There's nothing worse than being caught with a dead battery and no power outlets in sight. Provided it's not raining, Scosche has the solution with its solBAT II, a compact solar charger that can charge virtually any USB-powered device (for more solar charger reviews check here). With its compact size and bargain price of $29.99, not to mention the efficiency at which it absorbs energy, this solar charger offers some of the best sun-soaking value around.
At just 3.8 x 2 x 0.5 inches and 3 ounces, the solBAT II is about the size of cell phone, and can easily slip into a pants pocket. This sleek black device comes with a clear plastic mounting cradle, which itself houses two suction cups on either end; this makes it easy to attach the solBAT II to a window that gets a lot of sunlight, such as a car windshield when you're on a road trip. If that's not mobile enough for you, the included carabiner lets you clip the solBAT II to anything on your person while you're tramping around outdoors.
The back of the device has Charge In and Charge Out lights: the former glows red when the solBAT II is charging, while the latter glows green when it's dispersing a charge to an attached gadget. Up top you'll find a USB port, as well as an input jack for charging the device via the included USB cable. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell how full the internal lithium ion battery is; both the Novothink Surge and Solio Rocsta-i have indicators that estimate how much of a charge their batteries are carrying.
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Before exposing the solBAT II to the sun, Scosche says you should initially charge it via USB for 5 hours to ensure a maximum charge of the internal lithium ion battery. After doing so, we then drained the solBAT II by attaching it to our dead iPhone 3G; it fully charged the phone almost twice before running out of juice.
To test the solBAT II's solar abilities, 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 drained the charger in 1 hour and reported a 75 percent charge. That's very good, especially considering that the Novothink Surge, which is built expressly for the iPhone and has a slightly larger solar panel, only charged our iPhone to 20 percent after being exposed to the exact same conditions. While Scosche says it may take 4 or 5 days to fully charge the device in the sun (there are myriad environmental conditions that affect charging times), we were impressed with how much energy it generated after only soaking up rays for a few hours.
Of the three solar chargers we've recently tested, the Scosche solBAT II is definitely the best value. For just $29.99, you get a very portable device that can charge any of your USB-powered gadgets on the go. Sure, the absence of any kind of battery capacity indicator is kind of a drag, but it's a trade-off we're willing to deal with for such a low price.