Friday, August 02, 2013


hi there

it is a commonly accepted fact that me saying here my (considerably) better half had a good idea is redundant. why? because (considerably) better halves (halfs?) are always having good ideas. even if they are not as good ideas as they could be. any married man will tell you this, any married woman will deny it and any single man is one rather fortunate bastard who should be envied.

the latest great idea from my (considerably) better half involved me spending money on something with the name "monkey" in it. she was flicking through a magazine or something and spotted the 'Solar Monkey', or if you will solarmonkey, device on sale. apparently she knows someone or other that has one (i stopped listening fully after i clocked that i would be parting with cash, the remainder of the story was somewhat redundant) and they work really rather well with phones.

cutting to the chase somewhat, here it is.

the price of them here is usually R599 ($60 or £40) at the current exchange rate) but it was on sale for R429 ($42 or £28) so it kind of made sense to get one now. i was somewhat suspicious, mind, at a close to 33% reduction in the price, but figured i could give it a go and either it worked or it went back to the store.

i imagine whoever built this had visions of it being bought by people who go off on great adventures, ones that do not involve plugs. the depressing thing is that in South Africa it's likely to be bought not so much for adventures but rather just to keep a phone running during the inevitable power blackouts we get here. the highest levels of incompetence imagineable have destroyed a perfectly good infrastructure, you see. 

want to see the back of the box? sure you do. note the interesting little graphic on the side.

ah, yes, "designed for iPod". well, well, well. we shall see how that worked out in a little while, but i think you can take an educated guess.

although i can indeed load videos here, i am not going to do one of them "unboxing":" videos. not everyone wishes to watch videos on the internet, they just wish to look at the pictures. therefore, here come some "unboxing" pictures of sorts.

first off, opening up the box.

yes, it's one of them cool "flappy lid" boxes, not something you tear down the side or slide out of a packet. a nice touch, that, and usually a sign of a quality product.

that which you can see above is the carrycase thingie for the whole device. nice that they give you that with it, since a lot of firms like to sell you vital parts as extras.

the device itself? here you go, very fancy looking indeed.

i suppose i should say "quite hi-tech" looking, but whilst it probably is, just how hi-tech is the Sun supposed to be, exactly? it is not like someone has enhanced it in itself, just clocked ways to make use of its power.

and just what can one use the power of the Sun to charge with this device? just about everything that is a phone, or is phone-like, or does not require a massive amount of electricity to charge. pretty much anything that you can attach one of the fixture or adaptor things below to. except, obviously, the iTwat fixture.

by the way, that top one above the iTwat thing is most useful as it is a USB port. that means if you have a USB charging device with a peculiar USB connector (a mini-USB one is there) you can go right ahead and plug that cable into it. off the top of my head, Sony are the kings of making 'unique' USB ports for their products.

so, thus far we have had lavish packaging and a range of fittings or fixtures to add to devices. does it, however, work? the short answer, for those of you reading this via google and not wanting a load of waffle, is yes it does. mostly. for those with a bit more patience, or indeed for those who for some reason like my waffle, here's a rundown on what i tried it out on.

the main motivator for purchase was to charge batteries on our blueberry phones as and when the power goes out. granted, this will mean us being lucky enough to have a daytime power out rather than a night one, but as we tend to get power outages that last all day and all night (days and nights, indeed) it should be useful. really, guys? i can understand dismantling many aspects of the apartheid era, but getting rid of a perfectly good electricity system? wasn't that a bit much?

anyway, behold, my phone charging itself up via the solar monkey (and solar nut thing in the middle, the grey bit with a red light on), working just fine.

it was at this point i decided to have a look at the book that came with the device. i do tend to read instructions before messing, but this thing looked so straightforward i just went for it. as it turns out, i did not miss a great deal skipping the book.

here's one side of the fold out book. it appears to be dedicated to some sort of wildlife preservation or something.

lovely, i am sure.

on the other side are instructions of sorts for how to use the device.

the people who put this together appreciate that whilst the technology behind the device is complex, using it is very simple indeed. they do not make any silly observations or treat you like an idiot. the basics seem to be "you own an electric device, you know how to charge it, you just plug it into this instead".

with the phone charging just fine, it was time to have a go at something else. the PSP seemed like a very good idea to test, for if we get a long period without electricity then having this charged up would be useful to give the boys something to do.

it charges it. note i did not say "it charges it no problem". the charging light is very feint indeed, so be warned it is not going to work as fast as shoving it in to a wall socket. this could be because the solar monkey had only been exposed to the Sun for a few minutes, but also maybe not (more later). the solar monkey is intended as an emergency back up or for use in areas with no electricity but access to the Sun, you have to remember, so don't rely on it to be as speedy as conventional charging.

now, then. on to that thing that the solar monkey reckons it was designed to work with, the iPod. i would not wish to bore you with lots of pictures, but suffice to say i tried it as with the blueberry and PSP above and got the classic "charging is not supported with this device" message on the screen of my iPod touch.

i had a go at it without the "sonic nut" too, as you can see below. 


remember that USB port charger i spoke of? i thought, since it works with a blueberry USB plug, let me try charging with that and the official iTwat cable.

and.....nothing. this i suspects relates to some brilliant change they made to the insides of all iTwat devices, meaning that they do not work at all with the docking stations and charging devices people already own. cheers for that. the super twats at Apple don't go into much detail, but here is what they say on the subject if you are interested.

i do not have the uber-twat Apple products, namely the iPad and the iPhone, but i believe the same technology sits inside them as does the iPod touch. i would speculate, then, that the solar monkey will not, in fact, work with any of the current iTwat products on the market. you have been warned, test before you buy, or simply just buy a proper phone or what have you built by someone who knows what they are doing.

otherwise, be prepared to see this message frequently. and apologies for my reflection!

the only other devices that i could think of which we have that would be handy to charge in the case of no electricity was our e-readers. sorry, i do not have a kindle thing. i have, as per a blog post somewhere, two of the other types though.

as it is the one that chews up the most battery (the max life of it is 10 hours, i believe) i thought i had better test it on the gobii - the one that the increasingly useless kalahari actually managed to deliver to me as a birthday present from Gillian & Co in New Zealand and not the one behind a right fiasco this week.

considering that the gobii does all that an iPod touch would and then some, i suspected that it might not work. i was quite wrong, here's the little blue light telling you that it is charging!

you will note that these last few pictures were taken inside, rather than outside with the Sun hitting the solar panels. i am not sure if it's the panels or the sonic nut thingie, but it seems to retain some power to charge things when you take it away from direct sunlight. quite handy, that. 

as was the case with the PSP, it is not going to be a fast charge, but it will certainly do the job.

for the sake of it, i gave it a try on our Kobo Touch e-book or e-reader thing. it gave me an error before on some other sort of cable i tried to charge it with (very possibly the power pack that i got for the gobii thingie). there was not all that much power left in the solar monkey, it having been inside and away from the Sun for a while, but enough to test.

it worked just fine.

so, there you have it. as it turned out, i think my (considerably) better half had a good idea that turned out to be good.

verdict? at the price paid, it's something that is rather handy to have and not need instead of needing one and not having it. if you have an iTwat device, probably don't bother really, going on the information i have at hand. for everyone else (i.e. those who buy a device for what it can do and if it suits them, not because they think they need to own something because it has a bitten apple on it), give it some thought.

considering that electricity consumption is up worldwide, i wonder just how much is down to the fact that everyone now apparently has one or more mobile phones and similar. most of us, myself included, are guilty of leaving it plugged in to charge overnight, just wasting power. perhaps this technology will become even cheaper than it currently is to allow for devices to be charged via solar power as the norm.

for the record, the people who make the 'solarmonkey' also make a version for laptops and that. no idea if it works with iTwat better than this, but i would suspect not, since the basic principles of how it works will be the same. it looked too big and of not much use to me, to be honest - if i am without power then anything i needed to be done in an emergency could be done off of my blueberry as easily as it could off a laptop.

hopefully this has been of some use to some of you!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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