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Review: Mobile Solar Chargers

Recently I was emailed by a company asking if I would review one of their products, usually I would say no or ignore such requests but on this occasion I was being asked to write the review, provide my opinion rather than some pre-formatted crap. Additionally the post didn’t require that I write anything more than my opinion and I got to keep the items at the end so I signed up.

The products are made by a company called Mobile Solar Chargers (MSC), and are by no means a premium product, i.e. they aren’t expensive, and aren’t built from stainless steel, aluminium or anything fancy like that but they do the job. Tim at MSC sent me two different units to test from their range:

As these products are so similar I will review the key features then summarise them separately at the end:

Battery
The battery on these two units are great, realistically it’s unlikely any portable sized solar panel could be used to power a smart phone, so this allows you to save it up like a buffer for when you need it. The average smart phone has a 1,500mAh battery, with these two units that means you should get 1–3 full charges depending on which you buy and which phone you use, for me that would equate to an additional day or two of use. Great if you are on holiday or caught short on a trip away like my recent (soon to be blogged day trip to Manchester Mini Maker Faire).

Note: One minor issue is that the battery in these products does not seem to be easily replaceable, this means you’d have to buy a new one if it ever wore out, which Lithium Ion batteries will do over time and use, I would not therefore expect the products to last more than about three years based on experience with Li-ion batteries over the years.

Solar Panel
I have to be honest here, when they said they wanted to send me a solar charger I thought “Great, can you send the sun too?”. I am still not convinced now, although I haven’t tested the charge time, the manufacture themselves admit the charge time to be a whopping 28 hours under ‘full sunlight condition[s]’ (for the 3000mAh unit).

In perfect conditions “full sunlight condition[s]” is definitely not more than about 8–10 hours a day, that means this product will take at very least three days to charge in the sun, and the battery being rated for 3,000mAh means it could only charge a normal smart phone about two times. The 1,500mAh unit has no such specification on the website that I can find, however the panel is rated for a slightly higher output and the battery is half the capacity this means it will probably charge in less than half the time of the 3,000mAh unit above.

Being honest here I don’t think the solar panel is really what makes these products. Green or otherwise, solar technology isn’t good enough to be portable and charge these types of devices even in the best of conditions and I cannot deny that my smart phone only lasts about a day on charge so it would take several days to charge a phone for a days use, hardly worth it.

Build Quality
The 3,000mAh unit comes well packaged, no blister packs or scissors here! It looks like an older design of iPod but has a cheap plastic finish and the back cover has an unpleasing inward bulge, like someone sucked all the air out. It’s like the when you are washing a oven tray and it pops inside out. the back should really be nice and flat but it’s not.

The 1,500mAh unit although more basic and with no special finishes actually looks and feels better because it has a nice smooth matt plastic finish rather than a cheap metal, and glossy plastic finish. Overall I prefer the build of this unit, however the button on the reverse seems oddly placed, and the design slightly illogical, why not just have a bar graph like the other one?

The accessories with both units are the main downfall, they all use cheap Chinese connectors, while they work and don’t feel like they’d fall apart there is no carrying pouch for them in your bag, and they don’t even feel as good as the main item. I guess most people would probably just use the normal charger they got with their phone.

The Range
Mobile Solar Chargers come in seven different varieties at present ranging from a meagre 1,000mAh to a whopping 6,000mAh battery life. As a range of products nothing could further from consistency, they are all different colours, and sizes, have no consistent UI, or markings, LEDs and charge indicators are different for each unit, looking at these items they look more like a range of imported OEM items being sold under the MSC brand rather than products that are unique to MSC. As a customer this doesn’t really matter but as they clearly are trying to make something of the solar charger I would expect some kind of consistency in design, this means that customer’s won’t feel invested in the brand.

Green
Green is the big buzz word, everything is energy saving, cost cutting, green, low emissions etc… So why is it that these products are not sold for their green credentials? There isn’t any mention of these products eco credentials anywhere on the website, in fact the greenest thing on the website is the sage pay logo in the top right. They really are selling these products on the basis that your every day device needs more and more power and they are offering a way to boost that along, which is probably a wise idea given the fact that portable solar panels don’t have the gumption to power these power hungry beasts even in the brightest of conditions.

Summary

MSC Classic 3,000 mAh Mobile Solar Charger (£29.99):
As I have said all through this review, the product is essentially a backup battery for a smart phone with a solar panel tacked on as a gimmick, when you buy online you get a free USB mains power adaptor, something which really drives the stake in the grave as regards to the solar abilities. It works, and thats good but it feels like a lot of companies they should have concentrated on the core features and left the gimmicks by the wayside. If you are thinking of buying this product, I would recommend it, but not for it’s solar charing but as a backup battery.

MSC Trifid 1,500 mAh Mobile Solar Charger (£24.95):
I can’t start the summary for this item without asking why on earth would you name it ‘trifid’, of all the names to pick for a product why would you name it after a fictional plant that takes over the country and kills the inhabitants? Perhaps there is another meaning, however for a product sold in the UK I can’t help but feel this is a bad idea.

Other than that this is my favourite of the two products it hasn’t got the battery life of the other one and the (previously unmentioned) LED torch isn’t really something I would need, however it has a nicer finish and it’s cheaper. Again, I only wish they had focused on the main feature of a backup battery rather than a solar charger, and LED torch.

Final word
The products are well priced, include free delivery and they do what they should but I wish the extra spent on LED torches, and solar panels had been used to make a decent quality case, a USB wall wart in the box, and some kind of clever cable storage and better cables. I would happily recommend these items to friends and family.

If you have a product you’d like me to review send me an email, me@tomlynch.co.uk and I would be more than happy to discuss this.