capsule review

Powertraveller Powermonkey-eXplorer So��lar Charger

At a Glance
  • Powertraveller powermonkey-eXplorer

    PCWorld Rating

Want a way to juice up your gadgets when grid-based power is unavailable? One handy solution: Powertraveller's Powermonkey-eXplorer solar charger. It's easy to use and effectively charges a variety of devices.

The charger has two main parts. First is the plastic-and-rubber Powermonkey-eXplorer unit, a 2200-mAh (milliampere-hours) lithium ion battery that looks like a car power adapter. This is what you plug into your devices; it gets a little warm while charging them.

The second part is the "solar slave," a 5-volt DC folding solar panel that's light but ruggedized. According to the company, six hours of sunlight will charge the Powermonkey eXplorer to one-third capacity--enough to completely charge a mobile phone. I found that the solar slave prefers bright sunlight, but it can work in midafternoon shade. It charged in front of my office window, but moving it only a few feet away caused it to stop.

You can tell that the Powermonkey is receiving power from the solar slave by the moving bars on its 1-inch blue LCD or by the solar slave's green LED, though the latter is hard to see in direct sunlight. That's kind of annoying because, well, you want direct sunlight for the solar slave to work.

A dirty little secret: You don't have to charge the Powermonkey using the solar slave. You can plug it into a wall outlet (using one of four worldwide plug adapters), or a USB port on your PC, to charge it.

The Powermonkey comes with 10 adapter tips that plug into many types of handheld gadgets (not laptops) such as cell phones, MP3 players (including the iPod), the PlayStation Portable, and Bluetooth headsets. It will also power but not recharge many digital cameras (you have to take pictures with it plugged in-not ideal but useful in a pinch).

I used the Motorola V series tip to charge up both Motorola Razr v3 and T-Mobile Sidekick (LX and Slide) cell phones. I used the PlayStation Portable attachment to plug in and power up a Samsung digital camera with 5-volt DC input. I could find no attachment, however, for a Kodak digital camera with a 3-volt DC input. The Power Monkey Web site tells you about device compatibility generally, but doesn't have a model-by-model list of supported products, so if you have questions, I'd contact the company first before buying.

The Powermonkey is expensive--$30 more than the Solio Classic Universal Hybrid Charger, for example. The premium gets you the LCD display and a design rugged enough for extreme conditions. You'll just need to decide if such features are worth it to you.

--Narasu Rebbapragada

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Pricey solar charger powers lots of gadgets.

    Pros

    • Charges a variety of devices
    • Easy to use

    Cons

    • Not compatible with all devices
    • Expensive
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