Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Solar Charger - FreeloaderPro


I have been away for a few days, away from the desk and away from the city and away from my computer and away from some power sockets. Away really from quite a lot of the routines I normally repeat daily or even hourly.
Although I have been away from quite a lot I did not separate from my GPS and my iPhone. So some solutions regarding the power management had to be found. Great idea, solar chargers are available and not any longer really expensive. So I checked out the options and very soon was able to narrow it down to devices that could probably do the job of powering two iPhones, two GPS both Garmins but different plugs, and Camera. Al this over the period of a couple of days so no big deal one might think.
The two options were the powerMonkey and the Freeloader. I got some advice from Andy over at digitalUrban and he was testing the powerMonkey not very successfully a couple of month back, so I made the decision to go for the Freeloader, mainly because the new FreeloaderPro comes with a wide range of adapters for all sorts of devices from iPhone/iPod to mobile phone and PSPs on 5.5 V and can now also charge a wide range of Camera and Camcorder batteries on 9.5 V. Also the option to extend the solar panel with the FreeloaderSupercharger made a lot of sense.
So I went down the road into the nearest Maplin store and bought both, the FreeloaderPro and the FreeloaderSupercharger. Happy and feeling prepared I left all the routine and habits related to the stuff mentioned earlier behind me and head of.
To get straight to the point it was a bit of a disappointment really. I worked out very well in the beginning regarding the FreeloaderPro as a battery to recharge the devices. The FreeloaderPro works as a solar collector and charges its internal battery that on the other hand can then charge the device. Apparently not simultaneously both at the same time, meaning it has to charge itself first and can only then recharge. A bit annoying but there you go. Anyway it worked at first because I did, while following the instructions on the box charge the FreeloaderPro while still at home straight through its USB port to fill its internal battery.
Why do I need to charge my iPhone so frequently, it would normally last for half a week easily you might ask. I just love the little app on my phone that enables timeLapse p​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​hotography and it basically runs all the time and having photos taken back to back seems quite power intensive so the battery runs down ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​quick.
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Image by UrbanTick - left FreeloaderSupercharger charging the FreeloaderPro, right same on the move.

The charging of the GPS, a Garmin Forerunner 405 works all right, is quick and the device full. The iPhone is more o a problem though. It does charge up rather quick trough the USB port, but it would only go up to about three-fourth (having the FreeloaderPro full). This was expected, as the explanations on the website already warned about this issue, but on top of this, the battery run out much quicker. So the iPhone was showing a large green, almost full battery sign, but it would only last for an hour.
The even bigger problem occurred as the FreeloaderPro appeared not to charge up again properly. It would not trough out all the sunny days we had charge for more than half full. Not with the FreeloaderSupercharger connected via USB to it and not on its own either. I tried it for a number of days and the weather could not have been better!
Mid week I had to give in and get my iPhones charged at the normal power socket in the wall. This was probably the low point of it all, as I had really high expectations. Anyway one good thing I discovered afterwards was that the FreeloaderSupercharger works very well on its own for the Garmin Forerunner 405. The 405 come with a USB cable to charge so it can be directly connected and charges up rather quickly to a nearly full 98% with a good seven hour battery live afterwards, This trick does not work for the iPhone, somehow the amount of energy delivered seems not to be high enough for the device to recognize as being charged.
Some side notes on the FreeloaderPro are issues with the status light. It is nearly impossible to see it in the sunlight and where else would you use it? Not even shading it with my hands made a big difference, I usually had to take it under my t-shirt to be able to see if there where any light on and what colour they where at. The other issue is with plugholes and robustness. To me such a device should be built for the outdoor use and the FreeloaderPro certainly does not have that feeling to it. I did not test it towards this but it does not have a very robust feeling to it. And being at the beach with sand Covers for the plugholes would be nice. Also better fit for the cables, while having it attached to the backpack often the USB plugs would disconnect with the movement so after a while you find that it did not charge at all because it got disconnected.
To sum up it has been a bit disappointing as said before, but I still believe in the concept. It is small it is light and it is relatively cheap and it should work.


Image by UrbanTick - left FreeloaderSupercharger charging a Garmin Forerunner 405, right trying the same with an iPhone.

The timeLaps imagery will be ready to be put online soon so you can see what all this struggle was intended to do. - These timeLapse are now online.

There will also be an update on the Freeloaders functionality shortly. I have been in contact with the guys producing them and they have sent me a brand new one. I will update you in a post.