If we’re not all charging up our music players and cell phones with solar power, it’s not for lack of trying on the part of device manufacturers. Some of these solar devices actually work quite well too, like this portable power supply from Brunton.
The first idea here is you can charge it up at home or in a car ahead of time, like the iGo Power Extender and CallPod Fueltank Charger we reviewed before. Then you take it with you on a trip, using it to charge up your devices when you can’t get near an outlet, like on a plane or bus.
This goes a big step further though. The second idea is to use it as a solar charger when you are on a long camping or mountaineering trip off the grid. With the Brunton Restore and ample sunlight, you can restore your devices to full power. If it’s fully charged, it’ll reload your iPod or regular cell phone two or three times. It’ll fully charge a smart phone or gaming device one or two times. It has enough juice to recharge four AA batteries and can recharge your Bluetooth headset seven to eight times. For an iPod, one hour of sun equals six or seven hours of music—that is far superior to what most other competitors promise.
I left the unit in the sun for seven hours and it was all charged up—I could tell from the handy 4-light LED system. I was then able to fully charge my iPod twice and a half-empty phone and still have juice left in it.
This Brunton version is a bit heavier than some others I’ve tried, at 7.2 ounces, but it’s rubberized and really solid. It feels like it could be dropped off a roof and survive. It’s water resistant too. It flips open too and exposes two rather large panels, making it easier to operate (especially with one hand) than the three-panel Solio charger I’ve tried before.
There’s a handy design to this whereby you can plug in a USB cord to charge up anything attached to that, or you can pull out the male USB plug and insert it into the device. Or pull out the other end of the cable instead and it goes into a mini-USB slot like you see on Google phones and the SlotPlayer for example. There’s an adapter for micro USB as well, which other devices use. So basically you’re okay charging up any music player, communication device or camera, provided it uses some version of USB.
“But Tim, my damned Nokia phone and my damned Samsung phone need different adapters than these!” Well, there’s the biggest drawback with this. Eventually we’ll get to a happy place where every device shares the same standard charger setup, but until that time you have to keep fooling with tips and adapters. Brunton doesn’t offer any help in that department, so if your device doesn’t come with some kind of USB charger, you’re SOL unless you can find some adapter on eBay that will do the trick. For Apple devices, you’ll have to bring along the USB cord to connect the device to a USB port on the charger.
The Restore retails for around $90, but the packaging says it’ll give you the output equivalent of 1,372 AA batteries. You can use this charger 500 times before the internal battery will wear out, which is probably plenty for a lifetime unless you’re a hermit moving to Death Valley. If you’ll be in the wilderness or you’re just a backpacker who will be in a place where sunshine is far more prevalent than reliable electricity, this is a solid solar charger that really works.
Get the Brunton Restore Portable Power Device at Backcountry.com or Amazon.
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This looks like a good device for greening the environment, but I just don’t see it as “practical” travel gear. A business traveler will be inside too much to use it, and a vacation traveler will not want to take it to the beach for fear of breaking it.
I don’t think there’s any legitimate fear of breaking this thing in normal use—it’s very rugged. And I’ve found chargers like this to be practical in a wide variety of circumstances, from hiking the Inca Trail or Annapurna circuit to camping to being in locations where the unreliable electricity is liable to blow out your electronics. And if you’ve been backpacking in developing countries, you know it can often be quite hard to find an outlet to use in cheap hotels, but sunshine is abundant in the tropics.
Will this device be able to power one of the smaller laptop PCs being sold today? What about portable DVD players?
They’re not promising that and in fact the only devices I’ve seen that do say they can charge a laptop (even a tiny one) are the larger panels that roll up—the kind of things mountaineering groups have the sherpas carry along with the oxygen tanks. So far, it doesn’t seem like there’s a small portable device that has enough ooomph unless you count the backpacks and laptop cases where a whole side of it is covered with a solar panel.
This may be a dumb question, but it’s my dumb question:) I just acquired a Bruton Restore. My goal is to use the sun to do the charging as opposed to my computer or vehicle, though I appreciate having that option.
In the article the writer says: “I left the unit in the sun for seven hours and it was all charged up—I could tell from the handy 4-light LED system.” I have been leaving mine open in the sun but I am not getting any feedback from the LED system as to the level of charge. Should I have removed the USB/mini-USB cable to do the charging? Does the LED system light up only when I endeavor to charge something. How do I get it to tell me its level of charge? Also, how long does the battery “hold” the charge for? These issues don’t seem to be addressed in the accompanying literature. Appreciate any input.
One contribution I can make — I have run a lanyard through the “handles” of the Restore and with that I can hang the device over my head/shoulder to position it so that it can “charge” if I am out for a walk.
As soon as you hit the button to turn it on the LED bulbs light up to tell you how much it’s charged. You don’t have to remove the cord to charge it, but you do have to remove it if you’re plugging in an external cord, like an iPod one when charging the device. In my experience, the battery holds the charge for weeks.
This looks like a MUST for my next vacation. We are off into the backwoods and will need a charger for all the essential electrical gear we now have to take with us.
Hello Tim, I was wondering about using the restore to chrage a blackberry. We have one that won’t charge my blackberry but will charge other phones. Any idea about this?
It shouldn’t matter unless there’s a problem with the Blackberry. Anything with USB or mini USB should charge with this. Or if not one of those, with an adapter. Current is current.
Great Article… i have one of these units and it has been through a whole host of challenges and keeps on providing solar power… i also have some Goal Zero products and found them to be everybit as reliable.. how has it been for charging an Iphone?