As a young and inquisitive child, I once discovered that leaving my dying AA batteries under the sun actually ended up giving them some extra juice. Granted, it wasn't much of an energy boost. Plus there was the little hazardous fact that doing it too much caused the batteries to start leaking some pretty nasty stuff
Fast forward to the present and here I find myself testing a bonafide solar charger: Freeloader's Pico. Let's just say I was looking forward to being able to leave this sucker under the sun without having to worry about icky brown stuff leaking from its insides.
Conveniently compact: Its lightweight, compact design lets users conveniently carry the Pico charger anywhere — especially helpful for folks on the go. You can easily slip the device in a bag, purse or even your pockets.
Fast power transfer:The Pico transfers over its juice to a device pretty quickly. Depending on the device, I’ve seen it take anywhere between 30 minutes to over an hour to transfer its power. I’ve used the device to fully charge a basic Nokia cell phone and an iPod Touch. I’ve even used it to charge an iPad a few times, even though the iPad battery display said “Not Charging.” iPad charging capacity ranged between 7 percent to 10 percent, which translates to about 40 minutes to an hour of iPad use.
Reasonable charging time: Solar chargers are notorious for taking forever to charge via sunlight. I was able to fully charge the Pico in about nine hours under direct sunlight by leaving it on a table in my backyard, which is actually pretty good. Charging by a window — including your car’s dashboard — painfully extends charging times up to more than a week. Leaving it by the window of my house had the slowest charging results. Otherwise, you also have the option of direct charging via USB, which takes about three or so hours.
Assortment of attachments: The device comes with a set of adapter plugs for use with several portable devices. Besides a mini-USB plug that’s comaptible with Motorola, BlackBerry and Garmin, you also have plugs for Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung.
Price: At $29.99, the Pico is priced reasonably for a device that fully charges most small electronics on the go. Folks who want to spend more can also get an optional colored gel case for $6.99. It’s a bit pricey for a small case but is not mandatory for using the device.
Wonky interface: The device uses a set of four lights to indicate capacity and if the device is charging. Unfortunately, the way they’re set up can be confusing, especially for new users. Having the second light on means it’s charging as opposed to just having the lights start turning on one by one as the devices fills up its charge. No lights when it’s under the sun actually means it’s fully charged. The lights work more “normally” when you’re charging a device with the Pico. Four lights means a full charge and it will slowly lose lights as it transfers over its juice.
No sticky connectors: I understand that charging by a window isn’t as good as charging under direct sunlight. But it would still be nice to have an easier way to stick this thing on your windshield so you can charge it more easily when you’re driving.
Small capacity: While the Pico holds enough juice to fully charge most small devices, other chargers I’ve tried are typically able to fully charge iPods and smartphones at least 1.5 times.
Even with its hiccups, The Freeloader Pico does a good job as far as solar chargers go. The fact that you can also charge it quickly via conventional means is a plus in case you need to use it in bad weather. All in all, this is a device that delivers big despite its small stature.