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June 23, 2009 Comments (0) Outdoor Tech

Brunton Solo Batt Pack Review

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BattPack001cFor those power-hungry electronic devices you take with you on your vacation travels and adventures this summer, Brunton has developed a very veratile charging solution that just might be the trick for you.  Take a look at our review on their new Solo Battpack offering.  You may find this is what you’ve been looking for!



 

 

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Now is that time of year when families are back together for a while and have the chance to go some place to spend some vacation time. 
A large number of those families choose outdoors-oriented adventures, but not necessarily ones where they are in the outdoors 24/7.  You see the families that visit National or State parks during the day, but in the evening they return to the hotel or the travel trailer to retire for the day.  And, a lot of those folks carry with them an assortment of gear on their vacations that require power, such as digital cameras, mp3 players, video games, cell phones and so forth.  Even those folks that are on the trail usually take along one or two of these items either out of necessity or for their own enjoyment.  Those are the folks Brunton had in mind when they developed their new Solo Batt Pack battery charging/power system.

I’ll admit when I first took the Batt Pack out of the packaging, I wasn’t entirely up to speed on what this system was designed to do.  My initial thoughts were that it was just a battery charger for AA and AAA batteries.  But, as I started reading the instructions, I was surprised to see that the Batt Pack had a couple of other tricks up its sleeve.  On the top of the unit is a hinged door.  Once you open it, you’ll see the four receptacles for rechargeable AA or AAA batteries.  On the back of a unit is the regular household style plug that folds into the body when not in use.  So, from the beginning, it does look to be a somewhat normal battery charger.  However, when you look on one side of the unit, you’ll see two other outlets.  Both are USB receptacles-one for a regular size USB plug, and another that is for a mini USB plug.

BattPack002aJust these two receptacles greatly expand the versatility of the charger.  Besides charging the AA and AAA batteries, you can charge other devices such as cell phones, PDA’s, and even your iPod.  The two receptacles put out the same 5.5 volts that you’ll find on desktop and laptop computers, so there isn’t any concern about getting the transformers or adaptors for those devices.  USB specifications are the same across the board for all devices.  As I continued reading the instructions on the charging process, I found out that you could not charge your AA/AAA batteries at the same time as charging something else with one of the USB ports.  It seems that when the batteries are placed in their chambers, the system recognizes this and shuts off power to the USB ports.  I will honestly say that bothered me a bit at first, but I saw there was a reason why this occurs.

The Batt Pack is not only a charger, it is also something of a power station as well.  Off to one side of the battery bay is an orange button that, when pressed for 3 seconds, puts the system into “mobile power” status.  Once the Batt Pack goes into that mode, the AA/AAA batteries that are in the unit can be used to charge other devices via the USB ports.  So, in essence, once you’re done charging your batteries, unplug the unit, fold the plug into its closed position, and throw it into your bag so you can charge your personal electronics on the go.  When you’re near the end of the day and your iPod is getting low, just pull out the USB charging cord, plug it into the unit, and hit the Mobile Power button.

BattPack004aThe Solo Batt Pack serves a dual function.  First it charges your batteries.  Then it will let you use your batteries to charge other items.  But, wait, there’s more!  In a semi-reverse process that was hard to get my head around, the unit will also charge your AA/AAA batteries from the USB ports as well.  So, let’s walk this through slowly so I don’t confuse you.  Let’s say you don’t have access to a household outlet or a power invertor to use the plug on the back of the Batt Pack, but you do have access to a 12V DC outlet, such as those found in vehicles (i.e. the cigarette lighter socket).  You can take the 12V DC/USB adapter that comes with the Batt Pack and plug it into that vehicle power source.  After that, take the USB cord that also comes with the kit, plug one end into the 12V DC adapter and the other end into the USB port on the Batt Pack.  Put your AA/AAA batteries into their charging beds, and you’re off to the races again!

Are you with me?  I hope I didn’t confuse you, because when I first read everything the unit did, I went, “Huh?”  To put it another way (and hopefully to make it more simple) you can charge your AA/AAA batteries three different ways; you can use the household plug, the regular USB outlet, or the mini USB outlet.  Now, you might be asking yourself where you would get power to run into one of the USB outlets.  Easy.  You can just plug a USB cord into your laptop or home computer and plug the other end into the charging base.  Your batteries will start charging once the connection is made.  And as mentioned earlier, you can use the car adapter to plug into the USB port to charge your batteries.  Because of this dual functionality of running power from either side of the batteries, I belive this is the reason why the USB ports shut down if the power is coming in through the household circuit and the batteries are in place.  I’m not an electrical engineer, but my guess is that the batteries (or lack of batteries) are the switch to keep power from coming in on both sides of the connection.

BattPack006aIf the batteries are not in their charging positions, then you can run the power from the household plug straight through to the USB ports to charge your devices.  But, if you put the batteries into place again, the USB output will stop and the unit will go back into charging mode again.  Make sense so far?  After I got it sketched out in my head completely, I actually liked the idea that I could charge my batteries from different sources such as household socket, vehicle power socket, or laptop computer.  When you’re on the road driving or at rest in the evening car camping, you’ve still got a way to make sure your batteries are topped off before the next day arrives.  The only downside to this is one thing.  You can’t charge multiple things at the same time.  For instance, I’d really like to charge my AA/AAA batteries at the same time that I’m charging my iPod and cellphone all from that one unit.  But, you’ll have to do them separately since the USB ports shut off when the batteries are in place and connected to either an AC or DC power source.

The instructions have a table on them indicating estimated charge times for different capacity batteries.  2500mAH Ni-M HAA’s are reported to charge in 4.62 hours where 1000 mAH Ni-MH AA’s will charge in 1.85 hours.  Basically, the larger the storage capacity, the longer it takes to charge.  The Solo Batt Pack has a safety timer of 5 hours to keep from overheating or damaging the batteries.  And, it also has an Auto battery recovery function to help refresh the batteries.  At one end of the Batt Pack is an LCD display that shows the charging process of each battery.  One solid bar means it’s 0-50% charged.  One solid bar and one blinking bar means it’s 50%-75% charged.  Two solid bars and one blinking bar means 75%-99% charged.  Three solid bars means the batteries are 100% charged.

BattPack005aAll in all, I think the concept of the Batt Pack is pretty nifty.  It’s very versatile and provides a number of ways to charge either the batteries or your personal electronic devices such as the Ipod in the picture to the right.  There were a couple of points where I did think there could be some improvement.  First, the instructions were on one side of one piece of paper.  The information provided on the unit was kind of sketchy and just barely gets you up to speed on everything.  For instance, one part says, “Load 2-4 pcs primary or fully rechargeable batteries into the charger (Make sure there is battery in fourth slot).” What does that mean exactly? Does it mean I have to charge either 2 batteries or 4 batteries?  Can I charge 3 batteries?  If so, which one is the fourth slot?  There are no markings in the battery compartment or even the LCD display as to which one is the fourth slot.  Sure, if you poke around, switch stuff from here to there, you’ll eventually figure it out.  But, it would be nice to have the instructions be very clear from the beginning so I don’t have to guess at it.

BattPack003aNext, on the instructions sheet, Brunton recommends that you use Energizer Ni-MH/Ni-CD rechargeable batteries for better performance.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  No, except they don’t provide you with Energizer batteries to use with the Batt Pack.  Instead they provide you with four generic blue batteries–two AA and two AAA.  The supplied batteries are very low capacity units.  In today’s world, high-end rechargeable Ni-MH batteries are in the 2400-2800 mAH range.  The ones supplied with the unit are 700 mAH’s.  To my further dismay, I saw that they are Ni-CD units, not Ni-MH cells.  Ni-CD technology is very old and those batteries do not have the capacity nor the life of Ni-MH cells.  Ni-CD batteries also suffery from the “memory” problem.  If not fully dishcarged, they can lose their capacity by basically “thinking” that the last end point was the bottom of the well.  Once that memory is developed, they won’t go below that point again. Essentially, the difference between Ni-MH cells and Ni-Cd cells is the difference between night and day. 

Admittedly, for Brunton to provide these sub-par batteries with a charging system like this really has me scratching my head.  Yes, you can easily buy a 4-pack of quality AA rechargeable batteries for around $16.00-$20.00 depending on the brand.  But, you just increased the cost of the complete system by that same amount.  But, to be fair, I searched around and didn’t find any quality AA/AAA charging systems that also allowed you to charge items via USB and reverse the flow to charge the AA/AAA batteries from the very same USB slots–not to mention the ability to charge via a 12V car adapter.  Also, the BattPack comes with several different adapters for various cell phones, an adapter for an Ipod,  a 12V DC adapter, and it comes with a mini USB plug as well.  Additionally, it also includes a couple of different auto-wind cords that can be configured with the adaptors to charge your electronics or charge the batteries in the BattPack as well.  So with regard to price, maybe it’s a wash overall with it not having higher quality batteries in the package.  But, I really would have been over the top with this unit if it did come with better batteries to use from the start.

BattPack007aI really like the concept of this system.  Being able to both charge your batteries and then charge other items from those same batteries via the “Mobile Power” mode is pretty ingenius.  Get yourself four 2500 mAH AA batteries and you’ve got a substantial amount of power to charge items like your cell phone or your iPod.  As you go through the last of the instructions, you’ll find a warning that says, “Indoor use only–Do not use in direct sunshine, near heat sources, or in high temperature.” This indicates that the Solo Batt Pack really isn’t for traipsing around in the woods or on overnights in the wilderness.  It’s intended for use by travelers to cut down on the number of different chargers they have to carry with them on their trips.  You can use it in your car or back at the hotel.  Heck, you can be sitting in your favorite coffee shop with the Batt Pack plugged into your laptop as well.  It’s a charging solution that offers a lot of options for the end user.

For the outdoors person who needs power for their personal electronics, Brunton has a couple of other solutions that are ruggedized and intended for use on the trail or in camp.  They are the Solo 7.5 and Solo 15.  We will check and see about getting one of those for review to evaluate how they would work for the person that’s on foot, but still needs power for the modern conveniences.  For its intended purpose, the Solo Batt Pack offers a lot of versatility and functionality in one unit.  While I would like to have seen a better set of batteries with the kit, it’s hard to complain when you consider the overall utility of this system.  It’s a clever design that touches just about all the bases you’d need for a multi-functional charging system.  For those people on the go and hate to mess with all the various cords and charging units for their electronic devices, the Solo Batt Pack from Brunton might just be the answer to their prayers!

Visit: www.brunton.com

 

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