not running down its battery. A blinking red light comes on when it's charging, but there is no alarm or way to know if it has stopped charging. It also takes a long time to charge up the Solio battery (eight to 10 hours of direct sunlight, four hours with the wall charger). For some reason (convenience? laziness?), we still use our wall charger on a normal basis, although we have been keeping the Solio in the car for charging and to have something available when batteries die.
One of our testers said the unforeseen benefit is that he's used the Solio in a pinch -- when he left his wall charger in a café or at home by accident. But the aspect of Solio that excited us the most was that the device is meant to create a "net energy deficit over its lifetime," meaning it will more than make up for the energy used to manufacture, package and bring it to market. There is a lot of talk about carbon neutral products, wherein the amount of carbon produced in their manufacture is reduced and offset (alternative energy credits purchased to balance out or "offset" the carbon used). But offsetting itself is ripe with controversy since some carbon-offset traders use questionable metrics and profit heavily off the exchange. Solio plants trees to offset its carbon production, and the company has a noble plan to distribute the device in Africa. Products like apparel may be carbon neutral when they are created, yet it costs energy to wash and care for them. With the Solio, you get an immediate tangible benefit -- the charging icon lights up on your cell phone without plugging into the wall. That just feels good.
We have not yet tested the brand new Solio Hybrid 1000, which was released in the first week of October. The new model is geared more toward rugged outdoor use -- there's just one solar panel arm, and it sports a carabiner attachment so you can charge while hiking, riding, climbing, etc.
SNEWS® Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $79
For more information:www.solio.com