JOOS Orange Portable Solar Charger
As more of our lives are connected with devices that require power, people are looking for ways to extend the battery life on their smart phones, flashlights, or other electronics. While larger capacity batteries are available for many items, they aren’t always the right choice. At home and work, we can simply plug in our smartphones or tablets to recharge them. What about when there isn’t an outlet nearby? There are a number of portable rechargeable battery packs (which I’ll be doing a review of shortly), but those are only good for a single use unless you have a way to recharge them. Solar panels that allow you to charge a device directly can also work but require direct sunlight, limiting your use to daytime and nice weather. Solar Components offers a solution, the JOOS Orange Portable Solar Charger, a high-efficiency solar panel with a rechargeable battery in a single device.
The JOOS is a rugged (NEMA 6 waterproof) solar panel with a built in 5400mAh battery pack. While the JOOS is on the stout side, weighing in at 24~ ounces, it is the only rugged solar panel I’ve found that has a built in rechargeable battery (which is replaceable). The unit is constructed of sturdy polycarbonate and has adjustable legs for better positioning when solar charging. There is a security hole at the top of the unit that can be used to hang or secure the JOOS. Two LED lights give you feedback on the amount of charge (they blink 1,2,3 or 4 times to show battery charge level) or to show you the unit is being charged.
The JOOS 5400mAh battery can be charged using the solar panel or a microUSB port connected to a power source such as a computer or wall power supply (not included). A standard microUSB to USB cable will do the trick. Using this method, I was able to charge the JOOS to only 83% full. I reached out to our rep about this and didn’t receive a reply, but after some research online, I was able to find a few other people with similar experience. When charging the unit in sunlight, I was able to get it to 100% charge capacity every time.
For charging a device, the JOOS comes with a custom cable. The cable has a microUSB on one end, and a modular plug on the other. Included are a variety of connectors, including the Apple 30-pin connector, but not the newer Lightning connector. To use the JOOS to charge your iPhone 5/5S/5C or iPad Mini (new), you can use their adapter, which will make the end of the cable a female USB so you can use your existing cable. To help you keep track of all the modular plugs, they included a water-tight plastic bag. On paper, having all of these connectors seems like a good idea, but in reality, it has a number of drawbacks. I have a family of 5 and we have 3 different phone types between all of us and only 2 connector types needed, one of them being a standard microUSB. Using a custom cable is something I can misplace and if I do, I’m no longer able to use the JOOS. The solution many other companies have implemented is to use a standard USB (Type A) connector on the device so you can plug in the charging cable that came with your phone, tablet etc and there is no need for something custom. I really hope this is something that Solar Components addresses in any new models.
My favorite feature of the JOOS is an application you can download from their website, called “Dashboard”. This application runs on Windows® or Macintosh® computers and when connected, can give you real-time feedback on the status of the JOOS. Current charge amount in the battery, amount of solar energy being collected currently etc. I particularly like the solar power chart which allows you to position the JOOS in the optimal angle for solar charging. What would have really made this outstanding is if they also had an application for Android® and iOS® that does the same thing. People are much more likely to bring a mobile phone with them over a laptop or desktop computer.
One key note about the JOOS is that it contains proprietary MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) circuitry, which is more commonly found on larger, more expensive solar panels. This technology allows the JOOS to be more efficient, which means faster charge times and better performance even when part of the solar cell is obstructed. You can learn more about MPPT on their website. If you want to get into the nerdy tech specs, you can find them on the Solar Components website .
For my first test, I drained my Apple® iPad2® completely and used the JOOS (at 100% charge) to recharge it. After 4 hours of charging, the iPad2 was at 55% and the JOOS was down to less than 6% of power remaining. iPad’s are notorious for drawing a lot of power and a full charge is a big challenge. That being said, getting a half charge while in the woods, would be great. That is enough to watch a movie or read a few books. At 5400mAh. it isn’t the biggest battery on the market so a half charge is in line with what I’ve seen from my 4,000mAh or 10,000mAh battery chargers.
It was a sunny afternoon here in Chicago that day so I decided to continue the charging of my iPad2. I put the JOOS in direct sunlight where it showed a reasonable 1.8W of solar energy being collected. After 2 hours of direct sunlight, the JOOS was at 8% and the iPad2 had gone from 55% charged to 62% charged. Charge times will depend of course on the device you are charging and the amount of solar energy being collected. I was able to charge my Samsung Galaxy Note II to more than 75% and an iPhone 4S to 100% off a single charge on the JOOS. Now that spring has arrived in Chicago (even though it is snowing today), I look forward to using the JOOS a lot more.
The one thing I can say about the JOOS is that it is rugged. They set out to build something that was durable and could be used in rough environments and they succeeded. Solar Components even has a video on YouTube showing the JOOS working after being shot by a 22! There are a few things I’d like to see them change in future versions, the cable/USB setup in particular and I’d also like to see a mobile application, but I think the JOOS Orange Portable Solar Charger is a great product for anyone that needs rechargeable power when remote. The ability to charge and store power makes it a winner.
The JOOS has an MSRP of $149 and can be purchased at REI, Amazon and many other online outdoor retailers. Solar Components also offers a case and reflectors as optional accessories, available for purchase from their website.