SolarTechnology Freeloader Classic review

A snazzy-looking solar charger compatible with a range of gadgets
Photo of SolarTechnology Freeloader Classic
£32.99

The Freeloader Classic is a stylish and eco-friendly way to charge your iPad 2, iPod, smartphone, e-reader or other mobile device by harnessing the sun’s rays. Encased in a sleek silver chassis, it’s around the size of a large mobile phone.

Getting started
To get things working, the base of the unit must be detached, split into two solar panels and reattached at either side of the main hub. Simply leave the thing in the sun and from here you’ll be able to benefit from an alleged 18 hours of extra time on an iPod/iPhone, 44 hours of standby on a smartphone, two and a half hours on a PSP or DS, or two hours on an iPad.

The Freeloader Classic is compatible with a wide range of devices, and comes supplied with a nice selection of ‘generic’ charging attachments. These include mini- and micro-USB, a 4mm straight-jack for PSPs, TomTom devices and eBook readers; the DS Lite; and a range of phones on offer from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung and LG. If your particular device isn’t compatible with any of these, chances are you’ll find an attachment available from the website (prices start at £3.99). To boost flexibility even further the base unit sports a standard USB port for those devices that can be charged via this connection.

Performance
The Freeloader Classic is obviously intended to be able to charge a device by capturing energy from the sun – but since it can be charged via USB too, it also acts as a portable power pack. This is a good thing, because given the climate in the UK it’s going to take some time to get the Classic juiced up enough to prove useful.

This was confirmed in our tests – during a particularly sunny day in March, we left it on a sun-kissed windowsill for 12 daylight hours and noted one bar’s worth of charge by the end of the day – that’s between 10 and 25 per cent of capacity, according to the manual. SolarTechnology claims that the Freeloader can be fully charged via the sun in as little as eight hours in optimum conditions.

It should be emphasised that the gadget-related figures quoted above are reliant on a full charge of the internal 1000mAh battery (which allegedly holds power for up to three months). The rather meagre amount we gathered in a day juiced up an HTC Desire by around 8 per cent (according to the phone’s own battery indicator), or around 27 hours of standby time (30 minutes of talk time) going by the official figures. We actually got just over 10 minutes on the phone from the resultant charge.

Practical use
It’s also worth considering that the Freeloader Classic – as stylish as it is – isn’t particularly rugged. The solar ‘arms’ can be snapped off the hub fairly easily, which means it really needs to be in a stable position on a windowsill or flat surface, as opposed to rivals that can be hooked up via a karabiner to a backpack or bag to charge when trekking around in sunny environments.

As it stands – and particularly for those who are considering a purchase for use in the English climate – it’s really limited to emergencies without backup charging via USB.

Company: SolarTechnology

Contact: 01684 774000

Positives
  • Stylish design and a nice idea.
Negative
  • Doesn't appear suited to British weather; a bit flimsy.

Verdict

The Freeloader Classic is a good-looking device and is flexible out of the box in terms of the number of devices it can support. It's not particularly rugged however, and if relying on its ability to collect the sun, would only really be suitable for a quick boost - certainly in the English climate.

Though there are significant discounts available online already, we still think the retail price is a little too high considering more practical alternatives available elsewhere.