Goal Zero. Recently, I had the opportunity to test a new entry into the burgeoning solar charger market in the form of the iLand Fly, which isn't as powerful as some of its competitors, but still provides plenty of convenience for those who need a recharge on the go.
iLand has impressively packed a lot into the box with this product. Not only does it include a foldable, three-paneled solar cell, it also comes with a battery pack with a 2100mAh capacity. When that battery pack is plugged into the solar panel's USB port, it can collect and store a charge directly from the sun. That same battery pack can than pass along its charge to your gadgets at any time. A special USB cable, with changeable tips, allow you to charge just about any device that uses standard USB, mciro-USB, Apple 30-pin and or a few other plugs. A nice storage bag and cables that allow you to hang the solar panel from a tent or backpack, round out the package.
The included instructions indicate that it should take 3-4 hours to charge the battery pack using the solar panel. But, if you've ever used a solar charger like this in the past, you probably already know that the charging time is greatly influenced by how much direct sunlight it is able to absorb. On cloudier days, it'll take considerably longer to charge up the battery pack, even though it has a relatively low capacity.
When placed in direct sunlight, the solar cell is actually quite efficient at collecting light from the sun and converting it to energy. Considering how small the three panels actually are, I wasn't expecting much, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised at how well they performed. While the Fly won't win any races against other solar panels that I've tested, most of which are much larger in size, it more than holds its own.
The built in USB port on the solar panel itself is capable of charging our gadgets directly, including smartphones, cameras, GPS devices and other electronics. But iFly recommends that you actually charge your devices from the battery pack instead. This allows the solar panel to continually charge the pack, and then have a charge waiting for you whenever you need it. The battery pack is also far more efficient at passing on its charge to higher capacity devices such as the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S4.
It is clear that iLand built this system with outdoor adventurers and travelers in mind. Not only does it neatly fold up into a very small package, marking it easy to toss into your backpack and take with you anywhere, but it also weighs in at a mere .36 pounds (163 grams). For those looking to travel light, it is an excellent option. The solar panel is also water and dust resistant, which means you can take it with into the field without fear of damaging any of the components.
Because it was designed to be small and compact, the Fly has a somewhat limited capacity for charging. While it can handle a smartphone, mp3 player, or compact camera without too much trouble, it won't be adding much of a charge to your iPad for instance. That probably limits its usefulness on some expeditions, although it does make the perfect travel companion for those who don't need anything more.
If you're in the market for a small, efficient, and useful solar charing system for your adventures, the iLand Fly is a great option. It is compact enough to take with you just about anywhere and provides enough juice to keep all of your smaller electronics fully operational. Typically, the system is sold for $149.99, but for the holidays it was on sale for just $99.95. That deal is still being offered both on the iFly website and at Amazon. That makes it a highly affordable option on top of being an efficient one.