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Re: Solar Chargers?

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avatar Solar Chargers?
August 11, 2013 10:16AM
Has anyone done extensive research into solar chargers for portables, to use while hiking?
Re: Solar Chargers?
August 13, 2013 08:33AM
Funny you should ask... Lots of friends interested recently in our kit.

For the past year + we have been using the Goal Zero Nomad 3.5 panel that used to come only in a kit. Friends who went with us on my birthday hike were interested in getting the unit after seeing how we used it. It adds a little weight, but it's very handy. We were finding it wasn't on the GoalZero website anymore, so I called the company to get the scoop. Currently, some places may still have stock, but the company is coming out with new circuitry that is supposed to be able to charge a wider range of smartphones and such directly. I was told last week that they hope to have it out by Christmas, hopefully mid-November.

For instance, the iPhone 5 is not happy with the Nomad 3.5 we have. But we use the Nomad to charge a battery pack (Tenergy Power Bank - same capacity as GoalZero's battery pack, but much lighter) which charges the iPhone just fine. It also is quite flexible this way, since the battery pack is easy to charge while hiking and the iPhone and other toys can be charged from the pack overnight. The original Nexus 7 charges happily directly from the Nomad. We have confirmed that the PS Vita will not charge directly from the Nomad.

We are expecting delivery of the Pixo C-USB universal charger on Wednesday this week. Hopefully, it will be able to charge the camera batteries as well as our Eneloop AA and AAA batteries we use in my wrist-GPS and SPOT. Can let you know how that works out.

Caveat: yes we use electronic goodies, but we know how to read maps and navigate without toys (the toys are more recent)...I would not rely solely on toys. And frankly, we have ultralight gear that allows us to have luxuries, and the toys qualify, and they add to our enjoyment. I got tired of asking to see stuff on Basilbop's Nexus, so I now carry the 5 ounces of iPhone w/Lifeproof case. But it's super-handy! smiling smiley

Edits: 8/14: We have tried Brunton and Solio units of various types. They were useless to us, especially for the weight/bulk. The GoalZero Nomad was the first that really worked well for us. (First of that gen to use monocrystalline solar cells, IIRC).

8/15: Pixo arrived yesterday as expected. I used one of my 2600 mAh battery packs connected to it to charge (partial fills) 4 Sanyo AAA Eneloop batteries (2 at a time), and camera batteries for a Panasonic Lumix and Sony NEX 5N before going to bed. Then I topped off the battery pack in the morning and charged (partial fills) a Canon 5D battery, a Canon Elph (NB-4L), and a Yaesu VX-3R battery. So our GoalZero Nomad 3.5 charges the Nexus 7 and battery pack directly. The Nomad can probably also charge the Eneloops in the Pixo (they fit solidly) while on the move, while in camp, the other more interestingly mounted camera/radio batteries will get charged with the Pixo connected to the battery pack. Pretty happy with this kit. Hope it all keeps working through our big trip. (Knock on wood.)



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 08/15/2013 05:47PM by JustKeepWalking.
avatar Re: Solar Chargers?
August 13, 2013 10:33AM
Quote
JustKeepWalking

...so I now carry the 5 ounces of iPhone w/Lifeproof case.


Did you actually pluck down $70 - $80 for a Lifeproof case (or did someone really sweet and nice give you one as a gift)? I simply refuse to purchase one those on the principle that it's a total ripoff. It's bad enough to pay $30 for a smartphone case when the manufacturing cost is probably less than 50¢ per unit and one can purchase quality non-waterproof smartphone case for $8 - $15, but to pay 70+ dollars for a case that at most costs maybe $2 to produce? Personally, I simply balk at the price.

When I feel my iPhone is at risk of getting wet, I just placed it inside a waterproof Ziploc bag, a solution that just costs pennies.

The Lifeproof cases look to be really nice cases and very functional, but unless they drop down in price to around $40 (at most) I personally just can't justify the price since the Ziploc bag solution is so inexpensive and other quality waterproof cases for iPhones (though not as functional, can only listen to music) are available for less than $25 like this iPhone Pelican case available on Amazon:

Amazon: Pelican i1015 Clear case with a black liner:




Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/13/2013 10:34AM by plawrence.
Re: Solar Chargers?
August 13, 2013 01:06PM
Quote
plawrence
Quote
JustKeepWalking

...so I now carry the 5 ounces of iPhone w/Lifeproof case.


Did you actually pluck down $70 - $80 for a Lifeproof case (or did someone really sweet and nice give you one as a gift)? I simply refuse to purchase one those on the principle that it's a total ripoff. It's bad enough to pay $30 for a smartphone case when the manufacturing cost is probably less than 50¢ per unit and one can purchase quality non-waterproof smartphone case for $8 - $15, but to pay 70+ dollars for a case that at most costs maybe $2 to produce? Personally, I simply balk at the price.

When I feel my iPhone is at risk of getting wet, I just placed it inside a waterproof Ziploc bag, a solution that just costs pennies.

The Lifeproof cases look to be really nice cases and very functional, but unless they drop down in price to around $40 (at most) I personally just can't justify the price since the Ziploc bag solution is so inexpensive and other quality waterproof cases for iPhones (though not as functional, can only listen to music) are available for less than $25 like this iPhone Pelican case available on Amazon:

Amazon: Pelican i1015 Clear case with a black liner:

We got a Lifeproof case for my son and we are glad we did since there has been a few times when the phone slipped out of his pants pocket and went face down on concrete. He had a Ipod do the same thing and it hit on the corner of the Ipod and the face cracked. He has also taken picture of fish underwater with it. For a teenager, the $70 is a small price to pay considering how much it cost to replace a phone or the front of the phone. The Pelican works but you have to take your phone out of the case to use it.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/13/2013 01:07PM by parklover.
avatar Re: Solar Chargers?
August 13, 2013 02:05PM
Quote
parklover

We got a Lifeproof case for my son and we are glad we did since there has been a few times when the phone slipped out of his pants pocket and went face down on concrete. He had a Ipod do the same thing and it hit on the corner of the Ipod and the face cracked. He has also taken picture of fish underwater with it. For a teenager, the $70 is a small price to pay considering how much it cost to replace a phone or the front of the phone. The Pelican works but you have to take your phone out of the case to use it.


The Pelican case is mainly an option when one needs some solid waterproof protection for one's iPhone (like when kayaking). But when one only wants to "rugged proof" their iPhone (protect it from drops and what not) but don't need it to be waterproof, the OtterBox Commuter and Defender series are more cost-effective options (between $20 - $30 on Amazon) than a Lifeproof case.

Paying a $50 premium for it to be waterproof, at least to me, seems a bit steep (and to me $70 is a lot to pay for a case since a brand new iPhone can be had (with a contract) for $199).


(But I would never complain if someone bought me one as a gift wink, since they are, by most accounts, very nice and functional waterproof case. I just would never buy one for myself at their current grossly inflated (IMHO) price.)

.
Re: Solar Chargers?
August 14, 2013 11:21AM
I tried to get a reply out yesterday, but site went down.

Short version: I use my phone all the time in a variety of conditions, and around critters like parrots and kids. It's been dunked in water numerous times (from tubs to rivers). I've used it in rain, snow and muddy situations. I use my phone ALL the time: as my GPS and reference tool (books, maps, guides, lists, notes, etc) in the backcountry and all the time around "home". No freaking way is a ziploc as easy to handle and it interferes with camera and screen and speaking/hearing - I tried it. The ONE OUNCE LifeProof case makes the phone usable at all times. I've tested the Otterbox cases - too big for my needs/my pockets and spots I stick my phone - and not waterproof. And their first truly waterproof offering is HUGE. And more expensive. It's better only if you think you'll be dropping the unit more and need serious impact protection. (BTW, LifeProof is an Otterbox company now.)

Again, just like Bearikades vs. other bear cans, what we value is different for all of us. I value the ability to use my phone - at all times - in all conditions. The cost of the case is incidental to the opportunity-lost cost - for me. Sounds like you don't use your phone in nearly as many circumstances, and that's fine. Use what works for you. But I respectfully disagree that it's overpriced. Find me something cheaper that is truly equivalent. And look at all the style-based cases that cost ~$30!

I'd like to point out one other interesting bit about dust-proof cases... You don't have to be in a very dusty outdoor environment. I have a friend who uses it in an urban environment, but puts his phone in his pockets... Dust has now worked its way into the camera area and is causing him some difficulty. He can pay $50 for his AppleCare+ to replace the phone, but once he does that, the clock starts ticking again. He can use AppleCare+ to replace his phone only twice at $50 each time. (And what about your time in rebuilding?) And he can't use his phone in a variety of places... like the pool he frequents (where he used his first AC+ claim because he forgot and walked into the pool with it in his pocket - 3 kids, you get distracted)*. He just told me that the next iPhone he gets, he's probably gonna get the case.. given all the things that have happened through daily living with his phone.

YMMV, but AFAIK, there is no better waterproof case than the LifeProof right now for the iPhone. If there is, I'm all ears! smiling smiley

*Okay, one more: I walked into a river with my phone in my cargo pocket on my thigh. Totally doused it as I worked my way upriver. No worries, i pulled it out when I had arrived where I wanted to be, and dried the outside off. It'll happen again. I'm sure of it! smiling smiley
avatar Re: Solar Chargers?
August 14, 2013 12:39PM
Quote
JustKeepWalking

Short version: I use my phone all the time in a variety of conditions, and around critters like parrots and kids.


I live with parrots too (two macaws) but no kids. Fortunately, the macaws have never been interested in attacking any of my cell phones. Unfortunately, they have a fondness of pulling off the keys from computer keyboards and more dangerously, one has an occasional fondness of cutting the power lines of any plugged in power supply.


Quote

It's been dunked in water numerous times (from tubs to rivers). I've used it in rain, snow and muddy situations. I use my phone ALL the time: as my GPS and reference tool (books, maps, guides, lists, notes, etc) in the backcountry and all the time around "home". No freaking way is a ziploc as easy to handle and it interferes with camera and screen and speaking/hearing - I tried it.


I use my iPhone often in the backcountry too. I keep it in a nice Speck-brand case with a non-glare screen protector. I usually carry it in a secure belt holster, especially when I'm hiking. I rarely keep it in a pants pocket. The only time I place my iPhone in a Ziploc bag while hiking is when I'm fording (or crossing on a log) a river or stream where there's a chance of my iPhone getting dunked or if I get caught in a downpour. Otherwise, it's in my belt holster sans Ziploc bag. Dust has never been an issue with any of my cell phones and smartphones, including my iPhone. The Spec case, though slim and lightweight, gives it enough protection that when I've occasionally dropped the iPhone, it has survived the drop (including drops onto hard concrete) unscathed.

But then I'm not one that abuses my high tech gear and toys, though I don't baby them either. I believe if I keep good care of them, they'll keep good care of me.


Quote

The ONE OUNCE LifeProof case makes the phone usable at all times. I've tested the Otterbox cases - too big for my needs/my pockets and spots I stick my phone - and not waterproof. And their first truly waterproof offering is HUGE. And more expensive. It's better only if you think you'll be dropping the unit more and need serious impact protection. (BTW, LifeProof is an Otterbox company now.)

Again, just like Bearikades vs. other bear cans, what we value is different for all of us. I value the ability to use my phone - at all times - in all conditions. The cost of the case is incidental to the opportunity-lost cost - for me. Sounds like you don't use your phone in nearly as many circumstances, and that's fine. Use what works for you. But I respectfully disagree that it's overpriced. Find me something cheaper that is truly equivalent. And look at all the style-based cases that cost ~$30!


I think the LifeProof case is a great case too. I just think the company overcharges for the product. If they sold it for $40 I would probably have bought one too. But to price it as more than 1/3 of the cost of a brand new phone seems very excessive to me, especially considering how little it costs the company to manufacture them. They sell them at such a high markup since people are willing to buy them at that inflated price and yes, I think $30 for a "style" case is too high too. Fortunately, most $30 style case can be bought on Amazon for $20 or less, sometimes far less like $10. If I ever found an authentic LifeProof case being sold online for one my smartphones for $40 or less, I would probably purchase one. I'm not denying they're a good case because they are.


Quote

I'd like to point out one other interesting bit about dust-proof cases... You don't have to be in a very dusty outdoor environment. I have a friend who uses it in an urban environment, but puts his phone in his pockets... Dust has now worked its way into the camera area and is causing him some difficulty. He can pay $50 for his AppleCare+ to replace the phone, but once he does that, the clock starts ticking again. He can use AppleCare+ to replace his phone only twice at $50 each time. (And what about your time in rebuilding?) And he can't use his phone in a variety of places... like the pool he frequents (where he used his first AC+ claim because he forgot and walked into the pool with it in his pocket - 3 kids, you get distracted)*. He just told me that the next iPhone he gets, he's probably gonna get the case.. given all the things that have happened through daily living with his phone.

YMMV, but AFAIK, there is no better waterproof case than the LifeProof right now for the iPhone. If there is, I'm all ears! smiling smiley


I don't think there's a better one either. But unlike a Bearikade which I have (the Scout), I simply balk at high price of a LifeProof case because I know how inexpensive it must be to manufacture these cases and that they could still be make a good profit it they charged less for them. The Bearikade on the other hand is handmade with expensive materials. Wild-Ideas, the manufacturer of the Bearikade, is a very small company with few employees selling a product of limited appeal (market), so they can't benefit from the economy of scale to drive down the cost of producing a Bearikade. So personally, I was willing to pay the high price of a Bearikade because I understood that it really can't be produced (and sold) for significantly less money. In other words, I don't feel I'm being ripped off by Wild-Ideas even though a Bearikade is very expensive because I know their manufacturing costs are a lot higher than the manufacturing costs of other bear-resistant canisters.

OTOH, I personally feel the LifeProof would be fleecing me if I purchased one of their cases for $80. Just compare the costs of producing a Bearikade versus a LifeProof Case. Is the manufacturing cost of a LifeProof case only 2/3 less of a Bearikade? As I stated earlier, based on the materials LifeProof uses for their cases, I doubt that it costs them more than $2 for them to produce one of their cases, probably it costs them less than a dollar.

But I'm happy that you're very happy with your LifeProof iPhone case. I was just pointing out that the price for it seemed very excessive, especially compared to the price of "rugged" non-waterproof smartphone cases. I would be willing to pay $10-$15 more for a waterproof case versus a non-waterproof one (for the convenience of it), but a $50 premium just seems excessive since there are workable solutions (at least to me) that are far less expensive.

Of course, we all have different priorities on what we value and how much we're willing to pay for something. At the end, it's all good if everyone is pleased with their own personal decisions.

.
avatar Re: Solar Chargers?
August 13, 2013 01:13PM
I recently saw a lot of positive feedback on BPL about this one: http://www.suntactics.com. Discussion here. Praise for it charging very fast. No first-hand experience with it though.
Re: Solar Chargers?
August 14, 2013 11:01AM
Early on Suntactics had issues, IIRC. Might be okay now, but we're happy with our GoalZeros for now (don't need to do an iPad), charging the battery as we do is working out. Solar JOOS, btw, died on us. (bad idea to have battery with panel - too hot). Might try them sometime. Anyone with first-hand experience with both? Attachment loops on GoalZero 3.5 allow me to put it on top of my pack easily and keep walking. Battery stays inside top case, cooler. New circuitry in GoalZero will allow it to charge faster, like Suntactics. We'll see about comparos then.
Re: Solar Chargers?
August 13, 2013 01:22PM
There are some cool options at Brown Dog Gadgets, like this USB solar charger. In fact, if you're really feeling industrious you can just by the kit and build it yourself! I've got the components for an AA charger, though I haven't put it together yet.
avatar Re: Solar Chargers?
August 14, 2013 12:01PM
Another vote here for Goal Zero.

This is the kit I recently used on my Yosemite trip: Goal Zero

It was super handy. As has been mentioned, the solar panel charges up a battery pack, that you can fill with AA's, and then you use the USB output from that to charge your goodies.

There are cheaper options out there, I am sure, but that is not how I roll when dealing with potentially life saving kit. Also, almost no solar panel will charge your phone directly, with much success, so always look for one with a battery pack. It's easier this way too, as I can keep my phone in my pocket during the day, and chagre it at night.

Mine kept me going for 6 days on the trail, with very heavy usage of my phone. I was using it as GPS, taking a lot of photos, and some video, and sending the odd text and call home (to ease my dads worries) , and when I couldn't sleep, watched TV on the nice big screen (Galaxy S4). I just made sure that the panel was open, on my back all day, and then before I went to sleep, I plugged the phone into the battery pack, and woke to an almost fully charged battery. The battery pack is supposed to be able to charge a phone a few times before it needs recharing from the solar panel, but I found this to not be the case. A full day in the sun would give me enough juice to maybe half charge the phone, and that was with the slightly larger, Nomad 7 panel.

This could be down to the batteries supplied with the system though, or my battery intensive smartphone. My next upgrade will be a set of decent rechargables. like I use in my camera. The good ones can be quite an investment though.

The great thing about a system like this, is it is very versitile. I can use it to charge USB devices, AA, AAA batteries (camera/headtorch), and, if I am really stuck, can just slap a fresh set of duracells in there, and charge from that. I also have a USB LED light from goal Zero that plugs in to the pack, but as it is fairly heavy for what it is, I haven't taken it out yet.

It's quite expensive, and adds weight, but I am also a pretty lightweight hiker, so treated myself to the luxury.


Steve
avatar Re: Solar Chargers?
August 14, 2013 12:04PM
Also, just to add, the Goal Zero stuff feels like it is well made, and has a nice quality to it, which is re-assuring.

Steve
Re: Solar Chargers?
August 14, 2013 06:17PM
I also use a Goal Zero charging system. This one. I believe that it is their lightest version though it lacks the ability to charge multiple devices. However, you can replace the battery pack with a bigger unit. I find that my fully charged Goal Zero will charge my Samsung GS3 anywhere from 50 - 80%. I have yet to try actively charging my phone-- and I was advised to use the battery regardless to act as an intermediary device to regulate the output so as not to fry the device.
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