I have been using the Solarmonkey Adventurer for around six months now. It normally sits in my office window charging and is often grabbed to take out with me to top up the battery on my iPhone 5 and iPad Mini. I have also been known to hang it in the window on a long haul flight when no seat power is supplied. This is a handy and portable free power solution but I mainly use the panel to solve a data connectivity problem when in isolated places. Take this week for example. I’m currently in Spain enjoying a holiday in the hills. There is no mobile phone signal inside the rural villa we are staying in and if you step outside and hold your phone in the air at arms length, a slither of 2g. Not the ideal position should you want to actually use the phone in any meaningful way.
With no cabled infrastructure outside of mains power, up until last year I would either head out in search of a hill to stand on, or badger the local restaurant into giving me the wifi password. I did of course also spend large amounts of time offline (and I still do) but i’m finding the need for some kind of connection occasionally necessary to complete the simplest of tasks. Checking the weather or searching local maps (in English) for example. There is also the annoying ‘feature’ built into som iOS games that demand an online connection in order to play.
The best solution I have found so far is to place my Vodafone MiFi on the roof of the villa where it can pick up half decent 3G and sometimes a HSDPA signal. In fact it’s often better than I get from my BT internet connection at home in the UK. When trying to test the connectivity using speedtest.net I was unable to get a reading on upload when only holding the phone but as the image above shows, a decent upload/download connection is achievable when the Mifi is placed in a high enough place. This connected MiFi can then deliver a data connection via wifi for up to 5 devices.
The only issue with this is that while on the roof, without mains power, the battery only lasts for around four hours.
It will last longer if you are not hammering the connection. It depends on the condition of your battery.
A totally uninterrupted internet connection was finally achieved when I plugged the Mifi into the Solarmonkey Adventurer and place it in the sun. I have found that the Mifi’s 1500mAh battery is continuously powered throughout the day and night thanks to the unit’s internal battery.
(If you are unsure about the weather conditions I recommend placing the Mifi in a plastic bag. I don’t normally bother with the solar panel as I have found it can survive even the heaviest sporadic downpour.)
This charging system was Powertraveller‘s first experiment at integrating a Lithium-ion Polymer battery with a solar panel and from my own experience and ongoing experiments it’s a really handy solution.
With a total weight of 265g the ‘clamshell’ type design houses the 2500mAh Lithium-ion Polymer battery built into the back of one of two folding panels. Their website states the panels deliver 3 watts of power and take 12 hours of direct sunlight to fully charge the battery. Their website also lists all the features of the travel case, carabina leads and cables that come in the box.
There are no buttons or switches, just a USB out socket delivering 5V at 700mA, a light that shines red when charging and green when full. It also has a socket should you choose to charge the panel via the mains. This is not a standard mini or micro USB in but one that takes the Powertraveller’s circular power plug. I can see why they do this as in the past any failures that have occurred with my mobile battery systems of other brands have nearly always been as a result of a broken micro USB in socket. I still find carrying all these countless leads just in case annoying. That said, I can’t fault the Powertravellers build quality across all their product range.
As I’m confident Spain will deliver some sun this June, I’ve not bought the mains charging cable with me. You just need to remember to leave the panel in as much direct sunlight as possible.
I did have another experiment using a cooking pan acting as a parabolic dish ..the WiFi-Panplifier but I did not see any great increase in bandwidth in exchange for the awkward (and a little ridiculous) positioning of a pan on the roof. Besides, I always find woks work better as wifi amplifiers. Here is a previous experiment.
In Summary I love this little solar power solution. It’s often in the bottom of my pack just incase and always to hand in sunny countries.
If I was not going to be at least occasionally near mains power for a few days I would consider packing the Solargorilla combined with the Powergorilla although the solar gorilla will charge a number of portable power solutions if the connecting cables can be sourced. This is a heavy solution and sometimes I swap out the Solargorilla for a folding panel from Powerfilm if i’m packing lighter. There is a sacrifice in build quality.
I have a feeling and quietly hope there may well be a larger combined solution to the Solarmonkey Adventurer coming soon.
I must thank Vodafone for sponsoring my data this year and making experiments like this a lot more affordable. If you are going to be using data abroad keep an eye out for the updated international usage offers we are seeing more and more. Or if you have unlocked your MiFi you can always pop in a local SIM.