Just in time for Earth Day, we took our iPhone 3GS for a little outing out in the sun with the Novothink Surge Solar Charger. This attractive 2.8-ounce case is available in six colors, and covers the back, bottom, and most of the sides of an iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS. Let's see if it can live up to its claim of giving you 30 minutes of talk time after sitting in the sun for two hours.
The Surge has a 1320 mAh battery inside that's more powerful than our 1200mAh Mophie Juice Pack Air, and the case itself is only slightly thicker. That's not great, because the thinner Mophie already doubles the thickness of the iPhone.
To first test its charging capability without using the solar panel, we plugged the Surge into a USB port, charging it completely over about eight hours. Then it was time to charge the iPhone, and six hours after we inserted our iPhone with a completely depleted battery into the Surge, the most the Surge could recharge the iPhone was to the 75% point. We expected better, since Novothink claims the Surge's battery offers 105% the iPhone's battery capacity.
Next it was time to put it to the solar test. We wanted to simulate a situation where we were on a camping trip and had completely depleted the iPhone's battery as well as that of the Surge. On a bright, sunny day here in the Midwest, we inserted the iPhone into the charger and placed it in bright sunlight in the middle of the day for exactly 2 hours, the amount of time the company says will give you "30 minutes of talk time on a 3G network or 60 minutes of talk time on a 2G network."
At the beginning of our charging session, the iPhone showed less than a 2% charge, and after two hours direct sunlight, it was up to 10%. Would that be enough to give you 30 minutes of talk time? We think that would be a stretch. (UPDATE: Upon further testing, we got just 18:12 of talk time on a 2-hour solar charge. Better than nothing, but far short of the claimed 30 minutes.)
Now, let's think for a minute about how useful a solar cellphone charger could really be in our daily lives. Typically, whenever we're not talking on our cellphones, they sit in our pockets. We wouldn't want to leave our iPhone 3GS (update: or this $80 charger) sitting around out in the sun unattended, and it's a rare day when we spend the whole day outside working or playing, so we realized the usefulness of this solar charger case — even if it worked perfectly — was very limited.
We usually charge the iPhone at night, anyway, and obviously that's when the sun doesn't happen to be shining. And when we confirmed its weak performance in our testing, we're convinced the Novothink Surge solar charger is not worth its steep $80 price.
Unless you're looking for a feel-good product with the novelty and symbolic Earth-friendliness of solar panels on the back, get yourself a thinner Mophie Juice Pack that'll do just about the same thing for $11.50 less.