Well, yes, this is a strange one isn’t it? There are power banks, there are solar panel-enabled power banks, and then there’s this – the IEC Technology Solar Charging Mat. Let’s take a look at this device and explore its use cases.
Huge thanks to our friends over at EC Technology for our review sample.
This isn’t going to be a 5000 word essay here. The product itself is quite straight forward. EC Technology have delivered a solar charging mat, capable of charging a device at 2.4 amps with the correct weather of course. There’s no battery to speak of here, just straight forward pass through charging. Let’s take a look at the device specifications first.
The mat itself is a compact 260 x 170mm when folded up, and a mere 13mm thick. When unfolded, the solar mat expands to a whopping 670mm to maximise the sunlight hitting those 3 large solar panels built into the Velcro-sealed rugged nylon material surround.
Inside an inner pocket, again secured with Velcro, is the USB unit with two female USB Type-A ports for delivering the power output of up to 3.6 amps across both ports with a maximum of 2.4 amps per port.
The unit itself comes with a pair of loops on the spine of the device (when folded) for ease-of-tethering to something such as a backpack and comes bundled with a very small quick start guide in multiple languages and a Micro USB charging cable.
Performance & Use
So, full disclaimer, I live in the UK. The days we get a full 9-10 hours of sunlight within which to test a device such as this is, well, not often at all! Whilst not the best climate to test this in, the device will actually work in a cloudy day, just with severely limited results. In our indoor testing with just daylight (not sunlight) coming through the device still kicked into life and delivered “some” power to a device.
So, what did we do? We went for a walk. Not a hike where a device like this would be handy. No, that’d rather too much exercise, but we went for a walk to see whether it would be worthwhile taking this device with you on your travels. In short, yeah, why not? It works rather well actually. It’s light and folds up nicely into a neat package that can be stowed away in a backpack somewhere, or even clipped onto a carabiner thanks to those handy eyes/loops mentioned earlier.
There’s even a nice picture we grabbed from the EC Technology site to cleverly exhibit how one might use these when out and about with a backpack in two. I wasn’t quite that prepared but I appreciate the use case.
The USB ports are situated within another Velcro-sealed portion of the mat and whilst that’s nice, it’d be nicer if the USB unit seemed a little more in keeping with the general unit. The USB block just seems “stuck” on there and it’s not particularly thin either. The block itself consisted of two USB ports and an LED notification light to let users know when the device has energy from the Sun, to charge a connected device. If the light isn’t on, you’ll get no juice.
With the size of the USB unit I often found myself wondering whether they could have made a longer, much slimmer block integrate some form of a low mAh battery pack to store some of that solar energy. Yes there would be wastage in the conversion, but if this unit is to be used in inhospitable places when you’re out and about hiking, a battery wouldn’t go amiss if there was little to no natural light would it?
The unit feels rugged for the most part and I would have no worry with this on a long trip outside. That was my thought when I was out walking with it. Then it started to rain, as it does in the UK. Not just rain, but heavily rain. “Is this thing waterproof?” I thought. Well I can’t give you a definitive answer on that as the USB port does of course have some electrical components and the nylon, whilst splash-proof, couldn’t be described as a specific IP rating, so we’d have to say no to submerging it – but a shower…yeah it seemed to deal with it.
Charging my Nextbit Robin delivered 2 amps in heavy sunlight which fell short of the 2.4 amp maximum for the port but was more than enough to give this device a bit of a boost whilst outside. That’s a win in my book. This isn’t indicative of the everyday performance you can expect however as the following day in sunlight (albeit not as hot/bright) I failed to get over an amp of charge. It’s a toss of the coin but when the weather is right it works well.
Solar charging is always a little bit iffy. Whether it’s the Levin Solar Charger with a built-in battery we previously reviewed, or something like this; a full solar charging mat. The idea of free ongoing energy (or cheap if you factor in the cost of the unit) is very appealing. The truth however is that you’re fully at the mercy of the Gods (other deities are available) when it comes to just how effective a device like this is going to be.
Whilst the solar charging mat does the business in bright sunlight, you’re arguably better off looking at a solar panel-attached power bank option for a few reasons. Firstly if the weather isn’t inch-perfect, you’ll still have some stored charge to use in a pinch. That stored energy is no doubt going to be providing a more consistent stream of juice to your devices too.
That’s not the whole story though. This solar charging mat is compact, convenient and has large/efficient enough solar panels to provide ample charging when the weather is acceptable and as such delivers on its raison d’etre just about. It’s not a bad device it’s just that there are better options for long hikes, trips and days out in terms of delivering power to our increasingly hip-attached devices such as smartphones and tablets.
The EC Technology Solar Charging Mat comes in at £30.99. However an Aukey Solar Power Bank, with 2 USB ports, delivering up to 2.4 amps, ruggedised, with an LED flashlight, solar panel and a 12,000 mAh internal battery is just £17.99.
If you really must have a solar charging mat, this isn’t a bad option. Portable, lightweight and relatively rugged, it’ll do the job in the right scenario. The above Aukey device however, will do the same job, with a little more regularity in almost every comparable scenario. It’s not a difficult choice sadly.