With all the news lately about the price of oil, and our oil addiction, it is nice to be able to do a review that not only involves a very cool piece of technology, but is also environmentally conscious. I actually got the idea for a review like this one a few months back when I was having trouble with my laptop battery. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could just slap a solar cell on my laptop and continually charge my battery with the power of the sun. Of course, it was not that easy, but the Brunton Solaris came pretty close. And, in this new age of renewable resources and alternate forms of energy, this could be just what the doctor ordered to keep your energy hungry gadgets running day and night.
Overview: I have to say that I was really not sure what to expect when I requested this review. I have reviewedbefore and found them to be less than useful. But, I have to admit that I was impressed with this one straight out of the box. There are several different components to it, and each comes with all of the cables and adaptors you will need to harness the power of the sun.
Solar Array: Let’s start with how you are getting your power. Way up in the sky is a giant yellow ball of gas, which we call the sun. Ideally, you would be able to reach out, grab a sliver of sun, and stick it directly into your device. Well, that is, of course, impossible. But here is the next best thing.
The foldable solar array from Brunton gives you 8 solar cells, arranged on a flexible mat. Flexible you say? Yeah, one of the really cool things about this is that it can be folded neatly into a small carrying sack (included) which will fit easily in your briefcase or bag. So, here we go. Solar energy in a thin, light, flexible design. Perfect for giving you that extra boost of power on a camping trip, picnic, or just the next time you and your laptop decide to spend a day in the park.
The one thing I did notice about this is that it can be difficult to connect it to your device. There is a plug which is included with the solar array, that connects to the outside of the solar array, and ends in a female car socket. This is because the array actually converts solar energy into a DC current. Which means that you will need to convert the current to AC before attaching it to your device. For that, Brunton offers an inverter (which is sold separately or comes packaged with the power pack, which we will discuss in a minute). So, in order to make this work, you will need to connect solar array to the inverter and then connect your device either through the USB port or the AC power outlet on either side of the inverter. It can handle devices up to 110 volts, which means most of your mobile and portable electronics will work.
I did think it would have been nice, however, if an inverter had been built directly into the solar array, thus cutting down on the vast number of cords required to make the whole thing work.
The final thing you will find packaged with the solar array is a set of jumper cables. Yes, jumping, as in your car. Apparently, you can even use the Solaris solar array to jump the battery in your. Now, I have to admit that I never had an opportunity to try this…but nice to know it is there should I need it.
Solo power pack: One of the drawbacks of the solar array is that it cannot store any power itself. It can harness and use the power of the sun, but once you pack it up, nothing is saved. For that, you will need the Solo power pack, which is essentially a massive battery. At 12,000 mAh, this battery is roughly 10 times the size of most PDA batteries. Weighing in at four pounds, though, this battery is considerably less than portable. If you plan to cart it around with you, there is a much smaller two pound battery, which holds roughly half the power.
As I indicated, the battery included the inverter, which is nice because you will need it. I was actually a little frustrated by the number of cables required by this system. Of course, you can ditch the inverter if your device has a 12V car adaptor, which many mobile devices can use. In that case, you can just plug the car adaptor directly into the battery (or the solar array). Of course, my laptop does not have such an option. Most larger devices will require the inverter.
How It Worked: So, here is what I did to test the Brunton charger out. This morning, I took the solar array out on the back deck. This is a great place to test something like this because it gets a variety of different sun exposures throughout the day. The morning started cloudy, but cleared up to become hot and sunny by lunchtime.
I connected the battery to the solar array (it was either dead or mostly dead). And then I let it go. It took most of the day, but after about 10 hours, it was fully charged. This is fantastic, considering we are talking about an enormous 12,000 mAh battery. Ten hours is pretty close to what I would have expected from a standard AC charge.
Throughout the day, I also tried plugging several devices directly into the solar array (Sprint, Apple iPod Touch, and Sansa View). Each of these were able to draw power flawlessly (through the inverter). I was extremely impressed by the solar array’s ability to keep thinks powered and working like that. I had intended to give this a try with my laptop, but my boys were demanding to know why they were getting ignored this afternoon, so we had to stop.
The only drawback was the number of cords and connections required to power a device. Even assuming you left the battery at home and powered your mobile device directly from the solar array, you still need three cables and the inverter. Yikes. It would have been nice if the inverter had been built into the solar array, thus reducing the number of cables down to one.
Overall though, I was completely impressed by how well this worked. As I mentioned, I have been less than impressed by some of the solar powered chargers I have used in the past. But the Brunton Solaris solar array worked amazingly well. You still can’t just reach out and put a slice of sunshine into your device. The Brunton, however, may just be the next best thing.
What I Liked: Fantastic design on the solar array, HUGE battery. It just plain works.
What Needs Improvement: Too many cables and connections. The price is very high.
Where to Buy:
Price: Solaris 26 Solar Array $620.20
Solo 15 portable power pack (with inverter): $648.38