Tired of dead devices, power cords, and outlet poaching? Have we got a solar charger gadget for you.
It’s 9:32 am on a Saturday, and I’m not only awake, but climbing into my sneakers for a rare weekend run. Although I’m not exactly thrilled for the sweating and soreness, the fact that I can listen to my favorite Pandora stations on my phone makes the ordeal less daunting.
I grab my water bottle, plug in my headphones, and then I notice it–my phone’s battery is dangerously low. Having forgotten to charge it the night before, this blinking yellow battery symbol threatens to deny my achievement of weekend exercise. There’s no time to plug it in. Any delay could result in me giving up and heading back to bed.
But wait! I remember the WakaWaka Power I’ve been testing is still sitting on the windowsill where I left it. I check, and it’s fully charged. I plug it into my phone’s mini USB port, and the juice is flowing instantly. I toss both into my purse for the drive to the park, and by the time I arrive, I’ve got plenty of power to last through 3.28 miles (I’m a new runner).
If you’ve ever found yourself on the road with a device that’s gasping for its life, you know how stressful this situation can be. Technology does so many things for us that it’s hard to cope when it craps out.
That’s why I was thrilled when WakaWaka (which means “shine bright” in Swahili) offered me a chance to take their newest solar-powered device on a test drive. Here are my thoughts after a few weeks of use.
Minimal Packaging – My judgement of a product’s true eco-friendliness begins at the mailbox. I was pleased to see that the WakaWaka Power came in a thin cardboard box that slides out of a simple cardboard sleeve which is printed with visual instructions (in case you hate reading instruction manuals). No tape to cut or plastic shell to discard. Win.
Sleek, Compact Design – I’ve reviewed solar chargers before, and usually they come with A LOT of moving parts, like solar panels, adapter cords, and a separate battery for storage. Not so with the WakaWaka Power. Everything–solar panel, 2200 mAh LiPo battery and two powerful 0.5W LED lights– is included in the device itself, which is about the size and weight of my smartphone (in fact, it’s probably lighter). Simply pull open the built in stand, and place it in direct sunlight.
Easy-To-Understand Power Meters – Another complaint I’ve had about previous solar chargers is that it’s hard to know how fast it’s charging or how full the battery is.
The WakaWaka Power makes it easy to answer these questions with just a glance. From where it sat on my windowsill, I can easily see the flashing red light that lets me know it’s absorbing solar power. One flash for a slow charge, two quick flashes for an a normal charge, and three fast flashes in a row if the sun is really cranking up the power.
Just an inch away from the charging indicator are a series of four lights that indicate battery status: one for 25 percent full, all the way up to four for 100 percent fullness.
USB Charging – The WakaWaka features both mini and full-sized USB ports, making it compatible with just about any device cord on the market. Not only that, but these ports also mean you can plug it into your computer or even a regular electrical outlet to boost the charge if you don’t have time to wait for the sun. (In my experience, it takes about 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to achieve a full charge. At 100 percent, the Power can provide 40 hours of bright LED lighting, and fully charge a smartphone in just two hours). And it’s compatible with both iPhone and Android.
Access to Charging Ports – If I had to think of something I didn’t like about the WakaWaka Power’s design, it would be that you can’t charge your device without unfolding the stand. When completely closed up, the stand covered both ports. But I understand that they did this to achieve an overall compact design, which I appreciate, so it’s really not that big of a deal.
Button Blindness – Sometimes, when you tap the power button because you want to check battery levels, you accidentally blind yourself by turning on the LED lights at full blast. It’s also not exactly intuitive that the only way to turn it off is to fold up the stand. But after a few times, you learn.
In short, I love this thing. It’s absolutely effortless to take with you anywhere, easy to keep on your desk or kitchen window, and a reliable source of both light and power when you need it most. To top it all off, buying WakaWaka products here in the West helps the company donate them to off-grid communities around the world. For a $79, that seems like a huge win.
(Disclosure: Waka Waka supplied me with a free unit for testing, but all opinions expressed in this review are mine alone).