Review: Solmate Fusion portable solar charger
My brother is posted on the Indo-Bangla border and a few days ago a storm conked the electricity supply at his customs post. Even the solitary generator refused to start. Without electricity for two days and drained out mobile phone batteries, he and his colleagues were virtually cut off from the outside world. Only if he had a Solmate Fusion, a portable charger that comes with a solar charging feature.
Portable power is something that we all need. Everyday I see people at the workplace running helter-skelter asking around if someone has a compatible mobile phone charger. Also during long journeys by train or on a bus. Or when exploring the wild outdoors. We cannot afford to be without power that runs our mobile phones, our cameras and our portable media players.
There are a number of portable power packs available in the Indian market, but not many of them can boast of a solar charging feature (and also storage). While solar charging isn't something that I would expect someone to do for day-to-day usage (given the time it takes for a full charge), it surely is a boon when you are stuck at a place with no power (a situation very likely in Indian conditions).
Solmate Fusion doesn't depend solely on solar power to charge itself up, but also comes with an USB charge feature, which means that you can charge the device (to later power your other devices) from your computer. It also doubles up as a storage device and comes with 4GB or 8GB of flash memory.
It therefore actually is an oversized pen drive that comes with rechargeable batteries. Speaking of size, it may seem big for compared to standard pen drives, but is otherwise small. Much smaller than mobile phones and is also lightweight enough to carry around in your shirt pocket.
The pricing also seems competitive; the 4GB variant sells for Rs 995 and 8GB for Rs 1495. I think they could've priced the 8GB version a little lesser. Solmate Fusion can, for now, be purchased online from its website www.getsolmate.com. They also offer a 10-day money back guarantee.
It is compatible with most mobile devices around and comes with an assortment of adapter tips to fit into most mobile devices. I tried plugging in all that I could lay my hands on and it had a tip to fit in (additional tips can be purchased for Rs 25 each) The only issue is that not all devices like the connection. For example when I tried plugging in a Nikon P100, the camera displayed a bad connection error. But when I replaced the Solmate cable with the one that came along with the camera, it was charging fine. My suggestion, therefore, is to use the USB cables that came along with your mobile devices for charging via Solmate Fusion.
It normally takes 2.5 to 3 hours for a full charge via USB and a much longer 8 when you want to extract some juice from the sun. The problem with solar charging on the Solmate Fusion is that it needs bright sunlight (preferably direct sunlight). Something that is not always possible to get for 8 hours at a stretch. A shorter charging time would have been great, as we are always running against time.
It is also not a bank from which you can draw power from multiple times. The 3.7V 600mAh li-ion battery will drain out in a charge or two. But then we can't expect the world. The device also comes with an LCD panel to display different status messages. What the specs don't mention (and I couldn't test) is for how long does the Solmate Fusion hold on to the power in its battery.
While it does have a slide out USB male connecter, the manufacturers themselves discourage using it directly to plug in to a computer and advise using an adapter instead. Makes sense. Only that I don't like carrying additional adapter around.
The review unit sent to me was white in colour and they didn't even seem to have any other colour options on their website too. I am usually wary of white-coloured devices, they tend to get dirty soon. Multiple colours or at least a black option would've been great. Even the solar panels used have visible rough edges and they somehow kill the finishing.
Beyond the usual charging features, I used the device for some other purposes - to run a portable USB-powered fan as well as a USB-powered reading light. Technically, it can act as an alternate source of power for most USB-powered devices.
Solmate could have also included an AC-to-USB adapter, maybe as an additional accessory, for when there is no access to a computer (or bright sunlight, as often is the case in Meghalaya, my home state).
While similar chargers are available in the market, they are yet to catch on. Maybe Solmate can get people hooked. As for me I am and this is what I intend to get my brother on his next birthday.
Solar Panel: 5.5V, 45mA
Li-ion Battery: 3.7V, 600mAh
USB Input: 5V, 500mA
USB Output: 5V, 300mA
USB Charging Time: 2.5 to 3 Hours
Solar Charging Time: Approx 8 Hours (subject to light conditions)
Flash Memory Capacity: 4GB/8GB
Price: Rs 995 (4GB), Rs 1,495 (8GB)
More about Soumyadip ChoudhurySoumyadip Choudhury aka Somu aka Chaiwallah is an internet addict. His wife and family suspect that he is secretly married to his laptop. The electric shock that he got while trying to fix a neighbour's TV set as a kid, perhaps ignited his interest in everything tech. A do-it-yourself guy, he doesn't believe in hiring electricians, plumbers or carpenters. But often ends paying the professionals more to fix his botched jobs. Somu secretly wishes he knew how to code and also grumbles a lot. He also Tweets a bit as @soumyadip.
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