Solio Classic Hybrid Solar Charger Review

Intro:

Maybe it was on a long flight, an extended camping trip or a ridiculously long commute home, but at some point you and your digital devices have probably found yourselves desperately low on battery power with nary a power outlet in sight. Better Energy System’s answer to this conundrum is their Solio Classic hybrid charger. Armed with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, USB and solar charging capability, a suction cup Batman could climb a building with and an impressive set of adapters, this hybrid charger from Solio promises to power up almost any device anywhere.

Now you can finally make that super urgent phone call, finish the last 10 minutes of that movie or crush that last level on Angry Birds no matter where you are or how low on juice you may be…or can you? We rigorously tested the Solio for this review and discuss whether it delivers the goods on the go as well as it claims to.

Solio Classic

image via Solio

De-boxing:

The Solio hybrid charger was conscientiously packaged in 100% recycled material and printed with entirely vegetable-based inks. The charger itself is manufactured using 80% recycled and recyclable materials. Along with the charger I found a USB charging cable, a suction cup, six different charging tips and a brief, picture-based manual. When folded down, the Solio classic is compact enough to stow away conveniently, though not so small that you’ll be able to stuff it in your pant’s pocket. It is lightweight yet rugged enough to take a few spills without sustaining any debilitating damage.

When folded out, the Solio’s three solar panels mimic the look of a fan. The Solio’s internal, rechargeable battery is said to be capable of holding a charge for up to a year and incapable of being overcharged. The included adapter tips will support Samsung and LG devices, any device requiring a mini USB plug and, with a female USB tip, will work with the charging cable included with iPhone, iPod and other popular MP3 players.

Testing and Performance:

I prepared the Solio charger by first connecting it via USB to my laptop. Since the provided USB charging cable can also be plugged into a USB car charger or USB wall plug I went ahead and used those alternatives later in my testing. In all cases, it took a little over 9 hours of charging for the Solio’s multi-color LED to turn green, indicating a full charge had been attained.

To test the Solio’s charging speed and capability, I connected it to in iPhone 3G, iPod Touch, LG phone and a Sony PSP slim. I ensured a full battery charge was reached in between each test. The time required to charge each device with the Solio’s battery varied, but echoed the amount of time required when using an electric wall outlet. Though it took a little longer for the Solio to charge the devices on average, it managed to do an impressive job of charging the devices to capacity. For instance, my PSP normally charges in 2 hours and 15 minutes when connected directly to the wall.  

With the Solio, I was able to fully charge the PSP in about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Our LG phone, which draws very lightly on its battery, charged up from half capacity to full capacity in just under 40 minutes. My iPhone, on the other hand, never did get a full charge. This may be due to the iPhone’s higher battery capacity or the fact that it draws heavily on the battery when powered up. Regardless, the Solio’s battery couldn’t quite get the charge on my iPhone’s battery from totally dead to fully charged.

With a clear understanding of the Solio’s power storage and charging capabilities, I moved on to testing its solar charging capabilities. The manual indicates that, on a sunny day and with direct exposure, the Solio’s internal battery could be fully charged within 8-10 hours; on a cloudy day or if exposed through a window, the time expectancy increases to an estimated 12-48 hours. Since I live in the Pacific NW and it is currently late winter, there isn’t a whole lot of unobstructed sunlight to be had. Around here, we suffer through almost eight solid months of clouds and rainfall.

Google Solio Chargers

image via International Medical Corps

So, I had to rely on what little light came through the low level cloud cover and hope for periodic bursts of sun during less inclement weather. The Solio comes with an extremely effective suction cup attachment for affixing the unit to a window or otherwise smooth, flat surface. You can also slide a pencil through the Solio’s circular slot to orient the fan of solar panels at the necessary angle for maximum exposure. I began by suctioning the Solio to the un-tinted portion of the windshield in my car and letting it sit for a while.

According to the manual, the Solio will indicate it is actively charging its battery by illuminating its LED red. I checked in on the Solio about two hours later to find that it didn’t appear the battery had taken any charge at all. So, I moved the charger from the vehicle to an open area of my yard and pointed it directly toward where the sun appeared to be and, still, got no indication that the Solio was taking a charge. In fact, it was some eight days later that my region finally got a break and saw some uninhibited sun for an astonishing two hours straight.

Finally, with clear skies and plenty of direct exposure, the Solio indicated it was taking a charge. After two hours, the sun disappeared and so did the Solio’s red LED. It turns out, this two hours was enough to provide about a 20% charge-just enough to charge my iPhone from “totally dead” to about 20%-roughly enough to make a very brief phone call. After researching the experiences of other Solio users, I learned that, in properly sunny conditions, the Solio seems to work very well as a solar charger. Not only can it charge its own battery efficiently, but will charge your device directly from the sun, regardless of its internal battery’s state. My experience, however, serves to show that the Solio’s specific solar needs will, in certain regions and environments, limit its usefulness to its ability to be charged electrically.

Final Thoughts:

The Solio’s high capacity battery, great selection of adapter tips and ease of portability make this hybrid charger a solid option as a charging tool. The Solio performs best when charged by USB and its built-in rechargeable battery charges most devices to capacity almost as quickly as they charge from A/C power. Unfortunately, its viability as a solar charging alternative (and, therefore, a green device)  is somewhat usurped by its persnickety solar panels which require very direct and extremely bright sun conditions. Those who live in areas that aren’t reliably sunny should not expect to be able to charge the Solio by solar means on a very regular basis.

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