Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Powertraveller Solargorilla review

Being a geek, I rarely find myself being capable of leaving my gadgets at home. So at a recent camping trip (where we backpacked), I found myself packing my Nokia N8 and Motorola Milestone 2 (I would have also brought the Xperia Arc and Nokia E7 if I had the choice!). The problem with all modern smartphones are the battery life is pretty much sh*t. I can barely go half a day on the Milestone 2 and the N8 will last a maximum of a day on my usage pattern.

As you know power is hard to come by when camping - and I need all the help I can get. It was April, the days were getting longer and I thought what better than to use a camping holiday to test out some solar panels as well. My emails to solar manufacturers were initially unheeded, then a reply came from Powertraveller - alas they did not have any Solargorilla to send to reviewers. But then community team #LeStudio52, of which I am part of and you should be too, helped source one for me. I was good to go.

The Solargorilla features a clamshell design and is made of two photovoltaic solar panels (the newer version comes with glass panels that increases efficiency) that can be folded together to aid portability. Built quality is brilliant. One night I accidentally left the Solargorilla outside my tent connected to an external battery pack in the rain and it survived. I have also used it on a sandy beach, so it is obviously built to survive in tough environments. I would be more concerned about the durability of the device I am charging rather than the Solargorilla itself. A zipped neoprone case is included to store the Solargorilla and other accessories.

Two ports can be found on the bottom of the Solargorilla. The first is a 5V USB port designed to charge mobile phones, smartphones, digital audio players and PSP. Alongside it, you will find a 20V power socket that is enough to charge laptops under 40 watts. 17 adapters are bundled with the Solargorilla including mobile tips for Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones; DS Lite and PSP game consoles and any devices that charges via microUSB and miniUSB. Laptop tips for laptops made by most manufacturers like Dell, Lenovo, HP and Acer are also included. For Apple Macbooks, you will have to use it with a MagSafe car charger adaptor - sold separately from Powertraveller.

What the Solargorilla lacks is a built-in battery pack. For £140 I found it disappointing that there isn't any built in battery pack in the Solargorilla. Instead Powertraveller recommends that the Solargorilla is used with their flagship Powergorilla battery pack (another £140 cost), though you can also charge other battery packs via the USB out. The two are connected via a cable and a status LED near the ports indicate charging. Unsurprisingly, only one device can be charged at once.

When I decided to bring the Solargorilla to Wales, I didn't think we would be blessed with constant sunshine and mid-20-degree heat. The weather was brilliant almost the entire week, making our holiday in Pembrokeshire an unlikely but ideal place to test the device (in the UK at least). The Solargorilla was capable of charging fully a phone after a day in the sun. We did have to move the direction the panels are facing to best harness the power of the Welsh sun, which is hardly ideal. Some devices wouldn't charge at all unless I turn them off first - likely due to the lack of output. On overcast days, the device struggles only able to top up my phone by about two battery bars.

With summer fast approaching, the Solargorilla may make sense but British climate has never favoured solar technology. Even during the summer months you would not expect to see plenty of sun. They are also particularly expensive - even more so if you buy it with the Powergorilla battery pack. Unlike the Freeloader Supercharger, you can't attach them to your backpack as well, making them effectively useless and none-productive while you are on the move.

Unless you are travelling to a country with warmer climate or can't let go of the whole green thing, it probably makes more sense buying a large battery pack to travel with rather than relying on this. Don't get me wrong, it works brilliantly - but don't count on it as your sole source of portable power in the UK.


Anonymous said...

Great review. Answered my question on whether it is worth investing one in Britain.


Anonymous said...

yea im over in Ireland which is probably the same or worse as the uk when it comes to weather conditions.

i bought i freeloader and the supercharger attachment about two years ago, but i still havnt got to try it out properly. all the places ive been living in since i got it werent the best for trying it out, hanging out windows and mostly behind windows because it would just get robbed otherwise lol.

but im going off camping next week for a week so ill be able to try it out properly at last. it will definitely be handy having the supercharger attached to my bag when i hiking around places.

i never heard of the powergorilla/solargorilla when i was buying the freeloader but i could see them being a lot more practical than the 1000mAh batteries, which wouldnt even fully charge a smartphone!

the minigorilla on the other hand would be ideal, you could charge your phone about 6 or 7 times from one of those and if you werent anywhere near a computer or powersource for a week you could use the solargorilla to top it up, if it was sunny,

1000mAh! pfff! i should have done my research a bit more before i bought the freeloader