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Review: GOAL ZERO's Switch 8 Solar Kit juices your iPhone with sunbeams

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
GOAL ZERO has made a name for itself with a lineup of flexible, solar-based charging equipment tailored to outdoorsy users, but the company's latest products, including the portable Switch 8 system, represent a direct play for the attention of mainstream consumers.

Hardware



The Switch 8 Solar Recharging Kit, which includes the Switch 8 battery pack and Nomad 3.5 solar panel, is compact and keeps with GOAL ZERO's other products, which offer maximum utility in the smallest possible package.

Switch 8


The most integral component of the system is the Switch 8 recharger, a cylindrical multifunction product that stores enough power to charge an iPhone 5 to 90 percent. Made of lightweight aluminum, the flashlight-sized component is solid and well balanced. Inside, a 3.6V, 2.2Ah lithium-ion battery takes care of power storage, while a basic four-LED fuel gauge located to one end of the housing displays remaining charge at the press of a button.

While a cylinder may not be the most pocketable format for a battery pack, the design lends itself to the device's various multifunction features. At each end of the Switch 8 is a threaded receptacle into which interchangeable "Switch tips" can be screwed. Out of the box, the recharger comes with one flip-out male USB tip which is used to charge the internal battery, and one female USB tip into which almost any portable device requiring a 5 Watt power source can be plugged. Also included is a USB extension for connecting to the Nomad solar panel.

GOAL ZERO has announced plans to release two tips in the coming months, one being an LED flashlight, and another that purifies water using ultraviolet light. When those products are introduced, the Switch 8 will become more versatile than most comparable products on the market.

Switch 8 Tip


Moving on to the Nomad 3.5 solar panel, GOAL ZERO did a great job making the unit as compact as possible while retaining maximum functionality. There are two mono-crystalline solar panels stitched into a tough nylon case that folds like a binder, with a generous swath of velcro holding everything together. Covering the panels is a plastic sheeting that protects from scratches while still allowing for adequate light transmission.

Switch 8 Nomad


On the back of the Nomad is a mesh zipper pocket for storage of the Switch 8 and any cables required for charging. Integrated into the pocket is the USB converter, while simple directions are screen printed onto the inner nylon lining. Rounding out the case/solar conversion folio are a multitude of loops, nine in all, for easy attachment to a rucksack or for positioning the panels to capture the most sunlight.

Switch 8 Loops



Usability



According to GOAL ZERO, the Switch 8 has enough juice to recharge an MP3 player or feature phone three times, a smartphone twice, or give a 25 percent boost to a tablet. In our testing, the charges were reliable, taking a little under 3 hours to charge up an iPhone 5 to 90 percent from a fully dead state.

With only four LEDs, the Switch 8's built-in fuel gauge measures charge in 25 percent increments, lacking the fine granularity seen in GOAL ZERO's other products that sport LCD displays. Still, we found that the absence of precision wasn't a problem as the battery is only good for at most three charges, or almost one in the case of an iPhone 5.

Switch 8 Fuel


While GOAL ZERO's forte is in solar power, the Switch 8 can also be charged via a standard USB port or adapter, adding to the unit's capabilities.

Indeed, when preparing to go out for a beach day, it's advisable to charge from a consistent power source before leaving, as it takes much more time to fully fill the unit via the Nomad compared to an AC adapter. On a sunny day, without cloud cover, it took a little less than five hours to charge the Switch 8 completely. We attempted to test the unit on an overcast day, but the sun set before it reached full capacity. Our findings were largely in line with GOAL ZERO's claims of 5 to 10 hour charge times.

It should be noted that the Nomad solar unit is not designed to charge devices directly, as the USB outputs a regulated 5V, 3.5-Watt stream of electricity.

Switch 8 Charge


One drawback is the need for multiple cables, such as the USB extension for solar charging and in the case of the iPhone 5, a Lightning-to-USB cable. These can be stowed in the Nomad's mesh pocket, but if you're taking the Switch by itself, the cable requirement is a bit of a burden.

As a standalone charger, the Switch 8 performs admirably. While the cylindrical form factor is a tad cumbersome compared to thin rectangular chargers, the device is still quite pocketable. The aluminum chassis is fluted, however, which could scratch or nick an iPhone if carried together.

As a side note, we found the Switch 8 heated up during charge and discharge cycles, though not to a dangerous degree. However, when charging in direct sunlight, the aluminum chassis was hot to the touch, so we recommend keeping the recharger in the shade of the solar panels in such situations.

Wrap Up



In the end, the GOAL ZERO Switch 8 is something of a niche product. While it satisfies the need for on-the-go charging, there are other solutions that offer identical or superior capacities in a more ergonomic form factor. Also, for the everyday consumer, the Nomad solar panel just doesn't generate power fast enough to be much use.

However, for users who spend a lot of time outdoors, or for those constantly finding themselves "off the grid," the Switch 8 is highly useful. For hikers especially, having a theoretically endless supply of power in your rucksack to charge cell phones and other equipment is a comforting thought. The package is also great for emergency situations like extended power outages.

Also to be taken into consideration are the promised interchangeable Switch tips, which when released will make the device much more useful.

Bottom Line



With the Switch 8, GOAL ZERO is mostly successful in bringing its outdoors roots to the wider general consumer marketplace. Although not for everyone, those looking for a portable, self-sufficient charging solution for small portable devices will find the Switch 8 to be at the top of its class.

GOAL ZERO's Switch 8 with Nomad 3.5 Solar Recharging kit is available now for $99 through Amazon or the company's website.

Score: 3.5 out of 5



ratings_hl_35.png

Pros
  • Highly portable solar charging solution
  • Quality fit and finish
  • Capability for expansion via Switch tips

Cons
  • Limited charging capacity
  • Recharging battery pack with solar panel is very slow
  • Need for multiple cables when using with Nomad
post #2 of 15

Yay! MORE REVIEWS! I like reviews. Not sales, reviews. When a guy sits down with a product and says, "Okay, whatever you are. Let's see how you fit in my life."

 

Man, solar tech is just gonna be a gimmick for decades, isn't it? Either too convoluted, too bulky, or too slow to be a meaningful alternative to anything else. That's a shame. Well, hopefully new work into wireless power will make it all moot. Really, I'd love to have short-range wireless power take over a lot of the battery work in my house. It'd be great to have those battery-powered timer candles not run out of juice after a WEEK.

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post #3 of 15
I would have rated this higher than the Pebble watch.

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

 

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

 

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post #4 of 15
Meh. May be functional, but it's ugly.
post #5 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I would have rated this higher than the Pebble watch.

 

That makes both of us. I don't understand the fascination with that watch.

post #6 of 15

Drats, I was looking to buy a device that charges my iPhone with solar cells, but this one only juices it with sunbeams. Oh well, keep looking I guess.

post #7 of 15
This should highlight to people why pursuing solar on an iPhone is a waste of time. At best it would be an energy supplement hardly worth the expense.

That being said the device does have its uses, certainly for time spent of the grid. The bulky nature of the device though would turn most people off, especially going about their day to day activities.

Further it really seems like they missed their mark with respect to battery capacity. If it can't keep you going for a couple of days what is the point. For example one good use would be for backup in an emergency, it is not all that useful if you can't even get one cell phone recharge out of it. Especially considering emergency conditions often happen during bouts of very bad weather?

In the end the device looks like a collection of bad decisions.
post #8 of 15
Who the hell wants to lug all that crap around to charge your phone?! Better off getting a battery backup
post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

This should highlight to people why pursuing solar on an iPhone is a waste of time. At best it would be an energy supplement hardly worth the expense.

That being said the device does have its uses, certainly for time spent of the grid. The bulky nature of the device though would turn most people off, especially going about their day to day activities.

Further it really seems like they missed their mark with respect to battery capacity. If it can't keep you going for a couple of days what is the point. For example one good use would be for backup in an emergency, it is not all that useful if you can't even get one cell phone recharge out of it. Especially considering emergency conditions often happen during bouts of very bad weather?

In the end the device looks like a collection of bad decisions.

Goal Zero has bigger versions with more capacity.  I personally have the Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit, not much bigger, but a lot more capable.  I've used mine to recharge my iPhone (and others) in a week long camp where there was no electricity.  Worked great. 

 

While true that the Switch 8 seems small, it's good in a pinch or having it in an emergency grab bag. 

post #10 of 15

Made in China or some other poor country exploiting their people.  And the quality is gonna be lacking for long durable goods index.

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An Apple man since 1977
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post #11 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by btracy713 View Post

Who the hell wants to lug all that crap around to charge your phone?! Better off getting a battery backup

1) That cylinder is a battery backup.

2) The solar cells can charge the battery backup whereas just having a battery backup means you'll need to find an outlet once it's out of juice.

3) Now try considering who would buy this product. Business person who needs something on his drive to his DT office in the morning? Nope. Security guard working the graveyard shirt wanting to listen to audiobooks on his iPod? Try again. How about someone hiking, camping, or otherwise removed from traditional power sources for several days.

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

 

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

 

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post #12 of 15
For those needing to be away for multiple days while hiking for example this product is too cumbersome and fiddly compared with a simple li battery that can recharge your iPhone for a week and can be picked up with lunch money on eBay.

But the real reason this is a fail is all the clunky wires and bulkiness which means no self respecting hipster will touch it. Too nerdy.
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post #13 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Entropys View Post

For those needing to be away for multiple days while hiking for example this product is too cumbersome and fiddly compared with a simple li battery that can recharge your iPhone for a week and can be picked up with lunch money on eBay.

But the real reason this is a fail is all the clunky wires and bulkiness which means no self respecting hipster will touch it. Too nerdy.

 

While this model is pretty much useless, Goal Zero's Nomad 13 is awesome. It's a little larger, but the perfect size for strapping to the top of your backpack, gear pack, or on top of your bike pack. I use this, along with the guide 10 battery pack, for all of the above and it works awesome. It's light and durable and comes in handy when an outlet isn't nearby. When the kings are running, it comes along to the fish camp where it's strung up from a tree and plugged into the heavy duty Sherpa 50 battery pack so my buddies can charge their cameras, GPS's, phones and such.

 

Funny how you say it's "cumbersome and fiddly." You unfold it like a binder, point it at the sun, and leave it alone. Doesn't get much simpler than that.

post #14 of 15
Wow I didn't know solar kit uses sunbeams. Thanks for clarifying that.
post #15 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

Drats, I was looking to buy a device that charges my iPhone with solar cells, but this one only juices it with sunbeams. Oh well, keep looking I guess.
This does just that with it now using a nomad 7 which takes half the time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cash907 View Post

While this model is pretty much useless, Goal Zero's Nomad 13 is awesome. It's a little larger, but the perfect size for strapping to the top of your backpack, gear pack, or on top of your bike pack. I use this, along with the guide 10 battery pack, for all of the above and it works awesome. It's light and durable and comes in handy when an outlet isn't nearby. When the kings are running, it comes along to the fish camp where it's strung up from a tree and plugged into the heavy duty Sherpa 50 battery pack so my buddies can charge their cameras, GPS's, phones and such.

Funny how you say it's "cumbersome and fiddly." You unfold it like a binder, point it at the sun, and leave it alone. Doesn't get much simpler than that.
Duh, I'm hopping for the sherpa 100, hope it will power a rMBP

Quote:
Originally Posted by bigmike View Post

Wow I didn't know solar kit uses sunbeams. Thanks for clarifying that.
Sun=Solar, Sun power=Solar power, it's as simple as that with you getting good power from it, unfortunately still need a large sunny spot.
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