Since I got the Changers solar charger to test, I haven’t plugged a USB-chargeable device into anything else (with the exception of my iPad). Changers comes as a kit containing a solar panel and a battery pack, along with a a bag of tips that fit most cellphones and gadgets. But this description doesn’t do justice to what is a rather excellent and useful device.
As is customary, I’ll quickly cover how it works. The panel has a pair of reversible suction cups that stick it to either side of a window, and a cable runs to a socket in the battery pack marked “Sun.” As the sun trickles into the battery, the green LEDs across the front pulse, the speed of the flash indicating the strength of the light.
When full, you can plug any device into the full-sized USB port for a 5W charge. The battery can juice an iPhone twice over, a JawBone JamBox several times, and the iPad 2 roughly one quarter to one third.
You can charge things at the same time as the sun tops up the battery, and you can also charge the pack from a USB port on your computer. This is handy for making a quick backup battery on dull days or overnight.
Why I like it
Apart from the convenience, and the fact that it charges in just a couple hours on my sunny Barcelona balcony, I love the Changers charger for its flexibility, both literally and figuratively. The panel itself is made from tough but lightweight plastic that can be bent, and seems to be immune to most shocks.
I have recently cleaned my windows so that the suckers stick better, but before that the panel would drop onto my tiled floor almost daily. Not only did it survive, but it doesn’t even show a scratch.
And those suction cups are removable, allowing me to bungee the thing onto the rear rack of my bike, on top of a tent or sleeping bag. Thus mounted, and with the cable running to the charger in a pannier, I have enough power on a long trip to juice a phone and a GPS, as well as power some in-bike entertainment (JamBox).
With the suckers in place, you can stick the panel to the inside of a car window, or to the outside of a house window. I keep one in the living room window which, although it doesn’t get all-day sun, gets enough for more than a full charge every day.
There’s one more thing I like about the Changers charger, and that’s the community aspect. When you plug the charger into your computer, it can upload a record of its use to the Changers servers. This allows you to see how much you have generated, and you can hook up with friends and try to beat them. As the Changers team is based in Berlin, Germany, which sees roughly one hour of sun throughout the entire winter, I am usually in the lead. The charger and panel kit costs $150.
Pros: Tough, easy to use, cheap-ish and good looking.
Cons: Battery unit could be more compact.