I've been wanting to get my hands on a solar charging kit for a while now. So, I was pretty excited to see them at Costco at a discount and a great sales person who answered my questions about the different options. I settled on the Guide 10 adventure kit which came with the Nomad 7 solar panel, the Rock Out speakers and the Guide 10 battery pack.
I charged up the speakers and the battery pack but don't really have a sense on how well the Solar Panel worked since I was unclear on if the Speakers were precharged. Plus, I charged the battery pack using my computer's USB. At any rate, I tried out the speakers first.
I have several bluetooth speakers and I love the wireless capabilities. I'm spoiled by this so I generally look past speakers with wired connections. With the Rockout from GoalZero you get a wired connection but the nice thing is you can tuck your music player inside the case. Yes, i realize that a bluetooth speaker could be designed to do the same thing but it's a pretty cool feature. It feels rugged and solid. The little pocket inside is very convenient and protects your mp3 player or phone pretty well. If you're constantly playing with your phone like me, this has limited utility most of the time. However, if you just want some background music while you actually engage others in conversation, you can set this speaker and your mp3 player/phone to the side and give someone else your full attention.
After a couple days of use, I'd say this speaker is pretty decent overall. The cost (retail $29.99) is not too bad compared to others I've seen. The design keeps it from being easily damaged when used outdoors and the battery life is amazing at 20+ hours per fully charge. On the downside, there's not much bass response and you have to have a device plugged in in order to get it to work. Also, I'd think some of the larger cell phones would have a problem fitting inside the case and the 3.5mm jack is not ‘cover friendly' – I had to remove my iPhone 4S case in order to have the jack fit snugly.
The Guide 10 battery pack was pretty straight forward. I charged up the batteries (4 AA sized batteries) with my usb port and then left them in the unit. I then threw the Guide 10 pack in a little back pack and took it with me on some errands and to visit some friends. When my 4S battery got low (and my kids were hogging the chargers in the car), I plugged my iPhone in to the Guide 10 plus and topped off my battery charge. Everything went smoothly. The charge seemed ‘fast enough' though I did not do any technical comparisons. This battery charger has a lot of functionality. First off you can charge different brands of AA and AAA (with the included adapter) batteries and then use them to recharge other USB based devices. It has a small LED flashlight that would come in handy when camping or during some other outdoor night activities. It's easy to clip it or strap it to a pack since it has a wire cable loop at the top. By itself, it retails for $39.99 and could be well worth the money on it's own.
The Nomad 7 was where I placed most of my hopes and thus was my biggest let down. We spend a good amount of time by the pool during the summer time and the combination of the Nomad 7 and the Rockout speaker seemed to be perfect for me. I envisioned being able to listen to music via Pandora or some similar service while keeping my phone charged on the solar charger. Perfect, right? Well – I tried just this and was disappointed by the performance. Sitting by the pool and positioning the Nomad 7 in direct sunlight I plugged in my phone which was at about 72% power. I wasn't in sore need of a charge but thought it was a good time to experiment and see how fast I'd get to 100%. I was running Pandora and had my phone tethered to a bluetooth speaker.
To my dismay the battery percentage started going down. So, I disconnected the bluetooth device. The battery % kept dropping. I stopped other apps on the 4S. The battery % kept dropping. I stopped all apps. The battery % kept dropping. I left it alone (i.e. no display on screen but phone was still on) for about 20 minutes and the % kept going down.
I reached customer support and they told me that the version of the nomad 7 I owned would not charge the 4S while it was on. They said that I should charge up Guide 10 and use that OR I could get their newer Nomad 7 since it had a little more juice. Neither of these solutions worked for me – so I took the whole thing back.
If you can work with something like that or if you're charging something less power hungry, the Nomad 7 appears to be a very nice solution. It's lightweight and easy to use and the cost is reasonable for portable power ($79.99) – Also, if you're buying now – you may actually be able to charge your smart phone while in use. I don't have direct experience with that so your mileage may vary.
The end result – since the Nomad 7 didn't work the way I needed it to work – I took the whole kit back and I'm still looking for a nature friendly power supply.
See video below for photos of the kit.