Portable gizmos that claim to charge your cellphone or iPod on the move are two a penny these days. Solar powered portable charging gizmos are not such a common sight, it has to be said, especially if we are talking about ones that actually work. Which is why I was excited at the prospect of having a real world out in the field play with the Freeloader Pico , but at the same time bracing myself for disappointment.
It's not that I am not a fan of the solar power concept for mobility, just the opposite in fact. Over the years I've had every type of solar power charging product imaginable from cumbersome fanned panel devices through to the first ever commercially available backpack with integrated solar panels. The problem being that although they worked, after a fashion (and I use that word loosely as the man about town would not wish to be seen with either truth be told), they were just not practical for day to day use. The fan-like device feature a whole bunch of panels which unfolded to reveal half a dozen panels was not exactly what I'd call truly portable as it defies the object to carry around something bigger than the device it is meant to be providing power for. The backpack was, oddly enough, more practical as you could wear it but only if you didn't mind feeling like you were taking part in some kind of military marching exercise - and that was before you put any of your kit in it.
The portability argument still stands with regards to the Freeloader Pico, after all a spare cellphone battery is a lot smaller and easier to carry. Not that the Pico is huge, far from it, the thing measures up at just 105 x 45 x 11.5mm and weighs a meagre 49g. Trouble is, that's still bigger than many cellphones and MP3 players these days. So why am I even bothering reviewing it then? Simples: you can't just buy a spare battery for your iPhone or iPod can you? Yes, you can buy cases with power built in but they are bulky and hardly aesthetically pleasing. I don't want my svelte and sexy iPhone suddenly tripling in thickness and doubling in weight just to squeeze an extra few hours out of the beast on the odd occasion I need it. The Freeloader Pico, on the other hand, is small enough, light enough and goddamn it sexy enough to be practical for your average iPhone user.
It comes in a glossy iPod white colour by default, but if you like you can accessorise the thing with purpose built and rather funky gel skin cases in black, blue, green, orange, pink and red,. There's also a clear option if you just want to protect your Pico from knocks and scratches to the solar panel as the gel is impact resistant.
But does it work? Good question, and happily I'm able to report that yes it does. And rather well in fact. In my real world testing during a particularly cold and snowy British winter, it took around an hour to soak up enough light to start charging my iPhone which is actually not too bad. Given a nice bit of sunshine you should be able to cut that time in half. To fully charge it will take around 10 hours of sunshine, or you can cheat and plug it into a USB socket for three hours before you leave home instead. Once fully charged, expect to get around 30 hours of cellphone standby time, 14 hours for the iPod and around an hour or so for a GPS device.
I managed to use my '10% battery flashing' iPhone 3GS browsing the web, playing music and playing with those all important apps for more than 2 hours straight from a solar powered gizmo and that pleased me no end.
Oh, it comes complete with four connection adaptors that allow you to solar charge Nokia phones, Sony Ericsson phones, BlackBerry and other mini-USB devices and also G-series Samsung phones. Not forgetting that you can connect an iPhone or other gadgets that charge via USB using the USB socket on the Pico and your own sync/power cable. If that's still not good enough, the manufacturers have a further 25 tips available for a veritable plethora of other gadgets. You can even buy an optional charger unit for rechargeable AA/AAA batteries if you really want to push the envelope when it comes to this solar powered widget. Of course, there are plenty of things you can't charge with this thing, notably your netbook or laptop. But, hey folks, that would be expecting an awful lot from something so small now wouldn't it?
75mA premium quality crystalline solar cells
800mAh environmentally friendly Li-ion battery – typical battery life is 2 years. (Solar Technology offers a battery exchange service for a small charge)
Input Voltage – 5v / 250mA
Output Voltage – 3V to 5.5V
My verdict on what is the smallest and most compact solar powered gadget charger from the Freeloader stable is that it deliver on the promises made and remains practical and affordable at £16.99 (UK Pounds) plus you are helping do your bit to save the planet. Nice. So nice, in fact, that I'll give it a DaniWeb review rating of 8/10.