Review of Solio Classic Solar Charger


Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 31 October 2012

  

Solar Charger Tests and Reviews

I started backpacking for personal experience. I did not bring a camera, phone, or any electronic gear whatsoever. I had little need or respect for GPS devices, and I still believe your best navigation and observation tools are internal.

It may be hard to believe looking at the efforts behind Tahoe to Whitney, but for twenty + years I would tell you about the mountains and the trails, but I insisted that you would have to see it for yourself.

Now I attempt to record everything. Hikers, rivers, lakes, fish, birds, the sky and of course the trail itself are the objects of my photographic attention. This has made my hikes very battery intensive.

I started out by carrying lots of batteries, and sending myself lots of batteries in my resupply packages. This is a wasteful and expensive practice, both in having to carry lots of batteries, which I never seemed to carry enough of, carrying the extra weight of heavy batteries, as well as the cost not to mention the ecological costs.

The best system for keeping my batteries charged on the trail for the 5 to 9 day hikes between resupply points is to buy or build a reliable system to recharge batteries on the trail. I have a plan to understand the best system I can set up.

The first stage is to test out some of the main solar charges available on the market today. The second stage is to construct my own solar charger unit. Below we review of the Solio Classic Solar Charger.

Review Index

Test on Trail   Specs: Size,  Weight,  Internal Battery,  Claimed Charge Time,  Actual Charge Time,  Recharging Go Pro,  Charge Light,  Mounting,  Price & Vendors,  On the Trail,  AdaptorsInput/Output Ports,  AA recharging,  Charging the Go Pro,  Overall Results

Solio Classic

Unbeatable Price

Faced with the extreme expenses (for me) of prepping for my fifth hike between Tahoe and Whitney I was grasping about for a cost effective solar charging system.

Kicking around REI and searching the internet showed that Solio had just updated their Solio Classic Solar Charger to the Classic 2, at 100 bucks and the Solio Bolt at 70 bucks.

As a backpacking bum this told me that I could likely find the soon to be supplanted Solio Classic available at heavily discounted prices. A little more research showed that the 50 dollar Solio Classic Solar Charger was available at REI for 40 bucks.

I snacthed up that deal ASAP.

The Solio Classic has subsequently been supplanted by the Classic 2. Let's take a look at the performance of the Solio Classic Solar Charger.

Test

Circumstances beyond my control limited my 2012 Tahoe to Whitney hike to about 311 miles over 34 days. I was forced to start short (Kennedy Meadows on Hwy 108) and end short (Rae Lake bailing out to the West to Road's End in Kings Canyon-and that's a story in itself...). No problem. I had exited the Sierra hiking East over Whitney four times previously, while I had never hiked West to check out Roads End and Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon.

Despite the trials and tribulations I experienced on the trail during this trip I was able to put the Solio Classic Solar Charger through its paces. It did very well. Below I introduce and lay out my experiences with the Solio Classic, which I characterize as excellent.

Good Experiences with the Solio Classic

Overall the Solio Classic Solar Charger performed well on the trail and met my expectations for a solar charger. The areas where the Solio Classic could use some improvements appear to be addressed with updates and design changes in the Solio Classic 2 solar charger.

Excellent Emergency Power for the Age of Cell Phones

In additon to my use of the Solio Classic on the long trails the Classic is also a good Solar Charger solution for your cell phone and other devices during an emergency situation where you cannot access electricity. Those who live in earthquake, tornado, or severe storm areas will find the Solio Classic is an excellent addition to your emergency backpack setup.

 The Solio Classic Solar Charger Review

Specs

Solio Classic Solar Charger in package.

Manufacturer's Claimed Specs

Size: 4.75 x 2.375 x 1.5 inches folded for storage: A palmful of solar charger.

Solio Classic Solar Charger in folded up position.

7 x 7.5 x 1.5 inches with all three solar wings extended. I found the Solio Classic Solar Charger unit was slightly smaller than the 7.5 x 7.5 x 1.5 claimed by Solio, measuring out to 6 11/16 x  6 11/16 x 7.25 x 1.5 by my measure.

The fold-up feature is an interesting and innovative solution to the necissity of sufficient solar panel area against storage and bulkieness issues:

Solio Classic Charger with its three solar panels extended.

Claimed Charger Weight: 5.6 ounces

Charger Weight on Californaia certified scale: 5.6 ounces.

 

Internal battery: Li-ion 3.7 volts, 1650 mAh.

DC Output: 5-6V, 800 mA.

Max Watts: 4.8W

I will test the output with a multimeter as soon as I get one...

 

Claimed Charge time: 7 to 9 hours by the Sun.

 

Measured Charge time: On the Trail

In my experience it took about 2 days to fully charge mounted on the top of my backpack. "Two days" is not a accurate measure of charge time as I did not get steady sunlight. Days were 12.5 hours long during the test, but I was constantly passing in and out of forest as well as through periods of cloudiness. The Solio Classic Solar Charger did not charge up rapidly, but it charged steadily. As the GoPro's battery ran out every couple of days the charge time of the Solio Classic was sufficient to match the drain time of my GoPro 960..

If my AA charger rack had worked out as planned I would have been pushing the limits of the Solio Classic's solar recharge period against the combined requirements to recharge both the AA and the GoPro's lithium batteries.

The key to your device charge requirements vs. the recharge time of your charger can be juggled and balanced by bringing extra batteries. Once you decharge both sets of batteries an extra battery can give you the time needed to charge up the other battery set.

Measured Charge time: On the Bench

Charge time tests

After charging up and draining the Solio Classic Solar Charger in the variable sun conditions on the trail I ran a number of much more controlled tests here at home.

Charging the Solio Classic Solar Charger

I drained the Solio to zero blinks on the green charge indicator light and then times the recharge time in direct bright sun.

Test I

1 hr 34 minutes = 1 blink

3 hr 17 min = 2 blinks

6 hr 59 min = 3 blinks

9 hrs 39 min = 4 blinks

11 hrs 28 mins = 5 blinks

I decharged the Solio Classic Solar Charger down to one blink on the indicator test light then recharged it for test II.

Test II

Start = 1 blink

2 hrs 50 mins = 2 blinks

3 hrs 50 mins = 3 blinks

7 hrs 52 mins = 4 blinks

10 hrs = 5 blinks

Adding the 1 hour 34 minutes to the 10 hours it took to fully charge up the Solio from 1 blink to 5 blinks makes a total of 11 hrs 34 minutes, which almost exactly equals the total time to Solar charge the Solio in test I.

Slight Power Loss

Each time I fully charging up the Solio Classic Solar Charger to 5 blinks using the sun the unit retreated back to 4 blinks within a few hours of finishing the solar charge-up. Each time this happened it took an additional 20 minutes of exposure to restore the full 5 blinks charge.

Results

I found that the Solio Classic Solar Charger takes 11 hours 30 minutes of strong sunlight to fully charge rather than the 7 to 9 hours claimed by Solio. 

 

Bench Test: Charging the Go Pro 960

After conducting the field tests of the Solio Classic I recharged the Solio Classic via the sun, drained the GoPro 960's battery and timed how long it took to recharge the GoPro 960.

 

Battery in the Go Pro 960: Rechargeable 3.7V 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion

Test One: 2 hours, 22 minutes to charge the Go Pro 960.

Test Two: 2 hours, 23 minutes  to charge the Go Pro 960. 

After charging up the GoPro 960 the Solio Classic was drained from 5 flashes on the charge status button down to none after finishing charging up the GoPro 960.

  5 flashes is fully charged.

Charge Status: Press the button on the back of the Solio Classic Solar Charger and the button itself blinks green with the number of blinks indicating charge level: 5 flashes indicates the Solio Solar Charger is fully charged, holding between 80 and 100% of its internal battery's capacity.

Mounting: I used industrial velcro on the Solio with matching velcro on top of backpack.

 Velcro attachment added to back of Solio Classic Solar Charger for backpack mounting.

Below: The Solio Classic mated to matching industrial velcro on the top of my backpack. Fully exposed to the sun, yet also fully exposed to low-hanging branches. I never swept it off the top of the pack, but this mounting position required that I think about low-hanging branches and heavily brushed sections of the trail.

Solio Classic solar charger mounted on the top of my backpack with velcro.


Price and Vendors

Price: 50 dollars list price, 39.93 on sale at REI during August of 2012. Not likely to be available from Solio, with diminishing supplies as vendors run out of the Solio Classic and replace it with the Solio Classic 2.

Purchased from: REI Berkeley.

Solio Classic on REI website.

Solio Classic availability limited and shrinking as this particular model has been superceeded by the Classic 2.

 

Manufacturing

Origin: Unclear. The packaging states the Solio Classic Solar Charger was "Designed in UK, assembeled in PRC." That's China.

It looks like Solio components are designed in UK, manufactured in various slave-labor nations, and assembeled in the King of Police-State slave-labor nations, China... Screw China and the corporations who moved our middle class jobs to slave labor states, as well as those that import cheap labor to manufacture our goods. Neither practice does credit to our country or our general welfare.

Punitive duties must be laid on all China products until their police state is broken, until their nation provides free education, and until they provide basic democratic, human, and economic rights to their people. Importing people to do cheap labor does damage to our country's basis of citizenship based on Constitutional Principals. Both are forms of cheating our citizens out of their due rights and share of our nation's wealth.

Until we terminate these practices we are allowing our corporations to cheat American Citizens while they cheat the people of China. Not Cool...
 

Manufactured and Imported by

Better Energy Systems

SOLIO / Better Energy Systems Inc.

299 Third Street, Ste. 101

Oakland, CA, 94607

United States

Phone: (510) 574-7325

 On the Trail Review

parameters of the testing environment

Trip

Started as a Tahoe to Whitney trip, but time and money restrictions drew the hike down to around 340 miles over 34 days backpacking from Kennedy Meadows on Highway 108 South to Roads End in Western Kings Canyon. I also dropped into Yosemite Valley via the JMT route South from Tuolumne Meadows, then followed the Merced River East from Yosemite Valley over Tuolumne Pass to rejoin the Southbound John Muir Trail via Volgelsang High Sierra Camp over into Lyell Canyon.

Gear

On the trail I carry a Cannon A2000 camera running 2 AA batteries, a GoPro camera sporting a cell-phone style lithium battery, and was also testing out my new Princeton Tec headlamp running AAA batteries. The Cannon uses up 2 AA batteries every 5 days and GoPro eats up the charge in its battery every 2 or 3 days, depending on use. The Princton Tech headlamp will run this 34 day trip on one set of batteries.

Planning a 330 + mile backpacking trip testing any gear requires I take precautions to maintain that gear's function even if the test subject fails, or I screw it up..

Maintaining battery power if the Solar Charger fails on the trail, as did the Suntec during my last solar charger test, is vital. I need to collect videos and images of the terrain to supplement and expand the Tahoe to Whitney Trail Guide.

 In the case of the GoPro camera I have few options. Their rechargeable 3.7V 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion batteries are so expensive that I can't just change them out without a recharge system. With the AA powered Cannon camera I can take the precaution of sending myself replacement batteries in each of my 4 resupply buckets. If the solar charger fails I will be able to keep my basic camera charged, but the GoPro will have to be recharged at the resupply spots after draining its batteries, if the Solar Charger fails along the trail.

Thus I was looking for a charger that would make the USB connection with the GoPro and also be adaptable to charge up the AA batteries in the Cannon.

 The Solio Classic Solar Charger comes with a wide range of adaptors for various cell phones as well as a Solio to USB and mini USB connectors. It did not have a set-up for AA charging, so I attempted to make my own AA charging adaptor. That's where I ran into problems.

Below: array of Solio Classic's device adaptors

Solio Classic Solar Charger with a wide array of phone adaptors.
 
   I counted 7 included adapters of various types, while Solio claims the Classic covers motorola, samsung, and LG phones. Included were adaptors labelled "Sam 3," "LG 3," and  "Nokia 2" along with mini and regular USB.

None of the phone adaptors were of interest to me for backpacking purposes, as I only needed the included mini USB adaptor to charge my 960 model GoPro. I attempted to fix-up some kind of adaptor to get the Solio Classic to charge up AA batteries.  This brings up one of the pecularities of the Solio Classic Solar Charger, its unique input and output ports, and its unique system to adapt these ports to various charging systems.

Input and output ports

Charge in and charge out ports on the Solio Classic Solar Charger.

Charge in and charge out ports on the Solio Classic Solar Charger.

As you can see from the two images above the Solio Classic Solar Charger has two unique input and output ports. The Solar charger's ports are old plugs and the adaptor side of the cable is a unique gillotine slide unit. The Solio Classic Solar Charger uses non-standard connectors. I understand this system of  non-standard connectors has been changed to a USB system on the Solio Classic 2.

I was able to purchase adaptors that fit these connectors at Al Lasher Electronics in Berkeley that allowed me to set up a AA charging rack. More on that fiasco below. Note the other side of the connectors that attach the Solar Charger to its various adaptors are also non-standard.

In the second image above you can see that the top of each adaptor pictured runs a strange four-pin slide adaptor. All of these four-pin slide adaptors must use a special adaptor to connect it with the Solio Classic's ouput connector, shown in the image below. The special adaptor is pictured below with the mini-USB adaptor attached to charge up my  GoPro.

Solio Classic Solar Charger with output adaptor fit up with mini USB. 

Above: Solio Classic Solar Charger with output adaptor fit up with mini USB to charge up my GoPro 960 on the trail. To charge up your "Sam 3" you would replace the mini-USB adaptor with the "Sam 3" adaptor, or whichever adaptor suites your particular device.

The issue with this particular system is that it requires two adaptors to charge up anything, and it is not a standard system.

Recharging AA Batteries

For my AA batteries I obtained a suitable connector for the output on the Solio Classic, then wired this up to a four-battery charger rack as shown below. Well, that's what I though I had done, but I had mistakenly set up the adaptor to connect to the input connector.

Adaptors I set up so the Solio Classic Solar Charger could charge AA batteries.

 I failed this part of the Solio Classic Solar Charger test: At Al Lasher's Electronics store in Berkeley I accidentially fit the AA charger adaptor to the charge-in connector, rather than the correct connector, the charge-out connector. Sigh.

This error was a real drag, and resulted in me not having the AA charge system that I had anticipated, pushing me into my "plan B," which resulted in me having to switch out old AA batteries for new batteries as I drained them. I purchased a small cheap wall charger in Mammoth Lakes and managed to charge up all my batteries as I passed through.

Therefore I cannot testify if my AA adaptor system would have worked with the Solio if I had mated it to the correct output connector, though I am woking to see if I can set-up the proper adaptor and re-run the AA aspect of the Solio Classic Solar Charger test and review.

I emailed Solio's support department asking how to wire up their charger to a AA battery charger, and they suggested a USB powered charger would hook up nicely with their USB to charger adaptor. My next step is to locate a USB AA battery charger.

The Solio Classic performance 

I charged up the Solio Classic Solar Charger via a powered USB port prior to departing on a 34 day backpacking trip. It took a few hours to fully charge.

Recharging my USB 960 GoPro.

The GoPro 960 has a cell phone style rechargeable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion with a fairly short lifespan (2.5 hours of filming time if the GoPro is set up properly, much less if not. The GoPro has 2.5 hours of life, so you better set the camera up to be filming when it is turned on...) The battery-intensive GoPro almost demands a reliable solar charging system to be practicably usable on long distance backpacking trails. 

After draining the battery in the GoPro the fully USB-charged Solio recharged the GoPro overnight. I just pluged them together, stashed them carefully in my pack, and crashed out, I did not actually time how long it took to recharge the Go Pro, but it fully recharged it and both units turned off after completing the charging operationf.

Ater draining the Solio of its first charge on the trail by recharging the Go Pro camera the Solio Classic Solar Charger was fully recharged after two days riding on the top of my backpack hiking down the TYT, PCT, and John Muir Trails reapeatedly recharging the GoPro 960 using solar power as I hiked down the trail.

Overall Results

The Solio Classic Solar Charger worked pretty darn well. I am happy with the performance of the Solio Classic Solar Charger, though the failure of my AA adaptor system prevented me from pushing the Solio as hard as I wanted. The true test would have been to keep both my Go Pro and my AA batteries charged up at the same time.

This aspect of the Solio Charger's performance will be tested in the future backpacking trips, as will its reliability and longevity.

In the meantime it appears that the weaknesses of the Solio Classic Solar Charger have been addressed with the introduction of the Solio Classic 2. The non-standard adaptors have been replaced with USB connectors. The slow solar charge time of the Solio Classic has been upgraded by bigger solar panels and a larger internal battery capacity. These improvements on the Solio Classic 2 have also come with a higher price tag. The Solio Classic 2 prices out at a hundred bucks compared to the Solio Classic's availability at forty dollars.

Have you used the Solio Classic? Let me know how it performs for you and your applications as well your observations and experiences through the comments feature or email.

Happy Trails,

Alex Wierbinski

 

 

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