We like to keep it clean over here at CleanTechnica, so when we say three-way, we mean three solar panels that fold into a portable solar charger for your smartphones and tablets. The folks at Solpro sent us one of their new Helios Smart three-panel solar chargers to try out in advance of the official release date (which was a few seconds ago), and as we always do with our solar product reviews, we put it through the acid test.
An Acid Test For Portable Solar Chargers
Helios Smart is the next-generation version of the Helios portable solar charger (we’ll get to the smart part in a minute). Solpro advises that the optimal condition for charging up the Helios Smart is outdoors in direct sunlight, but that doesn’t quite describe conditions in the US northeast this winter, which is where we are.
We were still in the dead of winter when our Helios Smart arrived, sunlight was in short supply, and in any case, our house doesn’t get more than a few of hours of direct sun in any one spot, indoors or out.
So, after waiting a couple of weeks to get a glimpse of the sun, one rare afternoon it actually came out and we put our Helios Smart indoors by the “best” window (about two hours of direct sun if we’re lucky). Also, we forgot to lift the window screen up and we’re not going to even tell you when was the last time that window got washed, so there’s that.
With all that working against the Helios Smart, we took a phone that had run down to red, plugged it in, and within a few minutes it charged to green.
That looked pretty good, so we went out to run some errands and returned after a couple of hours, to find that the sun had long since moved away from the window and one of the cats had knocked the Helios over so the panels were shut, but somehow the phone still got a 100% charge.
Then we wanted to test it on a tablet, so after a few more days of waiting for the sun to shine again, we gave up and put the Helios Smart back in the window. Even in sub-suboptimal conditions (cloudy day, dirty window, direct sun for only a couple of hours), the Helios picked up enough solar energy to give our tablet an extra boost when we plugged it in.
So, if you want a portable solar charger but you’re unsure of your solar conditions, go ahead and give it a whirl. We’ve tested a number of solar chargers this way and we’ve never been disappointed. Even in suboptimal conditions, you can still get enough performance to make it worth your while.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind where your day takes you. Our day job takes us to an office that gets even less sun than our house, but if your daily routine takes you to a good solar opportunity, then you don’t have to depend on solar conditions at home.
Helios incorporates a rather generously sized battery, so if you really need to charge up and the sun is temporarily doing something else, you can charge it from your wall socket, or from another USB device.
More Functions For Your Portable Solar Charger
One thing that we’ve come to appreciate about portable solar chargers is the variety you can get in looks and function, and the Helios does a great job on both counts.
The three panels fold up briskly into a compact unit around the size of a smart phone, which makes the Helios easy to pack along with your other devices.
Since the Helios is designed to pack a big punch, they’ve also incorporated two USB output ports, one of which is for smartphones and other small devices such as headsets and fitness trackers. The other is for tablets.
Here’s where the smart part comes in. You can use both ports at once, and Helios will still recognize and charge the smaller device (apparently that doesn’t always happen with not-so-smart multi-port chargers). Solpro also wants you to know that, when charging from an electrical outlet, if the current is too small for efficient dual charging, Helios will adjust itself to charge your two devices one at a time.
You can get the Helios on Amazon starting March 15. Let us know how you like it.
Meanwhile, let’s note that the age of portable solar chargers is just beginning. Aside from numerous hand-sized portable solar devices on the market (solar flashlights are one of our faves), the US Marines are pushing the envelope on suitcase-sized transportable solar arrays, and you can even get a “portable” solar charger for your electric vehicle.
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