Solar Technologies Ltd specialise in solar panels and solar power solutions. One of them, the FreeLoader, can be employed by the photographer on the move.
FreeLoader Globetrotter: Specification
- 120mA premium quality crystalline solar cells
- 1000mA environmentally friendly Li-ion battery - typical battery life is 2 years.
- Five hour charge time
- Supplied with a computer USB charging cable
- Supplied with a power master cable and Eleven adaptors
- iPod - Classic, iPhone, iTouch, Nano, and all iPod products
- LG Chocolate series phones
- Motorola V3 series phones
- All Nokia current and N series phones
- Samsung A288 and current D800 series phones
- Sony Ericsson K750 series phones
- 4mm straight jack for Sony PSP, Tom Tom sat nav, digital camera's, PDA's and two-way radio's
- Mini USB for Blackberry Smart phones, Nintendo DS, Bluetooth headsets etc
- USB 2.0 female socket for MP3 players, smart phones, PDA's, GPS plus much more
- Impact resistant, rust free aluminium body.
- Supercharger with 1.5wp solar cell and supplied in a Tough Case
- Freeloader carry pouch
Costing around £50, you get a solar panel in a canvas cover, the FreeLoader supercharger battery pack, USB cable, 3mm jack lead, loads of attachments in case you change your phone or camera and a weather proof case.
The Camlink Sigma portable power pack costs £15 and works on four previously charged AAA batteries that are housed in the small unit.
While being distinctly smaller, once the Camlink's power is gone, you can't recharge it without an external power source such as a car or computer.
FreeLoader Globetrotter: Modes and features
Building on the original FreeLoader Portable, the Globetrotter adds to the smaller two solar panels with one larger Supercharger panel that, FreeLoader say, can charge the battery up in 4hrs as long as it's in sunlight during that time.
The solar panel measures approximately 8x6in although the canvas pouch it comes in pushes that out slightly further. The rear of the pouch has two clasps for gripping onto anything you want as long as it's not too thick. A flap on a bag or strap would suffice and they work by using a similar technique to how scissors work. The toothed grip opens as the lever is pulled up and closes firmly when it's pushed down. The opposite end has a wide strap with velcro fastening for extra stability.
The solar panel appears to be stuck in the pouch with no way of getting it out as the stitching overlaps the edges of the panel. The instructions say that the panel is removable and after close examination of the pouch I managed to remove it.
It downloads its electricity via a USB port found in the top right corner. The USB cable must be pushed through a slim gap in the fabric which has heavy stitching all around making it difficult to open. After initial use, it does get easier but I struggled for a few minutes. It's also necessary to ensure the USB jack is firmly pushed in all the way because it can sometimes be slightly out and a little manipulation will prove this.
The USB lead plugs into the charger which is a small unit just over 2in square. Next to the USB port is a 3.5mm jack socket and on the opposite side are three LED lights. The centre light indicates charge and will turn red when in bright sunlight and green under cloud or artificial light. This then lets you know that not as much charge is going in and to leave it charging for longer as there is no indication of full charge.
The other two LEDs aren't used with Supercharger. They're used in the standard pack which comes with two smaller panels that fit onto either end of the adapter and the lights indicate whether each panel is working. The smaller panels are also included in the Globetrotter kit and come attached to the charger as what appears to be an extra battery pack. In fact the pack splits down the edges and opens up to reveal the modest solar panels which can be used when you're not on the go and have more time.
As an added bonus, all three panels can be used together which should speed up charging times.
FreeLoader Globetrotter: Build and handling
To protect the larger solar panel it comes in a canvas pouch with clear plastic front to allow light through onto it. The charger and smaller panels are made from aluminium which will cope with a higher amount of abuse than plastic.
The small panels clip together nicely and aren't difficult to separate. The lugs at the end of the panels snap into the charger easily and feel secure enough that they won't fall out on their own.
The unit is ridiculously easy to use once all the parts are recognised. Apart from the difficulty in getting the USB jack into the port on the Supercharger, there's no other real problems.
The clasps to fit the supercharger to a bag are strong with teeth for extra grip. The additional strap is a little under 2in wide and fully velcro which aids strength and also makes it adjustable.
FreeLoader Globetrotter: Performance
It's difficult to test the charge times of the unit as it has no peak indicator to tell me when it's finished. Despite this I put the unit in the window to charge using the supercharger and the smaller standard panels before taking it out five hours later. There was enough power in it to charge up the nearly flat battery of my mobile phone with some power left over.
Interestingly, I discovered that if you don't use the FreeLoader straight away, the battery will discharge itself as I'd already charged it the previous week and it was empty when I came back to it.
Although this is annoying in most respects, I think it's a great feature as regular discharges can keep your battery healthy and avoid possible problems such as false peaking. This is where the battery stops charging because it thinks it's reached the maximum level but may only be half full. It's a problem more associated with older nickel cadmium batteries and is similar to memory effect.
To discover exactly whether this may be a problem, ePHOTOzine spoke to Solar Technology International who maunfacture FreeLoader and they told us that the battery is Lithium Ion which doesn't suffer from either memory effect or false peaking. One thing they did mention was that because of the low 1000mA power output of the Li-Ion battery, it won't fully charge up a camera or games console but it's not meant to. It's a flash charger and as it's something you'd keep on you while travelling around, it's designed as a day to day solution.
While talking to Solar Technology International, ePHOTOzine also mentioned the lack of a peak detector and we were told that the unit does have an auto switch off when it gets to 98.5% full, it just won't give a visual display of being full.
We took the Globetrotter abroad to see if worked in the sun on holiday and our tests proved that the fully charged unit will charge a completely dead phone to full charge.
FreeLoader Globetrotter: Verdict
Luckily, for all you masculine types, the FreeLoader Globetrotter also comes in a more sedate green canvas pouch and grey metal casing.
I'm perturbed by a few areas notably the lack a visual signal when it's charged and that the manual isn't very clear. It also illustrates the connectors around mobile phones with cameras being mentioned fleetingly.
For the traveller who likes gadgets but not the cumbersome annoyance of carrying all the chargers, then this is a really useful tool.
FreeLoader Globetrotter: Plus points
Constant power supply
Multiple outputs for universal charging
Will charge under cloud and artificial light
FreeLoader Globetrotter: Minus points
No visual full charge indication
Because of the versatility and build quality coupled with the ease of use, I've awarded the FreeLoader Globetrotter kit a highly recommended award.
The FreeLoader Globetrotter kit costs around £50 and is available from gadget sites such as ecohamster. Take a look here for more details.