Many products promise much and deliver considerably less. Back in early November 04 we profiled the Solio solar charger for mobile phones, PDAs and iPods. It sounded great in theory but only became available to real folk in 2005. So does the rhetoric stand up to scrutiny? Not willing to take the easy road, TreeHugger sent our correspondent WM trekking in windy Patagonia to test the thing. His carrier pigeon recently flew in with this report..Pros - it works! (tried many older solar chargers before and been very disappointed with their performance.) Have not plugged my iPod into the grid for nearly four weeks. The Solio is the only thing powering it. Takes about 5-7 hours of direct sunlight to keep the iPod topped up. Is small for its function, just a bit bigger than the musicmaker itself and similar in weight. Is simple to operate after one use, no more need for the mini-manual. Is reasonably rugged and robust (needs to be, as no case is provided). With its built-in battery the Solio can be charged on its own, you can then transfer the charge to your valuable iPod in the privacy of your tent.
Cons - adaptor plug provided for a Siemens mobile phone does not fit the phone! Bah humbug. The slick, modern, curvy design does not allow the Solio to stand up easily to face the sun. It's quite a slippery little beast. Flatter edges and/or some textured surfaces would be more useful. The single hole in the centre doesn't make it very easy to strap onto a rucksack for charging, while walking during the day. Small holes or rings on the ends of each fin/petal would be a big improvement for this. The connector from the Solio to the iPod is a little loose at the Solio end and needs to be jiggled now and then to keep it charging. When charging the iPod, a green LED light flashes continuously on the Solio - in the backcountry this might possibly be confused as some sort of emergency beacon.
Conclusions - Gripes aside, the Solio really does what it claims to do, and that means nasty disposable batteries are no longer needed. It's a great, lightweight way to take iPodded tunes into the hills for extended multiday periods. 4 out of 5 hugs. [by WM]