Tuesday, January 29, 2013

SunVolt Chargers Shine On Mobile

I've never been a big fan of cumbersome chargers, but SunVolt shines a new light on the solution. The SunVolt Solar Power Station takes advantage of new technologies and accommodates more than one device at a time, making it more like a portable changing station and less like a backup power supply.

The size is justified because it delivers a faster charge for mobile devices. So while I can't see most people casually carrying it around like a second satchel, there clearly are some places it makes sense — like at the beach, at a campsite, in an emergency, or other similar places.

Think of it as something to take along when you have a destination in mind, leave it in the car, or keep it with any emergency kit at home. Unlike a one-time battery backup, all you need is the sun. 

SunVolt takes another step toward hands-free portable charging. 

The innovation is the brainstorm of Don Cayelli, who originally wanted a faster and more reliable charger when he spent the day out on a boat. A boat is the perfect place to use SunVolt, given you can set up the charger in a safe location and forget about your phone, camera, or other mobile device.

Depending on the model, SunVolt can deliver 10 watt or 15 watt devices. This includes most mobile devices like the iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, or anything else with a USB connector. Gomadic also carries a variety of tips/adaptors too, which expands the charging capabilities to include some cameras and bluetooth speakers too. It cannot charge devices that need more wattage like a laptop. 

There are some other limitations, which is why it's still considered a next step solution. While the SunVolt will work on a cloudy day, it charges slower in anything except direct sunlight. It also works better outdoors. While it can charge indoors, it requires direct sunlight (not ambient light) and some window tinting can interfere. Artificial light will not work. But this is true for any solar chargers.

Most of the limitations aren't really an issue. With a little foresight and the right adapter or a solar cache battery back by the same company, you can always charge a battery when you aren't charging a device, saving additional energy for use later in the evening or when weather is less than desirable.

Why the SunVolt has a leg up on other chargers. 

What makes the SunVolt stand out is that Cayelli redesigned the solar charger to skip a set. Most chargers charge a battery pack. This charging system charges the device directly. Gomadic also likes to say that its monocrystalline-like panels are better than polycrystalline solar panels. This might be a myth. 

I say "might" for two reasons. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are generally within one or percent of each other in terms of efficiency. What's more important is who manufactures the panels. SunVolt seems to have settled on one of the best suppliers. As for the second reason, Gomadic always stresses the "like" after monocrystalline. Still, the direct-to-device charge makes the charger stand out.

Beyond the power supply efficiency, there is plenty of attention to detail. The custom designed carrying case, made of semi-water resistant ballistic nylon, and protective cushions add durability to the device. The case was also designed to tilt the panel to an optimal position to collect and convert energy from the sun. And the case is designed to carry any cables and devices you bring along. 

The SunVolt recently had a successful run with a Kickstarter campaign, introducing the smaller 10 watt design version. Many people opted for the bigger model, which had already been on the market. Besides size, the 15 watt model can charge up to three devices at the same time. Two is plenty, unless you want to make friends fast. 

The SunVolt Portable Solar Charger Burns 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Along with some of the other advantages listed, both SunVolts come with a lifetime guarantee against manufacturer defects. From my perspective, it seems better built to last than most devices and ought to serve anyone who buys one for a long time. 

There are several places you can find a SunVolt Solar Charger. Currently, Amazon has several 15 watt models (SunVolt MAX) available. When buying from Amazon, always check to see what tips/adapters are included. You can also purchase them and any accessories direct from Gomadic. The 10 watt SunVolt chargers retail for about $100. The 15 watt charges goes for a little more.
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