World Panel SunStream Review: the solar charger you need
Traditionally, I’d find solar chargers a difficult product category to become greatly excited about. As a journalist, I’m usually out taking pictures, attending events or writing – all three of which are power-hungry activities. I’ve tried to make use of solar charging kits before in an effort to more effectively power the multiple devices I carry around – ranging from DSLR cameras to smartphones – and yet I’ve consistently found products marketed as the ‘next big thing’ in solar charging to be utterly lacklustre.
In a small twist of fate then, I encountered market newcomer World Panel at this year’s AfricaCom conference, while reporting. At a small stall in the middle of the exhibition floor, the company had unveiled two of its newest products – the SunStream, a solar charging kit, and the PowerStream, a power bank capable of siphoning power from the SunStream.
Luckily, for the past two weeks, I’ve been able to use both the SunStream and PowerStream in my day-to-day; and I’ve not yet found a closer ideal to what the SunStream offers.
Let’s start at the beginning. In South Africa, electricity is a luxury, and not an everyday commodity. Between the soaring tariffs for electricity usage, and the lack of electricity thanks to events such as load shedding in the first place, many of us are stifled when trying to provide power to our feature phones, smartphones, or assorted gadgets.
An equitable alternative, then, is to siphon power from the sunlight – which, luckily, as South Africans – we are (usually) in abundance of. Unfortunately, too few effective products saturate this very open market space, and consumers – such as myself – are traditionally forced to purchase a power bank to keep our devices running, if we are able to afford one.
The SunStream, then, is marketed directly at this gap in the market. Made in the USA, the SunStream is solar panel that measures in at approximately 1cm thick, and 10cm long, and arrives in a variety of colours. In my case, the review unit I was supplied with was a healthy shade of red.
“The SunStream can operate in water if need be, and isn’t remotely phased by rain.”
In hand, the SunStream feels purely plastic – and, for once, this is a great thing. Rigid while at the same time comfortable to hold, the SunStream is constructed out of the same materials one might find on a traditional solar panel affixed to the roof of a suburban house. This means, then, that the SunStream can operate in water if need be, and isn’t remotely phased by rain.
Using the SunStream is simple; all that’s required of a user is to place the panel in the sun, connect a device that requires power, and presto – charging begins. While the SunStream won’t charge if placed in shade or darkness, the unit doesn’t require an absolute abundance of sunlight to operate. Placed comfortably on one of the window sills in my home, the SunStream provided power to my smartphone for the entirety of a long Cape day.
Out of the box, the SunStream comes equipped with a lone USB-to-Nokia charging cable. For smartphone users who are reliant on Micro USB, this means that you’ll either have to cannibalise a cable or buy a new one. However, for the majority of feature phone users who already own such a cable and would likely require a solar charger far more depending on their economic situation, this is a great move.
“The SunStream was able to provide power to a litany of gadgets I keep on my desk; including my own smartphone and my iPad Air.”
The SunStream was able to provide power to a litany of gadgets I keep on my desk; including my own smartphone and my iPad Air. The SunStream amicably keeps anything USB powered on the go – making it ideal for long days spend out in the sun.
The SunStream is accompanied by the PowerStream – a power bank which, to clarify, is sold separately – which is capable of storing power from the SunStream for use later as a traditional power bank would function. These two products together make for a powerful proposition; being able to charge either a power bank or my smartphone itself proved a godsend while outdoors, especially once the sun had set, and the inclusion of a USB to Micro USB removed much of any woe I had felt in finding a Nokia charging cable equipped with the SunStream.
In small graces, the 3,000mAh PowerStream was not only able to power my smartphone for an entire day, but also provided a genuinely useful flashlight – a feature which most power banks tack on as an ungodly gimmick. The PowerStream quickly became as much a staple in my backpack as the SunStream did.
Overall, the SunStream is a powerful proposition that is equally complemented by the PowerStream, and I would recommend purchasing both products together. With the SunStream retailing at an affordable R200 ZAR, this is an offering that I imagine many of my fellow South Africans have been longing for. With news that Vodacom has acquired the rights to market the SunStream, I foresee that the future just got a little bit brighter.