Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Pocket-Sized Sun Power

December 14, 2016

Marisa | UncommonGoods

Product
Solar Powered Charger & Light

Solar Powered Charger & Light | UncommonGoods

L: Charger sitting on its foldable base, solar panel facing out, while charging a phone.

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Top: Two LED lights with super bright (10 hrs on a full charge), bright (20 hrs), medium (60 hrs), low (150 hrs), Morse Code SOS flashing and off settings. The round black dot in the middle is the on/off button.

Research
Our Solar Powered Charger & Light was irresistible to me from the moment I first saw it on our site. The design looks European: made of 100% recycled plastic, it’s functional but sort of fun, boxy in a cute, slightly nerdy way – in a great, bright yellow with black accents. It reminds me of the work of Dieter Rams, one of the most lauded (justly, in my opinion) industrial designers of all time. And it’s about the size of an average mobile phone: 4.75″ L x 3″ W.

I’ve wanted a solar-powered charger for years. I love the idea of being able to charge my phone (or mp3 player, Bluetooth® speakers headphones, camera…) wherever I am. Anyway, I also like being able to avoid using coal or petrochemical power. I dry my sheets in the sun; why not power my phone with it, too?

Hypothesis
sun-with-face-25sun-with-face-25sun-with-face-25 My emojis will soon be sun-with-face-25sunsun-with-face-25 powered. sun-with-face-25sun-with-face-25sun-with-face-25

Experiment

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Solar Powered Charger & Light packaging

Packaging
The packaging, like the charger, is wonderfully designed, on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified paper. They designers somehow thought of a way to make cardboard truly appealing. It’s folded up to provide maximum protection for the charger, and is full of clear, illustrated instructions.

Charger/Light
It’s so light! I have a large regular external battery that weighs… a lot. The result is that I don’t carry it with me that often, so it doesn’t fulfill its function. The big one does hold a lot more power, but this one has more than enough (a full charge contains 120% of the power an average mobile phone needs), and I can recharge it anywhere, any time, anyway.

I wasn’t even thinking about portability, really, when I decided to give this gadget a try. But I started carrying it around with me everywhere as soon as I got it charged up. It weighs just a hair over 7 oz.

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Charging the Charger
It’s so well-designed, you can keep it in a chargeably sunny location in a number of ways. The fold-out stand has a wide range of motion, and also a round hole so you can hang the whole thing up from all different types of hooks, by a string, rope, or bungee, or prop it securely on a bottle top. Here it is sitting in my Brooklyn window.

The sun wasn’t out consistently when I was charging it, nor do my south-facing windows have sun all day long, thanks to a huge condo that went up behind my building a few years ago. So it took about 2 days of charging, off and on, before it was fully charged. The instructions say it needs 10 hours of full sumer sun, and that’s probably about what it got. There are 4 little holes on one end housing tiny LED battery indicator lights that light up green if you tap the round on/off button; 4 greens means a full charge.

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NOTE: This was my own USB to micro USB cable; the charger doesn’t come with one — another way this item is sustainable, because don’t we all have these lying around? Yep. We do. And we don’t need another one.

Charging my phone
It plugs in and works like any other charger with a micro USB jack. The battery is 2200 mAh. I left it on overnight like I do when it’s plugged directly into AC current, and it was charged when I woke up, with plenty of power left in the charger.

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Charging the charger with a USB to micro USB cord on my work desktop computer CPU. When it’s fully charged, all four tiny LED lights shine green steadily, with no blinking.

Charging without sun
If it’s winter in a northern latitude, you’re trapped indoors all day, or you just forgot to charge it during the daytime, you can charge this with USB-to-AC power. It works just like any other charger. There’s a little blue LED indicator light on the side that lets you know when it’s charging via USB.

The charge lasts, too! Without planning to, I kept the charger in my bag for over a week, and it still held a full charge. One day, I must have accidentally hit the on button. When I pulled it out of my bag, the lights were on and it was only half-charged.

Using the Lights
The same positioning flexibility that makes it easy to set it facing the sun to charge it makes it convenient as a light: you can set it on its stand in various ways, hang it, prop it on a bottle, etc. You can clip it to a backpack, or a bike. Because there are two lights, not just one, you can easily read by it (or knit, whittle, play cards with friends… whatever).

Extra good
For each solar charger purchase, a light is given to one of the many people throughout the world without access to electricity. A code is included in the package that allows you to choose where in the world the contribution is given.

Conclusion
I love this even more than I thought I would. It instantly became my go-to charger, and lives in my take-everywhere pouch with my phone, keys, and eyeglasses. And yes, my emojis are indeed sun-with-face-25 sun sun-with-face-25 powered.

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