Thursday, 1 April 2010

Freeloader Pico solar charger

A new bit of kit was delivered today.

It will either work or end up in the bin. It is marketed by and looks quite neat and only weighs 49g. As instructed, I'm giving it an initial charge via a PC before charging a gadget. I'm hoping it will charge my Blackberry Pearl and a Sony mp3 player when I'm on multi-day hikes. It doesn't come with a suitable tip to fit the Sony but the instructions say that I can use the lead that came with the Sony. The Pico has a USB and a mini USB socket. If it works, it should be quite useful. However, it's only got a small solar panel so I don't expect miracles.

I searched for a review of the Pico and found a rather good one. I thought it was worth including it below. It came from

"Portable gizmos that claim to charge your cellphone or iPod on the move are two a penny these days. Solar powered portable charging gizmos are not such a common sight, it has to be said, especially if we are talking about ones that actually work. Which is why I was excited at the prospect of having a real world out in the field play with the Freeloader Pico, but at the same time bracing myself for disappointment.

It's not that I am not a fan of the solar power concept for mobility, just the opposite in fact. Over the years I've had every type of solar power charging product imaginable from cumbersome fanned panel devices through to the first ever commercially available backpack with integrated solar panels. The problem being that although they worked, after a fashion (and I use that word loosely as the man about town would not wish to be seen with either truth be told), they were just not practical for day to day use. The fan-like device feature a whole bunch of panels which unfolded to reveal half a dozen panels was not exactly what I'd call truly portable as it defies the object to carry around something bigger than the device it is meant to be providing power for. The backpack was, oddly enough, more practical as you could wear it but only if you didn't mind feeling like you were taking part in some kind of military marching exercise - and that was before you put any of your kit in it.

The portability argument still stands with regards to the Freeloader Pico, after all a spare cellphone battery is a lot smaller and easier to carry. Not that the Pico is huge, far from it, the thing measures up at just 105 x 45 x 11.5mm and weighs a meagre 49g. Trouble is, that's still bigger than many cellphones and MP3 players these days. So why am I even bothering reviewing it then? Simples: you can't just buy a spare battery for your iPhone or iPod can you? Yes, you can buy cases with power built in but they are bulky and hardly aesthetically pleasing. I don't want my svelte and sexy iPhone suddenly tripling in thickness and doubling in weight just to squeeze an extra few hours out of the beast on the odd occasion I need it. The Freeloader Pico, on the other hand, is small enough, light enough and goddamn it sexy enough to be practical for your average iPhone user.

It comes in a glossy iPod white colour by default, but if you like you can accessorise the thing with purpose built and rather funky gel skin cases in black, blue, green, orange, pink and red,. There's also a clear option if you just want to protect your Pico from knocks and scratches to the solar panel as the gel is impact resistant.

But does it work? Good question, and happily I'm able to report that yes it does. And rather well in fact. In my real world testing during a particularly cold and snowy British winter, it took around an hour to soak up enough light to start charging my iPhone which is actually not too bad. Given a nice bit of sunshine you should be able to cut that time in half. To fully charge it will take around 10 hours of sunshine, or you can cheat and plug it into a USB socket for three hours before you leave home instead. Once fully charged, expect to get around 30 hours of cellphone standby time, 14 hours for the iPod and around an hour or so for a GPS device.

I managed to use my '10% battery flashing' iPhone 3GS browsing the web, playing music and playing with those all important apps for more than 2 hours straight from a solar powered gizmo and that pleased me no end.

Oh, it comes complete with four connection adaptors that allow you to solar charge Nokia phones, Sony Ericsson phones, BlackBerry and other mini-USB devices and also G-series Samsung phones. Not forgetting that you can connect an iPhone or other gadgets that charge via USB using the USB socket on the Pico and your own sync/power cable. If that's still not good enough, the manufacturers have a further 25 tips available for a veritable plethora of other gadgets. You can even buy an optional charger unit for rechargeable AA/AAA batteries if you really want to push the envelope when it comes to this solar powered widget. Of course, there are plenty of things you can't charge with this thing, notably your netbook or laptop. But, hey folks, that would be expecting an awful lot from something so small now wouldn't it?

My verdict on what is the smallest and most compact solar powered gadget charger from the Freeloader stable is that it deliver on the promises made and remains practical and affordable at £16.99 plus you are helping do your bit to save the planet. Nice. So nice, in fact, that I'll give it a DaniWeb review rating of 8/10."


  1. It is a good bit of kit. Ultralight Outdoors sent mine a few days back and I have ben giving it a trial. I like the fact it is light and yet it charges my phone and Ipod. I got a protective case with it. That way it is easy to attach to my rucksack to charge while walking. Hope it pays of on the Challenge for you.

  2. Chris Mitchell5 July 2010 at 16:37

    I've just bought one - after charging it up, there's a little white button on the bottom of the unit (which comes without any instructions). If I press the button on the bottom of the Freeloader, my phone says "charging". However, as soon as I take my finger off the white button, it stops charging. Do I really have to sit for half an hour trying to hold a tiny white button down to charge anything, or am I missing something obvious?

  3. Actually, the button is mentioned in the manual: if the Pico is drained completely you can press and hold this button for 3 seconds, after which charging via the solar panel will speed up.

    At least, that's what the manual says I have no idea what the button actually does, or why you would have to press it to charge your phone.

    So far my Pico has been working fine without me every touching that button.

  4. I have been trying to charge mine for some time now with no success. Even took it to the south of France and left it in the sun for two days. It only charged enough to dump 5 mins into my phone and raised it's charge by 2%.

    No good as far as I can see.

    Have you gotten any better results?

  5. I'm afraid I can't agree with your statement that these gadgets help save the planet. Quite the contrary, they are anything but green.

    Solar panels of the type typically installed in a home barely make ecological sense. And only then when in place for decades, and in climates that get adequate sunlight. Solar panels are very energy and resource intensive, and they only payoff in terms of surplus energy after a rather long time. Handheld gadgets of the variety you review above almost certainly will not be around long enough to pay their ecological debt. These things tend to end up in landfills after a year or three.

    I think a better ecological solution in this case would likely be second battery. Batteries are bad news too (ecologically speaking), but you'll probably eventually need one anyway. That is, if you take care of your phone and only replace it when it dies. We all need to consider rejecting the ridiculous levels of planned obsolescence in the electronics field these days.

    I recommend the article below for more on all this.

  6. The bit about saving the planet was in the article/review I'd set out in the posting. I probably agree with you. I only bought the charger as a hopefully convenient way of giving a boost to my phone or mp3. As far as the phone is concerned, I agree that a spare battery is probably a better option, certainly for shortish trips.

  7. I'm planning a months long backpacking/camping trip and am hoping to be able to retain the use of my cell for music and on the off chance that I can find signal to make a call, send a text, etc. In that sense, something like this is amazing