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 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.

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