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Friday, March 22, 2013, 06:51 pm PT (09:51 pm ET)

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

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