mPowerpad 2 solar charger (review)

Recently I was offered the chance to review the mPowerpad 2 Ultra with mPowerpack personal solar charger. What I didn’t know when I accepted was that our summer in Wellington was about to be utterly miserable, with sunshine a scarce commodity. Honestly, it seems like maybe only 1 or 2 days of each week brought sunshine, with the rest bringing cloud, rain and even fog. That didn’t get us off to a good start, and may even have coloured this review.

mPowerpad2 front and back.

mPowerpad2 front and back.

In the package

I received an mPowerpad 2 Ultra solar unit with charging adaptor. The unit includes the mPowerpack 25 removable battery as well as several white lights, an FM radio, an SOS signal capability and a mosquito repellant sound.

Loading up with charge

I started by putting the charger outside over several sunny days to give it a full charge. Those sunny days were spaced out and not consecutive, thanks to the frequent cloudy days. I just couldn’t seem to get the device fully charged though and ended up plugging it in to the wall overnight out of desperation.

That brought its own problems as the plug the review item came with didn’t fit the standard New Zealand wall socket. I had to go in search of a universal travel adapter first.

Specifications of the review unit

mPowerpad 2 Ultra: 3300 mAh + 2500 mAh pocket battery pack, charger, reading light, flashlight SOS, FM radio, ultrasonic insect repellant.

mPowerpack 25: 2500 mAh, flashlight.

Help and support

The device came with two pieces of folded paper that comprise the manual, with some further information available at the website.

Charging devices

Eventually though the panel was fully charged and I set about charging up my iPhone, iPad and Kindle.

The results varied and were a bit puzzling. When the devices charged they did so quickly, without question. But what was going on with my iPad? I’d plug it in, confirm it was charging and set it aside. Later I’d check, see it hadn’t gained much charge and was no longer being charged. I’d pull plugs, jiggle a few things and get it charging again, only to find it would stop after a while before being full. I didn’t find any resolution to this problem.

In use

I was mainly interested in the unit’s ability to charge devices but gave the other functions a quick whirl. We don’t really have mosquitoes in Wellington so I didn’t test that function. The various white lights worked. The SOS feature blinked the lights in the expected short and long pattern.

The radio was able to tune in and play the station. Even at maximum volume though the built-in speaker was only barely audible. There is an audio out port for headphones, and when I tested I found much better volume. Interestingly, after removing the headphones I also found I was able to increase the volume from 4 lights to all lights and it was audible through the built-in speaker. Why couldn’t I achieve that volume before? After all, I was scrolling and pressing and scrolling some more.

Using these functions wasn’t easy and leads to a suggestion to the manufacturers and designers: radically overhaul that aspect of use, please.

To select a function you must scroll the wheel on the side of the device, then depress the wheel. I found this difficult at best as random items seemed to light up and depressing the button is hard on the fingers.

I’d try to select radio but the reading light would go on, or the anti-mosquito sound. It seemed to take a lot of fumbling to eventually select my actual target. I repeatedly found myself saying No! That’s not what I want!

mPowerpad and removeable mPowerpack.

mPowerpad and removable mPowerpack.

After removing the mPowerpack I put the mPowerpad 2 Ultra in the sun and tried charging my iPhone. At first that didn’t seem to work, but after fiddling with the On/Off button and scroll wheel and making sure it was set to Battery I finally got the thing working — until I went to check it a few moments later and found charging had stopped. Why?

The mPowerpack

The mPowerpack is an extremely lightweight removable battery that slots into the mPowerpad. The battery charges from the solar panel or from a power source such as a laptop or a wall outlet, and can be easily slipped out, put in a pocket and used to charge devices on-the-go. It also includes a white light.

I found this part of the whole thing worked nicely and easily. One puzzle is that on the bottom next to the light is something that looks like a button but doesn’t depress, slide or lift up. Its purpose is a mystery.

The manual tells me that with the whole unit charging in the sun the mPowerpack will always get charged first. With no sunlight it seems the unit’s internal batteries charge the mPowerpack if the unit is switched on.

My conclusions

After huge initial excitement I was disappointed. The unit is harder to use than it should be and doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped. When it charges it does charge quickly. I had the constant feeling though that I was doing something right and should refer to the manual. When I did refer to the two small printed sheets of paper I found minimal help and remained uncertain.

The unit just feels really hard to use, and it shouldn’t be. Surely charging a device from a solar panel should be a plug and play kind of activity.

I’d suggest taking the trouble to charge the unit from the wall before relying on the solar panel, and choose carefully the features you actually need before buying. It would probably be worth getting the higher capacity mPowerpack 50 battery as that seemed the most useful part of the whole thing.

As I come to the end of this review I realise that perhaps the best way to approach this device would be to see the removable battery, the mPowerpack, as the central and most important item, with the solar panel, the mPowerpad 2, as a handy charging accessory, rather than the other way round.

Overall, my feeling is one of disappointment. Perhaps Wellington’s rotten summer weather set me up for that, but I don’t think it’s all down to the weather …