The good people at Brunton and Solio recently gave us the chance to test our their respective products, the Restore and the Bolt. These are two of the top competitors for your portable solar charging dollars, both enabling you to power up your techno-baubles off the grid. Our question was, Which makes better sense for the outdoorsperson?
The two have similar stats—both have a lithium polymer battery (2200 for the Restore, 2000 for the Bolt) that has an expected life of roughly three years. Both have two solar panels to capture rays, and both can charge with a mini-USB. Either one can charge nearly any USB-charable item you ask them to—in the case of my iPhone, they’re supposedly able to do a full charge and change.
Stats aside, I gravitated to the Restore’s integrated USB charging cable (for output) that wraps around the top of the device. I also preferred its rugged exterior and the way its top panel folds over the bottom panel so that when it’s closed up, it looks more likely to survive a trip in my pack without damaging the solar panel. Its water-resistant label gives a little peace of mind if things got soggy. The flashlight is just the cherry on top—love that attention to detail and forward thinking.
I have no good explanation for my difficulty getting a good, full charge on the Bolt, but the Restore was easier. Some research revealed an iPhone 4S has a 1420 mAh battery, and both of these solar chargers have 2000+ mAh batteries, which equates to a charge and a bit–when you’ve got a full charge. I noticed with both units that though they may indicate they’re fully charged, the power output could vary quite a bit when it came to charging my iPhone. If I ensured either one had a very full charge, I was easily able to charge the phone up about as quickly as by power outlet.
As I said in the review, the Bolt gave me a little usability trouble. It needs more direct sun and seems to take forever to get a full charge. If you’re attentive and have somewhere it likes ready to place it, you can get a very good charge. If you’re not able to baby it, a day’s worth of charging can be a little disappointing—40% or so on average if unattended except for three times a day. And just forget cloudy conditions (for either of them)! The Restore by contrast seemed more eager to please, showing a full charge on its battery quickly and with little fuss in just a few hours. I learned, however, that its charge reading might be optimistic.
My enthusiasm for the cute and svelte Bolt and the ruggedly handsome Restore isn’t too dampened by the slight difficulty I had getting a full charge and then getting good results charging my iPhone. If you have an accessible window ledge or something where you can keep tabs on your solar charger, the much less expensive Bolt might win out. For ease of use, charge time, and the perception of durability, I’d have to side with the pricier Restore. If you’re on the go and don’t want to think too much about it, the Restore is the one I’d spend my own cash on.
Bottom line, you can’t go wrong with either.