Solar chargers mean you can keep your USB devices full of juice, without having to rely on a mains power supply, or a battery – while using a sustainable source of power. A new wave of chargers has come onto the market. Some are ultra-portable, pocket-sized options, while others are larger, more powerful set-ups that you can take on camping trips or anywhere where mains electricity is hard to come by.
When you're looking for the right solar charger, consider what you’re charging with it. An iPhone can charge twice the speed as a Samsung Galaxy, for example, so owners of the latter would want to look at a charger with a higher, quicker Wh output. The most straightforward way to compare them is a ratio of power to smartphone battery life, or Wh output. Around 10Wh is sufficient for a slower charge (for example, 12 watts takes one hour and 50 minutes to charge an iPhone 6), while 100-200Wh is a super-quick power-up.
With all these solar chargers, real sunlight is required. But it doesn't matter if it's overcast - it's the UV rays which give the chargers life.
1. Travel Solar Charger: £24.95, Mobile Solar Chargers
One touch of the single on/off button and you’re away with this one. It’s a pocket-sized dual power bank and solar charger. We'd recommend charging via USB and using solar as a secondary method with this one. With the use of two USB ports, you can charge simultaneously, while keeping a close eye on the battery using the design’s four battery-indicating lights. Store your power for a later time or power-up instantly when exposed to UV rays. One full charge, taking five hours via USB mains or 25 hours of UV rays, gives enough for around three smartphone charges.
2. Little Sun Charge: £79.64, Celery
The ultra-portable Little Sun Charge was a crowd-funded idea which came to fruition last year. With its medium output (12.5Wh), it's about the size of a DVD case. The single USB output gives you instant charge from sunlight, and with this model five hours in the sun is two full-power's worth for an Android or iPhone. While it's not super powerful, it's ideal for a day trip away from mains power.
3. Voltaic Amp Solar Charger: £102.35, Amazon
In our opinion, this is one of the most visually pleasing solar panel USB chargers. A portable, purse-sized gadget, you could get away with strapping it to your belt. With a compact design and a three-to-one ratio of Android/iPhone charge to time exposed outside, it’s an efficient bit of kit. It’s also waterproof and urethane coated for an extra layer of protection. Includes V15 USB battery and micro-USB cable.
4. Voltaic 6W Charger: £118, Amazon
Giving you a four-to-one ratio of smartphone charge to time spent in the sun (or one-to-one for tablets), this is a very effective, lightweight gadget that’s ideal for hikers. About the size of a magazine, simply clip the charger on to your backpack while on the move. With a zip-up compartment to keep your on-charge devices in, the design’s well thought out. Includes V15 USB battery and micro-USB cable.
5. Freeloader Supercharger: £49.99, Solar Technology
About the size and weight of an iPad, this is a rubber-cased, waterproof solar charger built for impact so there are no worries if you drop it. It takes an average of three hours to charge an iPhone, which is an average speed on this list. Compatible with all devices that charge via USB and including an LCD battery monitor, this is a versatile mid-priced option for when you need charge immediately.
6. Waterproof 15W Solar Charger: £44.95, Mobile Solar Chargers
This waterproof, laptop-sized solar charger unfolds to over twice the size, at a similar weight to the average satchel. Feeding power directly to your device or a power bank (purchased separately), it allows you to detach your USB port from the panel up to a distance of one metre, so that you can leave it outside while charging your phone safely indoors via the USB port. Exerting the same power in direct sunlight as a USB mains socket, the 15W charger can charge two devices at the same time.
7. Solarpod Solar Panel 120W: £449.99, Maplin
You get what you pay for with this powerful, compact piece of gear. It produces 300-400wh in one sunny day (to put it into perspective, an iPhone battery holds just over 5Wh and a Samsung Galaxy S3 just over 12Wh), and there’s five metres of cable between the crystalline solar cells and your device, making it ideal for camping.
8. Freeloader iSIS, £64.99: Solar Technology
One for charging on-the-move, this is a pocket-sized device that can charge two gadget simultaneously. With enough output in one charge of the model to offer full-power to smartphones three times, MP3 player up to four times and tablet once. Includes secure rubber casing and bag strap.
For its price, the Travel Solar Charger is a very useful solar/power bank duo. Small enough to fit in your pocket, it’s a super-convenient, compact buy. For something more powerful, however (if the Solarpod 120W is beyond your needs), the waterproof Voltaic Amp is our pick.
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