GOAL ZERO Switch 8 Solar Kit3.5 / 5
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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