Brunton Restore USB Solar-Powered Electronics Charger Review
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• Unit can be charged via USB as well as solar.
• Comes with a USB > mini USB cord and an adapter for micro USB as well.
• Includes a 12 volt adapter to charge the unit with a running vehicle.
• Instructions seem to be for a different unit altogether.
• Charging with the solar cells takes a bit too long.
• If it is exposed to heat for too long the casing melts.
• Will not charge tablets or anything larger than a simple smartphone.
• Will not charge some newer phones properly, such as an iPhone 5 or a Galaxy S5.
The Restore USB Solar-Powered Electronics Charger is a device which is primarily meant to help you keep your electronics charged and working during a time of disaster or when you are away from a stable power source for an extended period of time. There are a number of drawbacks with this unit which prevent it from being recommended for general or emergency use, though it does seem to function as it was designed. That design, unfortunately, happens to be sub-par when it comes to the actual use of the device itself.
The device is able to charge most iPods and older cell phones. It charges slowly and it puts a tremendous drain on the battery, but it does the job and that is not something to complain about. However, new cell phones that were made in the last couple of years and tablets will not charge with this, even if you have the proper cord to use with the unit. The power output simply is not high enough. This issue is only going to compound upon itself in the future as new cell phones come out.
The unit is comprised primarily of hard gray plastic with a black hard rubber grip running along the outer edge. The top of the unit flips open to reveal two 100 mA polycrystalline solar panels. The bottom of the unit has a hard rubber foot meant to prevent slippage if the unit is set on a surface for use. The shell is relatively durable, though it does have issues in higher than average heat situations. The unit is also water resistant, though not much information about this is provided in the instructions or accompanying documentation.
The inside of the unit features the two solar panels and a battery indicator. The unit is equipped with an internal lithium polymer battery which is able to be recharged and holds about 2,200 mAh. The power output is around 1,000 mA (around 5 volts). The unit is USB 2.0 compatible. The unit also includes a hard black plastic adapter from mini USB to micro USB, but there is nowhere on the unit to actually store the adapter.
Along the outer edge of the unit is a USB port, a mini USB port, two areas on the top or bottom which can be used for carrying the unit, and a small crevice which is meant to hold the cord for the USB > mini USB cable that is included with the unit. The outer edge also contains a small light button, a light, and the button to turn on the battery indicator (which consists of 4 bright blue LED lights on the face/inside of the unit).
The unit looks good, if a little bland. For a unit meant for this purpose, however, looks do not matter as much as they would with fashion electronics or other items. Everything on the unit is designed to be functional, so it does not provide much to look at, but the general design scheme is nice and will be a addition to your cool camping gadgets list. The gray and black complement each other and the hard rubber foot on the back has an interesting design.
One of the large boons to this unit is the fact that you can see the battery/charge life from the outside of the unit through a small crevice that is cut into the top of the case. The two “handles” on the top and bottom are so small that they cannot really be used for anything (other than, perhaps, tying a string between them). This leads to the puzzling question of why they were even included in the design.
The unit simply does not function the way that it should. The problems begin right from the start. Though there is a battery indicator, it is not very intuitive. There is a button on the outside of the case on the right hand side which must be pressed to turn the battery indicator on. Interestingly, this button is not even mentioned in the instructions that came with the unit. In fact, roughly 50% of the images in the instructions are not even for this unit and show, instead, another unit that has the buttons on the face. This makes it a bit hard to figure out how to actually see the battery level when the unit is in use.
As mentioned above, the instruction manual is a bit of a mess. It comes on three loose leaf sheets; one written in English, one in German, and one in French. No Spanish is included, which is a bit strange for an item being sold in the United States, but is not too big of an issue. The instructions are for three different units: The Inspire unit, the Restore unit, and the Freedom unit. This makes reading the instructions very confusing, especially when trying to figure out how to use this specific unit or to locate some of the key features (charging times etc.). For instance: The charge time listed for this unit is 10 hours of direct sunlight. Right next to that figure they list the charge time for a different unit as 20 hours. The images included on the instruction sheet have pictures of both units, which leads to confusion when you are trying to locate information because neither of the units look much like the actual Restore unit.
Charging things with the unit is a slow process. The unit itself does not charge very quickly if you use the solar panels, but it does charge in a reasonable amount of time via the USB charger or the 12 volt car adapter that is included with the unit. The solar panels do not work very well in shade or in cloudy conditions, which is a problem considering the fact that the unit cannot stand up to a lot of heat without being damaged. This means that if you want to actually charge the unit in the direct sunlight you will run the risk of damaging the unit.
The second problem is that it does not charge half of the devices that you would think it would charge. This includes most newer smartphones and tablets. The unit simply does not have a power output high enough to charge these items. Even if you have your own charging cable and you use it to try and charge your device with the Restore unit, it probably will not work. If it does work, it will not charge the device completely. This is a significant downside. Given the rate at which new devices come out and the turnover for consumer electronics this problem is only going to become worse and worse over time, partially making this unit obsolete right out of the box.
One of the major issues with this unit is the casing. It will melt. There have been reports of these melting everywhere from a car dashboard to simply sitting on a rock in the sunlight. This is an unforgivable design flaw. If there was a chance the unit could melt in direct sunlight (as it is meant to be used to begin with) then it needs to have been designed differently. The casing on the unit will not completely melt, it will warp and become damaged which can lead to issues using the unit and damage the internal components as well. This issue really makes very little sense and why Brunton would opt to use these materials is a bit mind boggling. Presumably either they did not stress-test the materials properly or they simply didn’t think of it before use.
The buttons and “flashlight” are located on the two sides of the unit. The buttons don’t seem to function very well. They are made of hard plastic and do not tend to work the first time they are pressed. The flashlight, in particular, has to be pressed 2-3 times before the light will come on, though the button seems to function perfectly fine afterward. The battery indicator button works, but you cannot cut it off once it is on. It stays on for about 30 seconds before going off again, which is somewhat frustrating because the indicator itself is a very bright blue LED which can light up the entire room. This leads to an interesting point: The battery indicator is brighter than the flashlight. In fact, the flashlight is so dim it is a non-issue altogether. Even in a dark 10×10 room you will not be able to light up the other side of the room with the light, even when the battery on the unit is at full power. Why include a flashlight if the battery indicator is actually brighter than the flashlight itself?
The unit does come with a warranty, but that warranty is somewhat vague. It is good for 12 months from the time of the original purchase. It will allow you to receive a replacement unit from Brunton at no additional cost. However, it states that damage caused by “mis-use” is not covered. It is hard to tell whether placing the unit outside in the sun to charge and then it subsequently melting would could as “mis-use” or not, so it is a coin toss whether the unit would actually be covered in some cases.
One final issue, which might not be an issue at all for most people but significantly affected the experience: Why is the micro USB adapter not able to be stored on the unit? It is a loose piece of hardware that just accompanies the unit itself and would easily be lost if someone was not very careful. The mini USB and the USB cord plug into the side of the unit so they cannot be lost easily. Why not make a small slot or something so that the micro USB adapter can also be included?
While Restore USB Solar-Powered Electronics Charger does work and function, it does not function well enough to overcome the myriad of design flaws and downsides that accompany this device. The mere fact that it will melt if the unit gets too hot is enough to opt for another device. It is hard to imagine that the designers would create a unit that is meant to work via solar power that also melts in the sun if it gets too hot.
If that was not enough of an issue, there is also the fact that it will not charge larger devices or newer smartphones. This issue is hard to overcome as well, but it makes sense, given the fact that those devices require a higher power output in order to charge properly. All in all, this unit will work in a pinch, but it is not recommended to purchase. If you decide to get one, make sure it will work for your devices sometime before you actually need it.
This also leads to the question of purpose. What exactly is this unit for? Is it meant to be used during a storm when the power goes out or is it actually meant for heavy duty outdoor use like camping and hiking? If the latter, it is very poorly functional. If the former, then it might be useful. At an $80 price point, however, it is pretty hard to justify choosing this over some of the cheaper options for camping and outdoor charging use. The downsides that the unit has in its design also make it something which might be better overlooked.