Yes, I know – another solar charger review, but in my defence I’m trying to find one which actually works… and I think this is it.
I would like to introduce you to the Brunton Restore, a device which transfers power to your mobile phone (among other small devices) from a rechargeable battery housed within.
It features two solar panels which open out from the unit like a book to catch rays from the massive fireball in the sky which will one day kill us all, as well as a multi-functional cable which not only charges the battery through your computer’s USB port but also delivers juice back out to your device of choice (mostly). Unlike many other such chargers which come with a bag full of accessories and adaptors, this cable fulfills most needs and is plugged firmly into the Restore so you never have to go hunting for it.
I’m going to get its only fault out of the way first though, and it’s a problem not unique to this particular product: charging the Restore via the solar panels is a slow process, and although it can be done it all depends on the weather and how much unbroken sunlight you can expose it to. And in this country that’s not usually a lot. To get a proper full charge from flat using only UK cloud-dodging sunlight can take two or three entire days in summer, and I imagine a whole lot more during the winter months when days are shorter and miserabler.
But, and this is where the Restore differs from, say, the Freeloader Classic, you can charge it from your car’s cigarette lighter socket (plug supplied). And this, I have to say, makes all the difference in the world.
It means that if you’re away from home on a camping trip and without access to a computer or wall socket (there’s also a DC adaptor) you can recharge the unit in just a couple of hours while you head out on day trips or move from site to site, providing you’re camping with the help of a car, of course. It’s a huge plus point which is overlooked by even the excellent Power Monkey.
The Restore is constructed using tough rubberised materials which help protect the delicate gubbins inside from clumsy folk like Mrs Muz and this also gives it a degree of water resistance if you forget it’s outside on the grass when the typical British summer weather kicks in.
What would otherwise be a handy, manageable, pleasant-to-hold piece of equipment is hampered a tiny bit by protrusions on each side where the cable is plugged in but if you’re confident you won’t lose it you can always put that somewhere safe if you don’t want them sticking out. It’s not a problem though – more of an astute observation. The plugs, incidentally, are USB and Mini USB so if the device you’re charging has one of those on the end of its own cable (eg iPhone) you can just plug that in to the Restore, no matter what plug actually connects it to the device. Other adaptors are available from Brunton, but the supplied cable and the option to plug in your own covers most bases for most small gadgets.
Having used it for about a month now on my iPhone 3G it’s a breath of fresh air when I think back to the bother I had with the Freeloader and Mi-Suny chargers.
It does what it’s supposed to without any fuss whatsoever and all in a neat package which doesn’t need constructing or farting about with every time you want to use it.
At circa £60 – £70 it’s in the price bracket of its competitors, but it’s not exactly an impulse purchase. With that in mind you might want to think of it in terms of being a portable power source rather than just a solar charger, because to that end you’ll get frustrated with it.
One final thing – it has a tiny white LED light in the side so you can dig around your tent for stuff in the dark. And it’s pretty powerful for its size too!
SUMMARY: The Brunton Restore is excellent and at least as good as the Power Monkey. But if this were a game of solar charger Top Trumps, the Power Monkey would win on portability because of the small detachable battery unit. The Restore, on the other hand, would win because you can charge it via a cigarette lighter socket in the car. You pays your money, you takes your choice.