Enerplex Solar Products Review
I would like to head into the mountains with no electronic gadgets. To free myself of things that connect me to my busy life in the office or elsewhere. I would like to........but I never do! Whether it is my mobile phone (which I consider to be an essential safety item and wouldn't be without anyway), iPad, camera, GPS or, in some circumstances, satellite phone. What I take varies according to the trip but they have all become an indispensable part of my mountain kit.
The trouble is that all these gadgets need power and, although you can juice them up to maybe last a day or two, extended mountain trips need a mobile power option. One choice is to carry spare batteries for individual items or maybe a battery that can charge them all. If you are having equipment portered and staying in one place you may be able to carry a battery that lasts for your whole trip but most people will need a more portable option that may only give enough power for a few days. For longer journeys you will then need a way to top the battery up.
Solar power is the answer if you have enough sun and that is what we will be testing in this review. If you are staying in one place you could choose a whacking panel that will power items quickly. If you are on a mountain journey a portable system that can be fastened to your rucksack, bike panniers, vehicle or kayak will probably be best. The panel can usually either charge items directly or charge a battery which can then be used to charge other items as and when required.
I have used a variety of panels from the Goal Zero and Power Monkey ranges over recent years and my reviews of some Goal Zero products I've tried are available here. A few months ago we were contacted by a company called Enerplex to see if I'd review some of their products. I wasn't familiar with the brand at the time but a bit of research revealed they are a Colorado based company with a range of innovative products that will suit a broad selection of users.
Enerplex sent three products to test. One was a battery pack, the second a solar panel and lastly they sent an iPhone specific mobile phone case which incorporates a solar panel and battery. I've been putting the equipment to use in a wide variety of situations over the last couple of months and this is what I've found so far........
Kickr IV Solar Panel
What I want from a portable solar system of this type is 4 key things. It must be light and compact enough to make it viable to carry. It must charge things efficiently. It must be simple to operate and it must be durable enough for long term use.
The Kickr IV is a folding unit with 4 panels manufactured from flexible material. When folded the unit is about 15 cms square and only about 1cm thick. When unfolded each panel is also about the same size and it weighs around 270 grams. So, it definitely ticks the first box. A unit the size of a small book and that weight is no hassle to pack and it's thin enough to be tucked against your rucksack back panel or in the lid pocket.
The second thing a panel must do is to charge things well. Of course the big variable in how well a unit will do this is the quality of sunlight available but assuming there is plenty of that the other factors are the panel size and efficiency. The Kickr offers the best balance between decent panel size and weight that I've used. Having 4 panels in such a compact folded unit of this weight is fantastic. The Kickr is rated at 6.5 watts output which Enerplex say, in good light conditions, will charge electronics at the same rate as a wall outlet.
To say the Kickr is simple to use is an understatement. You unfold it, attach it to whatever you need via the corner eyelets (they even supply some elastic bungies with the unit for this purpose) and plug either your battery or electronic device in using a USB lead. It is simple to use and that means you are more likely to use it. Who wants to spend their precious play time fiddling around with complicated systems?
Although The long term durability of the unit is the hardest thing to comment on at this early stage I haven't seen any aspects of its construction or design that I am worried about. The panel has performed faultlessly on wilderness trips to Thailand, Morocco, Nepal and India and has also been used on various UK trips. It shows no significant signs of wear and tear. The panels are weather proof and the construction system inspires confidence with its welded seams and durable materials. The most vulnerable part would seem to be the USB connector but it's hard to see how Enerplex could have protected this link more.
I love this panel. I have others available but this has become my first choice for many trips. Its light weight, ease of use and efficiency make it a fantastic choice for mobile adventures.
Enerplex Jumpr Slate 10k
A lot of times it make sense to charge a battery rather than the device itself. This can then be ready to use when sunlight isn't available, or it may be that it's kept as a back up to ensure there is always a power source for critical devices.
I have used various battery packs before but Enerplex's Jumpr Slate 10k is a completely different design to others I've seen. The name 'slate' sums up its appearance really well - it looks very much like a small slate grey roof tile measuring about 20 by 15 cms and, at about 10 mm thickness, it is a similar depth too. This thin shape makes it perfect for sliding into anything from a briefcase to storing it down the back panel of a rucksack. It even has ring binder holes along the edge so it can be clipped in to a file. It's a very practical shape.
The 10,000mAh battery can be charged from the mains via a micro USB lead (supplied) or by plugging the USB into a solar panel such as the Kickr IV. There are 2 USB sockets on the Jumpr which allows 2 devices to be charged at the same time and a row of tiny LED's which show the battery status. That's it. It is simple but the designers have clearly put a lot of work into making it that simple.
Of course design is important but the key thing again is how well it works. Again, the Jumpr is very impressive. Plug it in to the mains and it is fully charged in 11 hours or you can use the Kickr (or similar sized panel) to recharge it. The battery will then charge any small devices including iPads and smartphones and can charge, for example, an iPhone 5s about 5 times before running low.
Another fantastic product. The Kickr IV has won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award and I would give it an award too. It's a great shape that will fit in your rucksack just as easily as it can be stored in a briefcase and it performs brilliantly. I love the Kickr.
Surfr iPhone case
This is a really interesting product. The Surfr has a small solar panel incorporated into the back of a sleek yet protective iPhone case and a built in 2000mAh battery then connects to your iPhone when it is put into it. The solar panel will trickle charge the battery (although it can't charge it from empty) and the battery can double the life of your iPhone. Simple and ingenious. When fitted the case surrounds your iPhone well and provides a decent amount of shock absorption. The case doesn't incorporate any kind of screen protector. Another very innovative design.
For me this was the least likely to be useful for my purposes although for some other users I could see it being a real boon. My iPhone is rarely lying around in a position where I could point the panel at the sun for any length of time. Infact my iPhone is usually stuffed in the top pocket of my rucksack or jacket pocket and then the lack of screen protection would be a problem (although I suppose a screen protector could be purchased separately).
The battery in the Surfr certainly extended the life of my phone although being able to say it has doubled its life is tricky because phone battery life is influenced by so many factors. It is also a clever design because, despite the additional battery and solar panel, the Surfr doesn't add a great deal of bulk to your phone. The model I received was designed for the iPhone 5s but cases for other iPhone models are available.
The Surfr is a very innovative design which works really well and will appeal to users who need to extend their phones battery life between charges. The lack of a screen protector and any level of waterproofness may limit its usefulness for some users.
Enerplex products are becoming more available in the UK as a new distributor has been appointed to roll the products out. You can also find a host of other information via their excellent website here. You'll currently find them available through Amazon and a range of specialist dealers. Stick with it though - a quick Google search and you'll track down what you need. This is undoubtedly a brand we'll be seeing a lot more of in the near future.
Posted by Paul