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Review: Waka Waka Power solar lamp and device charger

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June 27, 2013

This is what you do when you're testing solar-powered gadgets in a tree-filled neighborhoo...

This is what you do when you're testing solar-powered gadgets in a tree-filled neighborhood – you put 'em on the roof

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Introduced early last year, the Waka Waka lamp is a solar-powered LED light designed for use both in first-world campsites and third-world homes. Towards the end of the year, the Waka Waka Foundation followed up on the lamp’s success with a similar product, known as Waka Waka Power. It not only provides light, but can also be used to charge up your electronic gadgets. We recently had a chance to try one out ... during sunny breaks in an otherwise very wet and cloudy June.

The idea behind Waka Waka Power is simple. You put it in the sunlight, and it automatically starts charging up its 2,200 mAH LiPo battery. A tiny flashing indicator light on top shows you how fast it’s charging – a series of single flashes indicate a slow charge, two flashes indicate a normal charge, and three mean that it’s charging fast. The rate at which it charges is determined by the strength of the sunlight. Its Sunpower solar cell has an efficiency rating of 22 percent.

After eight hours in full direct sun, it should achieve a full charge. You can check how much juice it’s got by holding down its power button, which will cause a group of one to four other top-located lights to illuminate – depending on how many light up, a battery status of 25, 50, 75 or 100 percent is indicated.

The Waka Waka Power's solar charging indicator light (left) and battery status indicator l...

The Waka Waka Power's solar charging indicator light (left) and battery status indicator lights (right)

Should you just want a fully-charged battery and don’t have the time or inclination to set the Waka Waka Power in the sun, you can also just charge it from your computer’s USB port in four hours (although what fun would that be?).

In either case, once it’s good to go, you can then charge a phone or other device via the Waka Waka’s USB port. You can also turn on its primary dual LED bulbs in either flashing SOS mode, or one of three brightness levels. Run times for LED use alone range from 20-plus hours on the brightest setting, to over 200 hours on the low-output “Saver” setting.

The unit I received worked just as advertised, with one exception – even after leaving it up on my roof in uninterrupted sunlight for over eight hours, the highest charge I could achieve was around 75 percent (three lights).

When I spoke to the Waka Waka folks, they told me that this was likely because I’m located pretty far to the north – I’m in Edmonton, Canada, the latitude of which is 53.5 degrees north. By contrast, the “full charge in eight hours” figure was arrived at via testing in New York City, which sits at 40 degrees. This means that readers located farther south than me should fare better, although those of you in places such as Scandinavia might make out even worse. It’s something to keep in mind when using any solar-powered item.

As it turned out, a charge of 75 percent was still more than enough to charge up my phone in one test, and my GoPro camera in another. In both cases, there was still enough power left over to run the Waka Waka’s LEDs at full power for a couple of hours or so.

The Waka Waka Power's Sunpower solar cell has an efficiency rating of 22 percent

My only other slight issue with the product was its rather minimalist instruction sheet – and no, there aren’t more detailed instructions available on the company website. While I got the gist of things using the provided sheet, I had to ask to find out whether or not you can charge a phone from the device while it itself is charging from the sun (you can, it turns out). It also took a bit of doing to figure out how to switch between light output levels.

All in all, though, I was quite impressed by the Waka Waka Power. It would be great for keeping devices charged while camping or otherwise spending time off the grid, while still allowing for a source of light in the evening. It can also be propped up in several different configurations, and its ABS construction should help keep it relatively unscathed.

You can get one now, for US$79. Part of the money goes towards supplying people in developing nations with the devices, so they can stop lighting their homes with hazardous kerosene.

Product page: Waka Waka Power

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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5 Comments

It would be nice to put the LEDs in a flash light lens arrangement and use white LEDs. You can still see how many are lit for charge strength.

doug9694
28th June, 2013 @ 09:14 am PDT

the idea s great, but not new. The Sun King lamp by greenlightplanet.com achieves the same, costs less and is rooted in the developing world that it caters too. Waka Waka seems more west-centric in its marketing.

Hala Chaoui
28th June, 2013 @ 11:17 am PDT

I have one, it works amazing. I was an early funder for the fist one and it also works perfectly. Mine charges fully and the light output is as good as most LED flashlights. It also send out S.O.S. in morse code if you are in distress. They are doing great things to help kids be able to study without breathing the smoke from candles and oil lamps.

Steve Leibovitz
28th June, 2013 @ 03:27 pm PDT

If your having slow charging due to high latitudes or cloudy weather the performance can be improved by using a mirror to add more light. I would avoid trying to increase the charging rate beyond the what gives the fastest charge rate indication, 3 flashes.

Dominic From NASA
28th June, 2013 @ 06:32 pm PDT

I hear this cannot charge in sunlight and charge your phone at the same time! Is this true?

Keith Lacey
8th August, 2013 @ 05:10 am PDT
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