Until the sun at last bakes our planet like a little purple potato in about 7.6 billion years, it will go on giving life to the plants and animals of earth. But until recently we doubted whether sunlight could really be used efficiently to give life to the tiny portable devices that we all carry around. Hope has come in the form of a mighty little tablet-shaped solar charger called the the Joos Orange. In the past we’ve seen lots of solar chargers on the market that were flimsy, inefficient “green” gizmos destined sooner or later for that great trash pile in the ocean.
The Joos Orange is different–it actually charges phones, iPods, and iPads in a reasonable amount of time, under a reasonable range of light conditions. And its manufacturers have so much faith in its toughness that they’ve put up YouTube videos showing it being shot with a gun (“yep, she’s workin’…let’s shoot it again!”) and submerged in a bucket of water while charging. Read on to get the down and dirty on this powerful little charger which you may or may not also be able to use as a bullet-proof shield (we personally haven’t tried it as such, and have no plans to do so either).
The Joos Orange comes in standard eco-friendly packaging. It’s ensconced in a brown box not much bigger than the unit itself. The only plastic in sight is a ziploc baggie used to contain all the Orange’s cables and cable adapters. These include a USB to micro-USB cable (used to plug into your computer for charging and getting info on how the battery is doing) as well as a charging cable that can be mated with a variety of adapter plugs to work with the energy-hungry device of your choice. No case for the Orange is included, which is potentially a bummer for those wishing to avoid scratching the solar cell window (we managed to do that just carrying it around in a bag), but Joos is now releasing a sleeve for it that can be purchased separately.
The Orange is about the size of a thin hardcover book, but has the heft of a thin hardcover book made of pure lead. At 1.5 pounds it’s heavy for its size, but with a 20 watt hour (5400 mAh) monster of a battery nestled inside the weight is understandable. At first glance the device is refreshingly simple. There’s a rubber gasket where the cable plugs in on the end. On the back there are two fold out legs, and on the face there are 2 LED lights that indicate battery status and whether it’s getting adequate sunlight for charging. At the top it’s got a hole in it for locking it to stuff (like your beach umbrella, for instance), and in the middle, of course, is the solar cell array.
The Orange gets its power-generating punch from high grade monocrystalline solar cells with anti-reflective coating that Joos has sealed under a layer of clear, high-quality urethane. Wired in parallel for optimal efficiency (i.e., so it can potentially charge even in the shade), the solar cells generate 2.6 watts per hour (peak) in full sun. Other features include complete waterproofness and the ability to operate in temperatures ranging from -4 degrees up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (don’t set it on fire just to see if it can “handle it”). Though it can’t charge laptops (Joos claims it is now developing a charger that can), it will charge just about any other mobile device out there that uses a 3.7V battery.
When a device is as easy to set up as the Joos Orange, you tend to suspect that you’ve missed something. But no, it really is as easy as just connecting your portable device to the charger. Leave it in the sun as often as you can, and you’ve done your part. If there’s no sun you can also plug it into a USB port to charge the Orange’s battery from your computer, and then install a downloadable app that tells the battery status. But wouldn’t you rather just get outside and start using the thing? We would too.
What surprised us most about the Joos Orange was how damn *fast* it charged stuff in direct sunlight. It took only 2 hours of direct sun to bring our dead iPod to a full charge–just a few minutes longer than it takes to do the same using a wall charger. Our little flip phone went from dead to an almost full charge in mostly direct sun within 2.5 hours, but then we were disappointed to find that it wouldn’t keep charging the phone using the ambient light that occurred around dusk. On cloudy days, as at dusk, the Orange wouldn’t charge the phone directly but would continue charging its internal battery, from which we could top off the phone’s battery.
When it was overcast we could get it to charge our iPod at midday, but the Orange stopped doing that as the afternoon wore on. It seems that in low light conditions the Orange is designed to do a lot of work using its huge internal battery, which has over 3 times the capacity of an iPhone battery (or about 3/4 the capacity of an iPad battery). This means, of course, that you should keep it in the sun as much as possible to ensure that it’s got enough back up power to keep things going in all conditions. You’ll have to leave it in the sun for a whole day to fully charge the Orange (or you can charge it off of your computer, but that’s kind of missing the point, isn’t it?), so before you take it on a big trip to the backcountry, make sure you plan to do that well ahead of time.
Once fully charged, the Orange’s battery charge is easily topped off on the trail–just keep it strapped to the outside of your bag, rain or shine.
The Joos Orange is indisputably tough and–in moderate to full sunlight–highly efficient. It relies heavily on its internal battery for less-than-ideal sun conditions. It also has a nice feel–we enjoyed tossing it around, dangling it from the finger using the provided “security hole,” and generally showing it off at the coffee shops around town. It’s heavy, too, so we’re not sure how eager we’d be to throw it in with our ultralight backpacking gear when the moment comes to hit the trail.
But when weight is not an issue and you want a highly reliable solar cell/external battery for keeping your phone and iPod charged, the Joos Orange is currently one of your best choices. It prices for around $149.