Review: XD Design's Solar Sunflower charger
By Paul Ridden
December 20, 2012
In February of this year, we covered the release of the nifty solar Window Charger from XD Modo (now XD Design) that maximizes available sunlight by sticking to a window with a removable silicone patch. Now, Gizmag has spent a little time with the company's latest sun-soaking gadget charger ... the cute-as-a-button Solar Sunflower.
The 23 x 10 x 10 cm (9 x 3.9 x 3.9 inch), 252 g (8.8 ounce) Solar Sunflower was the brainchild of Ryan McSorley, and forms part of the design collective's ECO collection. The white pot-shaped plastic base is home to a 2500 mAh lithium battery (almost twice the capacity of the 1300 mAh Window Charger), from which sprouts an 8-cm (3.14-inch) stem flanked by two green plastic leaves for decoration. The stem is topped by a white plastic flower head with an 8.5-cm (3.34-inch) diameter 5V/100 mA PV panel set at an angle of 35 degrees.
A rubberized base helps protect your precious antique table top from scratch damage, or keeps the unit in position on the windowsill. To the bottom and right of the front of the pot are two LED lights. The green LED comes to life when the PV panel is soaking up sufficient light to charge the battery. This light stays on even when the battery is full, although XD Design does point out that the battery is protected against overcharging.
When the white LED next door lights up, the battery is being charged via the mini-USB input to the rear (cable included). This indicator goes off when the battery is full, and the unit is said to include short circuit protection. When both lights are on, the Sunflower's battery is enjoying a good juicing up from both sources. There's also a full-size 5V/1000 mA USB power output around the back.
After fully charging the Sunflower's battery via USB for the first use as per the instructions, I subsequently drained it again courtesy of a couple of very hungry smartphones. I managed to fully charge one, but only got to 80 percent on the other before the Sunflower rolled over and played dead. As it's necessary to charge the battery via USB after a full drain, the charger spent the next five to six hours plugged into a USB wall socket charger (not supplied).
Unlike the new Eton battery packs I handled at IFA 2012, the Sunflower doesn't have any built-in charge level indicators, so there's no way of gauging remaining charge. This means that you're left to guess how much charge the unit has to offer, which is not ideal.
As I didn't want to completely empty the battery's reserve, I topped up my mobile music player only (assuming there would be charge to spare). Then it was time for the Solar Sunflower to join our living plants at the window.
While I'm lucky enough to live in a region that gets plenty of year-round sun, getting the required amount of bright sunlight in winter did prove a bit of a trial. As it happens, I was graced with a few days of bright sunshine during the review period. After spending some 30 daylight hours at the window (spread over four consecutive days), however, the Sunflower's PV panel failed to collect enough energy to give its battery sufficient juice to more than half-charge my smartphone's almost lifeless 1350 mAh Li-ion battery.
Subsequent attempts also failed to fully charge the Sunflower's battery on solar alone. While this may be due to a weaker and lower winter sun smiling down on the panel, I have to admit to being a little disappointed. XD Design says that it will take around 25 hours of bright (sun)light to fully charge the Sunflower's battery, but this depends on the quality of light hitting the PV panel. I'll therefore need to undertake further testing in the stronger summer sun before being able to confirm the manufacturer's claims.
Given its dimensions, this device is unlikely to provide users with a means of rescuing depleted batteries while on the move. It will likely find a permanent spot in front of the home/office window and is certain to prove a talking point. Everyone who has seen it in my home has fallen in love with it.
If you have the patience to play the waiting game while the PV panel fully charges the Sunflower's battery pack, then you'll benefit from being able to power your vast collection of gadgets without paying a penny to the utility company. More likely, you will use a combination of solar and USB power.
Either way, the battery has proven capacious enough to almost charge two smartphones before needing to return to the window and/or USB power source itself. Additionally, its neutral coloring and clean fresh design means that it will doubtless make an attractive addition to any room, and brighten up an otherwise drab and dreary window ... as it did mine.
The Solar Sunflower is available now for €59.90 (US$79)
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