Solar just got sexy. Well, not really, but the Solio Rocsta-i is nevertheless an attractive option for your mobile charging needs (but if you'd like to check out more solar chargers, you can do so here). At $69.95, the Rocsta-iis on the expensive side, particularly since only one of the prerequisite iGo tips (which cost $9.95 each) comes bundled with the device. Still, the its rugged design is likely to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts if they don't mind a few trade-offs.
At 7.5 x 2 x 0.4 inches and 4.7 ounces, the Rocsta-i is definitely bulkier than other solar chargers we've tested. On the other hand, a quick glance at the device's packaging will tell you that the target audience is outdoorsy types who probably don't care so much about making a fashion statement.
The Rocsta-i's body is made of an "aerospace-grade" polymer shell, which feels tough enough to handle more than a little abuse. Up top you'll find the built-in carabiner clip, which snaps securely into place. The integrated charge-out cable wraps around the charger's outer rim and clips into the side when not in use. A USB cable is included for charging through your computer, and you can purchase a wall charger as well ($15.95). Most of the front face, of course, is dominated by the large solar panel.
An LED indicator is located on the front that will turn red when the device is charging. If you press the Start button on the back at any time, it will blink green to let you know how much juice the Rocsta-i has. Each green flash represents various increments: if it flashes twice, it has a 20-percent charge; three times denotes an approximately 40-percent charge; five flashes puts you between 80 and 100 percent.
According to Solio, the Rocsta-i can charge more than 3,200 different gadgets (including cell phones, iPods, GPS devices, and digital cameras), making it incredibly versatile. That's because the Rocsta-i is compatible with a plethora of iGo adapter tips; unfortunately, they're sold separately, and cost $9.95 each. Solio does, however, include one free iGo adapter tip with every Rocsta-i purchase. (You get to choose which one online.) For this price, it would have been nice if Solio bundled two or three tips of your choice with the device.
Depending on the device, Solio claims the Rocsta-i can add up to 80 extra hours of playtime and 6.5 extra hours of talk time. Before using the sun to fill up yours, the company says you should initially charge it via USB for at least 4 hours to ensure a maximum charge of the internal lithium ion battery. We did so, then drained the Rocsta-i by attaching it to our dead iPhone 3G; it charged the phone 1.5 times before running out of juice.
Next, we placed the Rocsta-i outside in the sun between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a day forecast to be mostly cloud-free. Afterwards, we plugged it into our completely dead iPhone 3G and pressed the Start button on the charger (the LED indicator blinks green intermittently when charging devices, and will shut down automatically when it's finished); the iPhone sucked up the Rocsta-i's juice in approximately 1 hour and reported a 50 percent charge.
Compared to other solar chargers we've tested recently, the Rocsta-i lands right in the middle of the pack. Under the exact same conditions, the Novothink Surge was only able to charge our dead iPhone to 20 percent, while the Scosche solBAT II surprised us by restoring the phone's battery to 75 percent. Seeing as the Rocsta-i's solar panel is roughly twice the size of these other two chargers', we expected it to glean a little more juice from the bright afternoon sun. On the other hand, Solio says the Rocsta-i can hold a charge for up to one year, so it's nice to know you'll always have that power at the ready once the charger is full.
While $69.95 is a lot to pay for a charging accessory, the Solio Rocsta-i redeems itself with a stylish, rugged design that's pretty good at collecting a charge from the sun and restoring power to gadgets quickly. The Scosche solBAT II soaks up even more of the sun's rays in a smaller package, but if you're looking for a device that can charge a large variety of gadgets and take a beating in the process, the Rocsta-i is a solid choice.