Solio Solar iPod Charger: Sunny Location Required

Solio Solar iPod Charger: Sunny Location Required

Patrick Norton

A solar charger for the iPod? Sounded cool to us, so we got our hands on a Solio from Better Energy Systems. The $99.99 gadget weighs a touch under six ounces, promises 12 hours of battery life for your iPod and packs a trio of solar cells to charge from the sun.

How well did it work? Read on.

The Solio comes with a cable for Dock Connector iPods, and as you’d expect from any non-US iPod accessory, features a blindingly white case. The shape is oddly organic and sits neatly in the hand when closed. To charge it from the Sun you fan it out into a sort of three pronged solar cell flower and stick a pencil (or pen, or stick…) into its center hole to prop it up towards the Sun. In theory you can use a suction cup to fix it to a window, but our unit didn’t include one. (We’ve emailed Better Energy Systems to get one: the idea of sticking the Solio onto a brightly lit airplane window amuses us to no end.)

The unit includes two jacks, one to output to an iPod adapter cable (there are also cell phone cables for the Solio) and an input for the AC power adapter. The Solio has a single function button that doubles as an LCD. When the button glows red the solio is charging. Touch it and it blinks (1 to 4 times) to indicate the amount of charge stored in the unit.

The manual recommends that the Solio be charged at least once from the AC adapter before using it. It takes around 5 to 6 hours, and after it had a full charge we connected it to a drained 4G iPod and hit ‘play.’ It averaged 14 hours and 42 minutes of playing time before the Solio and the iPod were completely discharged.

Simply connecting the Solio to the iPod won’t drain it. It charges the iPod’s internal battery until it’s full, then the Solio shuts down. Once the iPod had drained down a bit, you can hit the button on the Solio and recharge the iPod’s battery again.

Satisfied with the battery life we took a drained Solio, stuck a pencil in the central pivot and pointed it towards a window. The results were less than spectacular. The red charging LED refused to glow.

We tried various windows in the house, before giving up. A foggy San Francisco afternoon is probably not the optimal charging environment for any solar device. We did manage to get the Solio up to a quarter charge after chasing a couple days of sun through the house, moving the Solio from window to window over the course of the day.

There’s a sticker inside the Solio’s box that reads “Optimal solar charging is achieved when your Solio is placed in direct sunlight with no obstructions, including glass.”

Solar cells work best when they’re tilted at the proper angle and track the sun’s movent through the sky. Their efficiency drops if any kind of shadow hits the cell. That’s why solar cell farms are located where there’s lots of sun and nothing but occasional clouds to block the sky.

We suspect the Solio would have a much better chance of delivering a full charge from 8 hours of sunshine if we lived just about anywhere else in the US.

If you’re mostly interested in battery life, BTI’s iPod Battery II can deliver 40 plus hours of iPod time for the same $99.99 the Solio costs.

If keeping your iPod a bit greener by fueling it from the Sun tickles your fancy, then there’s no substitute for the Solio.

Just don’t expect miracles from it if the sun rarely shines in your neighborhood.

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in ExtremeiPod.