We love our gadgets and can't live without them, alas, gadgets are power hungry little buggers that are in constant need of feeding. Taking them into the wilderness without the means of plugging into the grid can be difficult and even dangerous for the most part. If you need to rely on a portable GPS, phone and the like, then the Joos Orange by Joos might be that life saving gadget that can look after itself. The Joos Orange is a portable solar power charger, or in other words, a life saver for the tech savvy. It's a power station that can create virtually infinite free power as long as the sun shines up high. We've put it thru the test, and found some interesting results. The full review is right below!
Granted we haven't reviewed many solar cell chargers before, well to be honest we've never actually reviewed any except for a solar powered keyboard. What better way to start then having a go with the Joos Orange then. Look at it. Isn't that the sexiest looking solar panel you've ever seen? Who knew a solar charger can actually not look like a weak vegetarian who just got hit with an asthma attack. While it's a little known fact that solar power isn't the most powerful and fastest methods of harnessing raw energy, the Joos Orange (believe me I always think about saying orange juice) has that powerful design to it that gives you the assuring feeling that it'll promise to behave and provide you with all the power you need at a reasonable time.
As much as I'd like to believe that, the truth in that is that unless you've got massive solar panels stretched across a few good yards, you aren't going to charge your iPad in 6 hours let alone power your MacBook Air. Respectfully, the Joos Orange is designed to be a portable and might I add extremely rugged piece of kit, it has a rather large surface area dedicated to capturing and squeezing the sun's juicy hot rays. But before we get into more detail, know that the Joos Orange will run you $149, and that's quite reasonable compared to other portable solar chargers.
The Joos Orange is built like a white and black tank. It's a solid as a rock, rugged and can withstand all weather. Yes, it's waterproof! That means you can set it aside to recharge its huge 5,400mAh internal battery in the middle of the rain forest while its raining or while you're on an expedition across the atlantic ocean. Whatever rocks your boat really. Besides that half eaten Oreo polycarbonate injection molded body, the Joos Orange features one micro-USB input/output and that's all you're going to get. Inside the box the Joos Orange comes with a USB cable and various interchangeable charging tips compatible with most current devices including a 30-pin dock connector tip, micro and mini-USB tips.
The downside to this is that you cannot use your own device's charging cable with the Joos Orange and quite frankly, the one included with the Joos Orange is crap. The cable connection isn't solid and the charging tips are bulky and most will not fit cases.
Around the back of the device are two adjustable legs that fold out to better position the Joos Orange directly towards the sun for maximum efficiency. There's also a prominent reinforced security cable hole at the top for attaching the Joos Orange to your backpack.
As far as the user interface goes, the Joos Orange has no buttons or switches except for two LED status indicators which aren't the most precise nor are they very helpful. To know how much battery is left inside the internal 5,400mAh battery, you need to connect the mini-USB cable and only then will the green LED blink a certain number of times indicating the battery percentage. When you place the Joos Orange in direct sun light, the red LED indicator will blink together with the green one letting you know that the internal battery is being recharged. At this point, you can start charging up your device in need of juice. What's missing here is a proper battery indicator gauge with a button to press so you don't have to start learning Morse code. That's not the only thing the Joos orange is missing, a proper USB port for charging the most common gadgets we all have today is a disappointment. I don't care for weird mini and micro-USB conversion adapters and cables.
Let's talk performance. The Joos Orange is capable of charging small gadgets even when its internal battery is empty with the power of the sun. In the month's, yes months, that I've had the Joos Orange - I quickly learned that it isn't the most reliable source of energy you'll want to depend on. The Joos Orange does need to recharged its internal battery for a head start otherwise it won't be able to continuously recharge your device. With that in mind, I was able to fully charge my iPod Classic and its puny battery in three hours under direct sun light. However, when it was time to try out a different device like the iPhone, the Joos Orange had difficulty generating enough power to continuously charge up my iPhone 4 under direct sun light with little to no power it its internal battery. The same goes for when I tried my iPad 2. And if you want to fully charge the Joos Orange, it'll take you a painful 8 - 9 hours over USB power. I'm not sure what kind of battery pack Joos used here, but it's insanely weak compared to fully charging up the Gum Max and all of its 10,400mAh in only 6 hours tops.
Joos says you can use the Joos Orange even in the shade and overcast conditions, but in testing that has failed miserably. Unless the solar panel receives a strong, hot beam of light, you can forget about charging your device. It just isn't sensitive enough to produce enough power in low light conditions and that can become a big problem. Since the sun constantly changes direction, you must be aware and re-position the Joos Orange towards it in order for it to work efficiently. If you try to charge up a tablet like the iPad using nothing but solar energy using the Joos Orange, it'll take you days to who knows. I haven't got the time to test that one out sadly.
Leaving the Joos Orange out in the sun took an entire day for it to store some power in its internal battery. I was only able to get about 20-30%, and that's only if you keep an eye out and make sure that the Joos Orange is always position towards the sun. The internal battery is just awful and extremely slow in recharging itself and charging other small devices with only 1A max output current. Whereas as a normal backup battery charger will recharge an iPod in less than an hour. Unless you carry around a very large solar panel with you, the Joos Orange is very limiting in its capabilities and that's to be expected when it comes to rather small solar panels. While it's not as powerful and provides on demand power 24/7, it does provide an off-the-grid power source, albeit a very slow and questionable one.
Compared to other portable solar chargers in this category, the Joos Orange takes the advantage with its large solar panel surface that produces up to 2.6W and can be increased with the optional reflector kit. The MyJoos app that is available for both Mac and PC lets you update your firmware, check battery life and get live status of how much solar power your Joos Orange is generating under the sun in watts. Too bad Joos still hasn't focused in supported OS X Lion.
But what if you set aside the measurements and focus on the emergency point of view. Then the Joos Orange is actually quite a good solar charging unit when all else fails. It wouldn't hurt to bring with you a Joos orange or two while traveling for long periods of time with little to no access to the power grid, but it's also a good idea to pack a backup battery pack like the Gum Max just in case you need instant and fast charging on the spot. But eventually those batteries will run out and you'll be glad you've got the power of solar energy on your side.
After all, the Joos Orange will always be there to make more energy juice. It'll be there to back you up when your portable GPS dies on you and your portable backup battery packs never made it thru the night and harsh weather conditions. The Joos Orange is still missing valuable features and battery improvements, but it's one rugged solar battery charger that'll eventually give you what you need most.