Remember when Solar was a thing?

Back in my early days of mobile phones when batteries lasted a few days (yes, even my Treo 600) and chargers were non-standard, bizarre things with loads of strange pins or snappers?

Remember Pop-port (Nokia), Hotsync (Palm), Nokia, Nokia Micro, Motorola? Phone shops would sell dozens and dozens of ridiculously cheap chargers and we would happily use them to keep our Nokia 5210 running.

Well thankfully those days are over, with the Mini USB kicking off the demise of this practice, before eventually rolling into the slightly tougher Micro USB, and finally ending with the much stronger and more usable USB C port.

Back in the day before battery bricks were really a thing, we had brief and somewhat fleeting passion with solar chargers – Freeloader being one of the big names – with the devices being in essence a small battery brick (usually around 1.5 Ah) and a couple of solar panel “wings”.

In the somewhat environmentally unfriendly box with all its associated plastic fillers and receptacles came a bag with about a dozen “tips” in, so you could make your own charger cable to match your Sony Ericsson or NEC phone.

The idea was that you would be able to go camping or on holiday and take your phone and the freeloader, and you could essentially leave the charger with it’s panels facing the sun and come back to a lovely charged unit so that night you’d be able to charge your phone. Hell, they even sold the panels and central “hub” as separate items so you could cycle your battery hub and always have one on charge.

Well here’s where it all fell down.

We’re in Britain. A country famous for it’s beautiful blue skies, crystal clear skies, and hours of sunlight; where the palm trees hang over the beautiful azure blue sea and the shoals of brightly coloured fish dance and skip over the warm waves.

So in essence that was doomed to fail.

I bought into the snake oil. I owned a Freeloader. From my personal experience it took around 4 days to charge fully, but because it wasn’t waterproof you had to essentially babysit it. The other major problem was that it was very sensitive to the light drop off so you also needed to turn it regularly to face the sun.

I found myself charging it from a socket at home and just using the middle battery module. Yeah. Hardly the environmentally aware plan they touted on the marketing material.

In tidying up recently, my wife found my old freeloader. It’s obsolescence makes me weep. No USB ports. Specialised cables and connections, and a pathetically tiny battery can’t cut it in the 2020’s where our phones are essentially full computers, cameras and audio players in our pockets with the battery to power this being in excess of 3Ah even on the smallest devices.

I worked it out that using a Freeloader to charge my Note 10 would fail due to the output being only 800mA – but if it could, I’d be looking at around 12% from a full charge.

It’s now in my WEEE bin. The entire concept is pretty much in the WEEE bin to be honest. The dream was never a reality.

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