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FreeLoad up for the festival season!

FreeLoader Classic portable solar charger

Rating: ★★★★☆

So it’s official, Summer is here and with it come all your favourite Summer festivals. From Glastonbury to Reading, every festival goer will at some point compose their festival checklist. There’s the usual suspects like wellies, a tent and a sleeping bag, other essentials like toilet roll and a torch but a solar powered charger? Really!?

Whether it’s capturing that one amazing moment on film when your favourite band played your favourite song, photographing your mates doing the craziest things or even just phoning home to gloat about what you’ve been up to and seen, keeping your tech charged and ready to use is an important consideration for any festival goer. Unless you are a hippy… then free love is all you need.

In the past, I’ve always seen solar powered gadgets as more of a gimmick than anything else but in this new generation of smartphone using uber tech festival goers, i thought id give one a go!

The contender

FreeLoader Solar Panel Classic 1

Here it is, the new and improved FreeLoader Classic portable solar charger priced at an appealing £39.99 and boasting 2x 150mA premium quality crystalline solar cells and a 1200mAh environmentally friendly Li-ion battery… translated into English, a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery and 2 super powerful solar panels capable of giving power to an iPod/iPhone for 18 hours, a smart phone for 44 hours, a PSP or DS for 2.5 hours and an iPad for 2 hours!

Sounds AMAZING! Definitely a big claim but does the FreeLoader deliver?

Unboxing and first impressions

So lets get it out of the box and take a look.

FreeLoader Solar Panel Classic 2

First impressions are surprisingly good and much better than i expected. The device is lightweight (exactly what you want from a portable device), stylish and surprisingly sturdy. The assembled device splits into 3 parts – the 2 solar panels and the battery. All the parts are easy to clip and un-clip making for easy and secure storage.

FreeLoader Solar Panel Classic 3

The interesting thing about the FreeLoader is that it’s battery is a seperate part which can be charged directly from a PC or Laptop device. This means that on those dark cloudy days, you can charge up the FreeLoader battery from your PC or Laptop, then use this to power your iPhone or other device without the need for the solar panels. A useful addition seeing as we all know that an English Summer doesn’t exactly guarantee sunshine!

What’s included

FreeLoader Solar Panel Classic 4

  • FreeLoader main rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
  • 2x solar panels
  • Master connection cable
  • Built-in USB socket
  • Mini USB – Motorola, Blackberry, Smartphone, iMate etc
  • Micro USB – Motorola, Blackberry, Nokia etc – the new “standard phone adapter”
  • 4mm straight jack – PSP, TomTom, EBook etc
  • Nokia 3.5mm straight jack
  • Nokia 2mm straight jack
  • Sony Ericsson – wide adapter
  • Samsung – G600 series adapter
  • LG – Chocolate, Prada etc
  • DS – DS Lite

Read the instructions!

Ok so lets start charging! Seems pretty obvious how to use it. Just plug your phone in and leave it in the sun right? Well no… not really.

Take a quick skim over the supplied instruction manual and you’ll see that before you can start using the suns rays, it is highly recommended that you first FULLY charge the battery via USB from a PC or Laptop. The reason for this is that the solar panels alone will not be able to deliver enough power from the sun fast enough to power your device. It’s important to note here that this initial charge could take up to 8 hours so it’s important that you set some time aside to do this BEFORE setting off for your chosen festival.

First charge

Ok so let’s charge it up. The first thing i notice is the new FreeLoader LCD display which provides a decent level of feedback indicating battery level, power input and connectivity. A big improvement from the last model i’m told.

FreeLoader Solar Panel Classic 5

Initial full charge from my Macbook took around 6.5 hours. From this, i managed to get around 65% battery into my iPhone (which took about 2.5 hours) and depending on your use of the phone, I’d say that you could probably squeeze the promised 18 hours out of that. So a big plus here. Great for capturing photos or videos of your favourite bands. Or a fair few games of Angry Birds back at the tent!

Solar power!

Onto the main course then, the solar panels and the ability to re-charge your phone on a daily basis. For a long festival like Glastonbury, getting this right will surly make the Freeloader a MUST on anyone’s festival checklist.

So does it make the list?

Referring to the instruction manual again, it states that the time required to fully charge the battery in sunny conditions is 5 to 10 hours (very precise). So under festival conditions, i thought, solar panel out in the sun and off for brekkie at 11am (ish), watch some bands, lunch, more bands, dinner, back to the tent for 6pm, charge up the iPhone, back out for the headliners. Pics and movies galore! Job done!

FreeLoader Solar Panel Classic 6

Slightly wishful thinking unfortunately. After charging the Freeloader outside in the sun for the recommended maximum of 10 hours, i managed to get roughly 35% out of my iPhone (although bare in mind that this is England, not L.A.). Probably not enough battery to shoot a decent amount of images or video but perfect for phoning home at the end of the night for a quick gloat about the all the amazing things you’ve done.

Pros

  • Stylish Aluminium casing
  • Sturdy build quality
  • Handy LCD display
  • Good amount of connections
  • Great connectivity
  • Useful LCD display
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • Initial full USB charge required
  • Initial full battery USB charge required
  • Expected more from the solar charge

Verdict

So would i add the FreeLoader to my festival checklist? For £39.99, I’d say this a definite YES.

When you are planning to be out and about away from your tent all day, it’s a great device to leave out to soak up the sun and give your phone that little bit of extra juice for the evening when you return.

It may not be the massive boost of power you were hoping for but it could prove invaluable should you need to make an important call or get that one memorable photo of your favourite band.

My last and most important note is that if you are planning on buying a FreeLoader or any other solar powered device, ensure you read the instructions BEFORE you set off on your camping adventure.

For more information or to get your hands on your own FreeLoader portable solar panel charger, you can visit the official website here!


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