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Being an outdoors kind of person and regularly away from mains electricity I thought it would be a good idea to get something that would enable me to keep my phone going. I came across this handy little solar charger in an RSPB shop, and thought I'd give it a go.
At around £30 it was a reasonable buy, giving that piece of mind that you can keep things charged up when in remote areas for all those electronic gizmos that are now so commonplace, GPS, MP3, 2 way radio, Mobile phone...
The box is a very simple cardboard affair, and inside is a small booklet of instructions and a huge variety of connectors for a wide range of devices. Also included is a USB cable which allows you to charge the unit initially from a computer or USB socket for maximum performance which takes around 3hrs.
At 185g it's lightweight, and the brushed aluminium is pretty tough too, the solar cells are behind a rubbery plastic so shouldn't smash easily. It's also available in shocking pink which may be preferred by some.
The solar cells in the unit are rated at 120mA, which isn't much so the fastest you can charge it using these is stated at 5hrs. Obviously if there is cloud etc this will be longer.
The battery unit is 1000mAh, and has an output of 5.5v, this basically means that anything using a higher voltage than this cannot be charged. This could be quite annoying, but most things are less than this, but it is worth checking first.
One slightly annoying thing is that you can't really charge an item whilst charging the unit itself. So you have to leave it in the sun, and then can charge your gadgets in the evening once the sun has gone in. This may be different when using the extra power of the 'supercharger'.
A 'Supercharger' with 1.5W solar cells which will cut charging time dramatically. If you are going to need to charge things daily then this would be a very sensible purchase, it can be clipped on the outside of your rucksack/kayak/sledge etc. There is also an AA/AAA battery charger. You can also get spare battery hubs so you can have a spare ready, and there is a camera caddy so you can charge a variety of camera/camcorder batteries!
Negative points: This unit isn't waterproof, which would be quite handy as it is an outdoors kind of tool. Mine stopped charging anything, I don't know if it was a loose connection inside or a duff wire. I got a refund easy enough and havn't seen anyone else with this problem so it's probably just one of those things! I'm getting a freeloader pro instead as I need higher voltage for my camera battery.
Other than these points it is a great little unit if you're going to be away from mains power, or if you would rather harness the sun to power your gadgets!
The FreeLoader is a Solar charger that holds its charge in a central battery that when a device is plugged into it will receive a charge in order the recharge its battery. This is very useful if you will be spending prolonged periods away from a wall socket to charge your devices from mains power.
The battery that the solar cells charge is a Lithium battery which is charged via the 3.7v supply from the solar cells and has a reasonable 1000 mAh capacity which is fantastic as it will give your device a good kick up the butt and bring it back to over half battery (in every case I have tried)
The manual that is supplied with the device recommends that the first charge that the battery receives is delivered via the included USB cable and charging from USB can take anywhere between 3 to 4 hours but the first charge can take up to 8 hours.
Now please remember that this is a solar charger AKA designed to be charged using that giant glowing ball of flaming gas in the sky we affectionately know as the sun, and as most people here reading this will be from the UK, you will probably all be thinking "well we barely get sun here"well not to worry. Sure in the archaic days of solar panals, you needed completely summer weather to get a charge from solar cells, but those days are long gone! even on a cloudy day the FreeLoader will still charge, albeit it will not charge as efficiently but it will charge nonetheless. As I have just said light 'quality' plays a key role in the charging of this device, the charging time from sunlight/daylight can vary from 5 hours to 10 hours and also, I will say this now as a lot of people shun this amazing device because they dont take it into consideration, as most of us have double/triple glazed windows in our glorious country of the UK, THIS WILL HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE CHARGING TIME, DOUBLE AND TRIPLE GLAZED WINDOWS HAVE 2 OR 3 VACUUMS EACH. Please refer back to GCSE/O level physics - Convection cannot occur in a vacuum, Conduction cannot occur in a vacuum, only radiation can occur, and because the are 2 or 3 vacuums in your window, this will radically increase charging times. If it is sunny let it sit inside, if its cloudy and looks like its going to rain either charge it inside, or plug it into USB.
This said, do not leave this device over night to charge, you may damage the battery by over charging if left plugged in over night.
Now obviously I am sure a lot of you are thinking its all well and good having a solar charging battery, but what adapters does it come with to charge a near infinite number of devices all with different adapters? well here is a list of the adapters that come with the device:
1 x Master power cable
1 x Adapter for Nintendo DS Lite
1 x Adapter for iPod
1 x Adapter for LG Chocolate series phones
2 x Adapter for Nokia Mobile phones (Old style and the new 2mm adapter)
2 x Adapters for Samsung mobile phones
1 x Adapter for Sony Ericsson mobile phones
1 x 4mm jck for PSP, Tom Tom, Digital camera etc
1 x USB 2.0 Female socket cable for MP3 player, PDA's etc
1 x Mini USB adapter for Mototola RAZR, Blackberry etc
I got this gadget for my birthday from my girlfriend and I have to say it is fantastic. I have spent all day charging up various battery operated devices (obviously discharging them first so that it is is fair test)
But these devices included several old phones of mine and my girlfriends as well as my iTouch and her iPod Nano, the iPods both had brightness turned to full and in my iTouch's case, also had Wi-Fi turned on.
Each device we experimented with recieved roughly between 70% and 80% capacity after draining the FreeLoader of its power (luckily it was very sunny this afternoon so was possible to get multiple charges for the FreeLoader. The device is fantastic and is definitely something that I will be taking camping with me as no doubt my phone will die whilst searching for signal!
As you can see this device is fantastic, it comes with a whole host of universal usage straight out the box, and with the option of buying an additional 20 adapters online I feel this is a must have.
In conclusion; I love it.
I bought my Freeloader from Oxfam, only because I wanted to know how efficient solar panels, albeit small ones, could be.
An ingenious gadget which comes with two cables, thirteen different adaptors, ( the box label claims only eleven adaptors inside ) and a small but very comprehensive booklet of instructions, with some useful contact numbers should one need help or have any related problems.
One of the cables is (yet another) USB cable, used to fully charge the Free Loader for the first time, (takes about three hours) after which solar power is all that is needed to fully recharge it once its power has been transferred into your device.
The second cable is used to connect the Free Loader to the device that needs charging. Mobile phones, iPods, Digital cameras, Sat Navs, and MP3 players are just a few of the many devices this neat little gadget will charge - for free.
On one edge of the gadget are the two cable connection ports and on the opposite side are three tiny LED indicator lights, to confirm its charging or discharging state when connected to USB or device and also when charging from solar energy.
The two Solar panels, when not being used to recharge from the sun, are closed together (panels facing inwards)and plugged neatly onto the base holding the battery. (battery case)
When in use, each panel has a slot, one on either side of the battery case.
My mobile usually needs charging every three to four days and can be charged by the Free Loader in just over an hour.
The Free Loader takes about eight or nine hours to recharge from solar energy when left in direct sunlight outdoors. Apparently, some windows have UV filters and so prolong the time needed to recharge.
I don't think my windows have filters because the Free Loader recharged in a day behind glass.
When charging the F.Loader from the USB cable, the LED lights will indicate when fully charged. The cable should then be disconnected to prevent harming the battery. However, when charging it by solar energy there is no indication of when it is fully charged, but no matter, the battery will not be harmed when left recharging in the sun. It can take much, much longer to recharge on cloudy days.
If a full charge is required before taking off on holiday, it can be checked by connecting up to the USB system, the indicator LED lights will then show if fully charged.
~ DEVICES WHICH THE FREE LOADER WILL CHARGE~
(I have copied these details straight from the Free Loader literature.)
The old 3.5 mm jack adapts the Nokia phones.
The new 2mm jack adapts: LG Chocolate, LG Shine and Prada phones.
Samsung A288 and D800 current series phones.
Sony Ericsson K750 and K800i current series phones.
Nintendo DS lite.
iPod (compatible with with most iPod devices including iphone)
There is a 4mm jack for Sony PSP, Tom Tom, most digital cameras, PDAs, and 2-way radios.
Mini USB is for Motorola, Blackberry, Qtec, Smartphone, iMate, digital cameras and Bluetooth headsets.
The USB female adaptor is for PDAs, mp3 players, most digital cameras and most devices which can be charged through a USB
Additional cables, adaptors and accessories can be obtained from retailer or www.solartechnology.co.uk
I haven't tried this gadget on any other devices as yet, so cannot comment on the efficiency or charging rates for anything other than my mobile.
Apart from reducing electricity bills, the Free Loader is an ideal gadget to carry around when travelling - a bit like a first-aid kit for when batteries run low. Only one cable and the appropriate adaptors need be packed and no matter where you go you can be sure that your mobile, ipod, MP3 player or whatever will be kept fully functional. It certainly beats packing a variety of cables, plugs, bulky adaptors and the need to search for a suitable electrical power source, especially when abroad.
I think it would be unwise to expect it to be ready quickly enough to recharge multiple devices. The rate of readiness will depend on the availability of our sun.
Since purchasing this, I have discovered that the cost to recharge most batteries is minimal, (less than 1p per recharge) and although I find this charger quite useful, it would be best used when on holiday or away from any electrical sources rather than for use in the home.
I saw the freeloader first at the Eden Project, and as both of our phones were out of power, I twisted my boyfriends arm and persuaded him to buy it for me.
It is quite smart, brushed silver exterior and all smooth and sleek when folded up, then you pull it to pieces, the solar panels come apart and one plugs into either side of the battery pack.
The first charge should be from a computers USB port, as this conditions the battery, then it is just a case of putting it in a sunny place, and wait for the battery to charge.
The instructions which come with it are really comprehensive, and the technical support from the manufacturers is also excellant (I had cause to query why my phone wasn't charging with it). The freeloader works best outside, as many glasses contain UV filters, however it does charge eventually behind double glazing (I use mine in the window sill) but it does charge faster outside, in full sun, at an angle to the sun. I find the best position for mine is propped up against the car window. It charges my boyfriends phone (an ancient Nokia) from flat to displaying a full battery, and if it is sunny we don't have to plug his phone in at all, as the freeloader recharges faster than his phone discharges (although he hardly ever uses his phone, so I am sure this is not normal), and I bought a USB battery charger, and it charges 4 AAA batteries from one full battery. Unfortunately my phone doesn't charge very well through it, it provides enough power to be able to turn it back on after it has turned off, but that is about all. I contacted freeloader about this and they got straight back to me saying it was probably the phone rather than the freeloader. As it charges everything else really well I am inclined to believe them.
Freeloader Solar Charger
Having portable solar charger if you are out and about a gadget lover like me is a necessity. You never know when you will be using a hanheld game console, mobile phone or portable music player and the batteries will fade out. This is where the freeloader comes in.
Battery - Lithium rechargeable 3.7v 1000mAh
DC Output - 5.5v +-0.5% 500mAh
Time required to get power from the Freeloader - 30 minutes to 1 hour
Time required to charge the FreeLoader via the supplied USB charge cable - 3 to 4 hours
Basically it's a battery for portable electronice devices that can harness the energy of the sun to make electricity and store this in a battery.
The freeloader comes with the freeloader battery and two solar panels that clip into each end of the battery to allow you to charge it up. The Freeloader also comes with a variety of connectors so you can connect the Freeloader to a portable electronic device. It also comes with a USB charging cable so you can charge the freeloader from a pc or car adapter if you have a USB to car socket adapter.
The Freeloader itself is small, compact and lightweight. It has a brushed aluminium finish available in a few colours Silver/Grey and Pink. Being a bloke n all I had to go for the Silver/Grey but I was tempted by the Pink :o).
Setting up the Freeloader
Anyway the Freeloader is pretty much hassle free to set up all you have to do is plug one of the two supplied solar panels into the end of the battery block. When the panels are connected in daylight the Freeloader lets you know its charging by illuminating two lights (LED's) one for each of the panels connected to the freeloader. The initial charging of the Freeloader takes about 5-10 hours depending on the intensity of the light and after that it's ready to use. To use the Freeloader to run or charge another device from the Freeloader battery there is a socket on the side.
Connecting the Freeloader
There are quite a few connecters that are supplied with the Freeloader it's around 11 and they simply plug into the side of the freeloader. The most important one is the connection to the USB cable. This allows you to get any USB lead that say came with your digital camera and attach this to the camera. As you can see it's pretty versatile in the connector department and there is the option to additionally purchase extra adapters to fit your device if you don't have a USB lead or its not included in the Freeloader adapters that are supplied.
Charging the Freeloader
You can top up the Freeloader by just reconnecting the solar panels and putting it in a light source or by using the supplied USB cable and plugging this into an available power source.
The Freeloader is very portable and compact when stored away
You can buy more adapters to expand the range of the devices you can plug in to the Freeloader
Its enery for free and can store the power for a couple of months
It looks very nice with its brushed aluminium finish.
You can charge it from the mains or by the solar panels supplied.
It does have a limit to the amount of charge you can store in the Freeloader it's not a bad amount of energy but sometimes I wish the storage battery was bigger.
It doesn't come with a pouch to store all the connectors - I had to buy one seperately because I was loosing all the little adapters that come with it.
It can also take a long time to charge from the sun
A portable charger that can power everything from phones to gaming machines to digital cameras and much more.