Novothink's Surge harnesses the power of the sun with its iPhone case/solar charger combo (look here for solar chargers that work with other devices). At $79.95 it nearly costs as much as a new iPhone 3G, but if you're the type who's always on the go and often forgets to bring along a wired charger, there's a lot to like about the Surge. It even comes with an app that tells you how much time the Surge will need to soak up rays based on the weather forecast. Read more solar charger reviews here!
With a footprint of 4.8 x 2.7 inches and a thickness of less than an inch, the Surge is a case that single-handedly sabotages the slim sexiness of any iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, or iPod touch; once wrapped around an Apple device, you'll barely be able to place this combination into your pocket. On the other hand, the Surge is of a solid (yet light) plastic build that isn't altogether unattractive. While our review unit was black, the Surge also comes in white (blue, brown, green, and silver options will be available soon).
There are four green LED status lights on the back of the device; the varying levels indicate how full the battery is with the push of a button, while a single red light tells you the Surge is charging via sunlight or USB cable (also included for those rainy days). While the Surge leaves the iPhone's screen and rear camera entirely unobstructed, it does get in the way of external volume and ring/silent controls. A mini-USB port resides on the bottom; you can sync your iPhone up to iTunes without actually removing the charger.
One cool and unique feature about the Surge is that it comes with a free Solar Planner app, available through the iPhone App Store. In short, the app helps you estimate how much time the Surge will need to spend in the sun. Novothink is quick to note that "the amount of charge collected by the Surge will vary with weather conditions, time of day, time of year, and geographic location, among other factors," so we wouldn't take the app too seriously.
Still, it's got a simple interface that's fun to play with. For example, when we told it that we were taking a 7-day trip in sunny weather, and that we planned on 30 minutes of talking per day; 15 minutes watching video; 90 minutes listening to music; and 30 minutes surfing the web, it informed us that we would need to expose the Surge to the sun for at least 1.2 hours per day to avoid a dead battery, and 4.5 hours per day to stay fully charged. (This is under the assumption, however, that the iPhone is starting out with a full charge, and that no extraneous USB charging takes place during the trip.) While this is nice extraneous perk for the money, we're a little dubious of the app's real-world usefulness.
When you first open your Surge, the company says you should initially charge it via USB for at least 3 hours to ensure a maximum charge of the internal lithium ion battery. After doing so, we then drained the Surge by attaching it to our nearly dead iPhone 3G, which became fully charged in 1 hour and 10 minutes, with a little juice to spare.
To test the Surge's sun-soaking prowess, we placed the device outside between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a day forecast to be mostly sunny. We then plugged it into our completely dead iPhone 3G, which sucked up the Surge's juice in approximately 20 minutes and reported a 20 percent charge. This isn't much of a boost; for example, the Solio Rocsta-i, which is $20 cheaper, charged a dead iPhone up to 50 percent capacity after sitting in the sun on the same day for the exact amount of time. To be fair, the latter device's solar panel is nearly twice as big.
While $79.95 is nothing to sneeze at for an iPhone accessory, the Novothink Surge isn't a bad way to stay green and charged when you're on the run. Though this solar charger is a bit bulky and more expensive than similar devices such as the Scosche solBAT II ($29.99) or Solio Rocsta-i ($69.95), it helps protect your iPhone while doubling its battery life, even if it takes a while to collect the necessary juice.