In the last several months, we’ve talked about a number of tiny, durable, and multifunctional electronic devices. They all have one thing in common: they need power. The electricity to charge these devices may not always be as easy to find as a nearby power outlet. Maybe you’re off in the woods, on an extended hiking trip, or find yourself somewhere where power is intermittent or not available at all. Enter Brunton, a maker of high-tech outdoor equipment and their Solaris USB and the Solo 3.4. These two products form a complimentary power solution with which Brunton has been kind enough to provide to us for review.
The Solaris USB
The Solaris line is one of Brunton’s lines of portable solar panels. The USB model, designed for portable electronics, is the smallest of the lot in size, price, and capacity with an output of 3 watts. Weighing in at 5 ounces, the Solaris USB isn’t terribly heavy to carry. When folded, its dimensions are 4” wide x 8” tall, giving it a profile just a bit taller than your average paperback book. While most of the unit is only a little under ½” thick, on the back (not visible in the picture) is the standard USB socket from which the power flows. This wedge-shaped plastic socket makes the overall thickness at that 2”x1” point about 1.5”.
The overall quality of the Solaris USB is quite high. The whole package is quite sturdy, yet flexible. Pulling the Velcro fastener that holds the Solaris USB closed allows it to be unfolded to reveal the two banks of flexible solar panels that provide the power. The panels and related hardware are hidden inside a sheet of flexible plastic that has a sturdy feel. The four mounting rings on the corners make it easy to tie in an open position, oriented toward the sun (or other light source).
Now we move on to the stress testing. The flexibility of the cells and materials was of particular interest given the fragility of older cells. The solar cells flexed freely in any direction; though I did not actually fold the cells, no amount of flexing seemed to damage them. With something as light and flexible as the Solaris USB, drop tests seemed a bit redundant. Still, given the history of solar panels, I felt it was necessary to make the effort. Dropping it onto concrete from 8 feet 5 times did no damage, aside from a few scuffs on the outside surface. I was anxious to see how it responded to water. I refrained from actually pouring water into the power output, and instead opened the Solaris USB and poured 3 cups of water onto it while it was in operation. This did not cause any problems or damage.
In order to test the Solaris USB, I attempted to charge a drained mp3 player with it. Using the pale New England sunlight, the results were somewhat less than I might have expected with brighter light. It took 18 hours of sunlight to charge the hard-drive based mp3 player. Interestingly, I repeated this experiment under a standard 100-watt incandescent bulb which took only slightly more than twice that time to get the same charge.
While I would not want to use the Solaris USB for every day charging unless in an area of strong sunlight, it is a durable and dependable source of power that will charge devices on any light that is available.