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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Highly portable solar charging solution
- Quality fit and finish
- Capability for expansion via Switch tips
- Limited charging capacity
- Recharging battery pack with solar panel is very slow
- Need for multiple cables when using with Nomad
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