We look at an affordable solar powered charger, with an internal 1,200mAh battery, LCD power meter display and a range of charging tips.
Solar powered chargers are always slightly controversial when it comes to the marketing claims and reality. As they rely on good levels of lighting, solar panels in the UK will always be at a bit of a disadvantage.
Fortunately the Freeloader Classic doesn’t simply charge a device in realtime, but rather charges an internal battery (1,200mAh in capacity) that can then charge your phone at your convenience.
Solar panels don’t only with bright sunlight, but the manufacturer quotes a full charge is possible in eight hours under optimum conditions. Realistically, on a cloudy day in March, that charging time is to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
As a result, the best option is to charge the internal battery from a more traditional power source – such as from your computer (or laptop). This can be done using the supplied mini-USB cable. If you have a mains charger with an integrated USB socket, as supplied with many new mobile phones now, you can drastically increase the charging time.
Of course, the solar panels aren’t completely redundant and can be used to keep the battery topped up once charged, or after it has been used for a short time. To do this, you must unclip the two individual solar panels and slot them in on either side.
When not in use, you can unclip any one of the panels and re-attach it to face the other one, protecting both panels. The downside is that this then stops the battery from being charged at all. It also means that, given each panel is removable, you have the chance of losing one, or both, of the solar panels.
In the box comes a number of tips to charge different devices, from most popular mobile phones (including those using mini and micro-USB) to digital cameras or Nintendo’s DS handheld games console. You also get a normal USB socket, so you can use any other cable you might have.
The only real limitation is that the 1,200mAh battery isn’t enough to fully charge many new smartphones (many phones now have batteries at least 1,500mAh in capacity) but it is certainly enough to give a significant boost, or be shared between multiple devices to give a short boost for emergency use.
Another feature of the Freeloader Classic is a LCD display that gives a detailed measure of the battery charge. What you can’t do is get an instant reading, unless you’re either charging something or it is receiving a charge. When plugged in to a computer or the mains, it is also illuminated with a blue backlight. When charging from the solar panels, the illumination is turned off as it clearly isn’t needed. It would have been nice to have had a button to quickly view the charge level when not in use.
Overall the Freeloader Classic proved a little disappointing. As a portable battery charger (ignoring the solar panels for a minute), it worked perfectly well, besides requiring a mini-USB cable instead of the industry standard micro-USB cable. As almost every new mobile phone now uses micro-USB, it would have made considerably more sense to have had used this. It would have meant that most people could carry just one cable, and swap it for when charging the phone or charging the charger!
As it stands, the solar panels should be considered an added bonus that may come in handy when the weather conditions are ideal, or if you’re travelling abroad where a strong light level will be more powerful. Otherwise, you’re probably better off buying a normal battery charger without the solar panels.
But, at £39.95, it’s not too expensive to buy for the solar charging aspect even if that might turn out not be the primary method of charging.
The Freeloader Classic is available now from Firebox.com.
WM Rating: 3 out of 5
- Size: 123x62x17mm (folded)
- Weight: 124g
- Solar Panels input: 150mAh
- USB input: 500mAh
- Internal Battery: 1,200mAh
- Power Output: 4.5-5v, 500mAh
- Sockets: mini-USB (input), USB (output)\