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Solio Universal Solar Charger

Mon May 8, 2006 - 2:52 PM EDT - By James Hromadka


Spring is here, and with it comes the weekend warriors that go camping and "rough it" while basking in the warm glow of a McDonalds sign. But what do you do when Mickey D's closes, you can't get to an outlet, and your Treo is dangerously low on power. How will you be able to follow the latest Astros score? How will you be able to talk to your girlfriend and reassure her that you're with the boys and not out with her best friend? That's where an emergency charger comes in.

Sure you can get one of those 9-volt emergency chargers and get your Treo back on track, but what about your Bluetooth headset and your iPod? The Treo isn't the only electronic device that people take with them when they're in the sticks. That's where the Solio Universal Solar Charger (hereafter Solio Charger) comes into play.

Charging the Solio's Battery

The Solio Charger has an internal lithium ion battery that you can charge using an included AC adapter or by using the sun. The AC adapter is handy because it allows you to keep the Solio Charger's battery topped off before you leave for a trip. You can determine the battery level by pressing the power button on the base of the Solio Charger. One green flash is 25% while four flashes means fully charged. It takes about five and a half hours to charge the battery from a wall outlet.

Of course you can go completely "green" and charge the battery using the three solar panels. The panels fan out in a counter-clockwise motion. There's a hole in the center where you can use the included suction cup to attach the Solio to a window. According to the company, charging through glass "greatly increases the charging time" of the Solio Charger, so save the Solio Charger for when you're outside and use a car charger while in a vehicle. When using direct sunlight, it takes 8-12 hours to fully charge the Solio Charger. It takes about 2 hours to fully charge the Treo, so it's pretty comparable to a wall charger.

The Tip of the Iceberg

The Solio Charger is available with a wide assortment of tips so you can charge everything from the Treo to an iPod. If you buy the Solio Charger from TreoCentral, it comes with a Treo connector and a mini USB connector, so you can charge almost any Motorola headset, which made me very happy, as the Motorola RAZRWIRE [ Review | Buy ] is the perfect headset for a day beside the pool and can be charged by the Solio Charger.

You can buy other connectors for devices such as the iPod and GameBoy directly from Solio for $8 to $20. If you're on Solio's website, I suggest checking out some of the environmental suggestions that the company offers, as well as some unique cases for the Solio and other devices made from tires. Speaking of laptops, you can't charge high-power draw things like laptops, so leave the PowerBook at home and enjoy the forest through the trees. The company plans future products for laptops though.

Location! Location! Location!

Just as in real estate, using a solar charger is all about where you are located. I pieced together this map from Solio's website, and as you can see, certain areas of the US make for a faster charge than others. If you are outside the US, you can find solar intensity maps at Solio's website. The intensity goes up in the summer and down in the winter. A Solio Charger's a great choice in New Mexico and Arizona but not so much in New England and Canada. I am in Houston, which is in the middle range of 3-4 KWh per square meter per day.

Charging the Treo is easy. Plug the power cable into a jack on the Solio that looks like a phone then plug it into the Treo. Point the Solio towards the sun, then press the power button. You can put a pencil or stick through the center of the Solio to help angle the device better. The backside of the Solio Charger will flash to indicate its power level then flash periodically while charging the Treo. When the Solio's battery charges, the LED glows red. Read Page 1 in the manual for all the details on charging.


To test the Solio Charger, I picked a nice sunny day to sit out by the pool, got a cooler ready, and proceeded to charge my power-starved Treo. Well that was the plan anyway. I suppose that April isn't the best time of year to review solar-powered products, "April Showers" and all. Then again, it's been pretty dry and sunny lately in Houston, so I figured I'd be fine. On behalf of Texas, I'd like to thank Solio for bringing us some much-needed rain.

The rain and clouds reveal that the battery is a key component of the Solio because of its reliance on direct sunlight for optimal charging. Keep the battery charged and you have a normal 1-2 hr charge, otherwise you could need almost a full day of sunlight to charge. When I charged the Treo using the Solio, it didn't take any longer than normal, so it was using the Solio's battery. I really like that I can charge Motorola headsets with the device as well. I just need to pick up an iPod adapter.

The Solio isn't completely waterproof so you can't just leave it outside at all times. Perhaps this is where the glass suction cup comes in handy. Find a spot in your home that faces the sun for much of the day and keep the Solio facing outward.

Solar panels are by nature rather fragile, so I was surprised that one of the panels is fully exposed when the fans are closed. The company's website states that the solar panels "can withstand the impact of a 1 inch hailstone traveling at 80 kph. so they are pretty strong." That's not a great metaphor considering that cloud cover during a hailstorm would render the Solio Charger useless anyway, but it does make me feel better about the solar panels. As I said earlier, the company does have a $19.95 TREAD Case available for the Solio Charger should you want maximum protection.

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Product Info
> Name Solio Universal Solar Charger
> Company Better Energy Systems
> Weight 5.6 oz. / 161 g.
> Fact Sheet & User Opinions
> Available
> $79.95

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