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Old 09-29-2010, 03:00 PM
Don Tolson
Thoughts Media Review Team
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 749
Default Sunny Days: Staying Connected with the Monaco Solar Cell Charger


Product Category: Accessories -- Solar powered cell phone charger
Manufacturer: Monaco
Where to Buy:
Price: $79.95 USD (regularly, but may be on sale...)
Specifications: Battery Capacity: 1800mAh; Weight: 93.5 grams / 3.3 oz; Dimensions: 55.5 x 105.8 x 14.5mm.


  • Convenient, lightweight;
  • Charges quickly in sunlight;
  • Suitable for almost any type of USB-powered device.


  • Regular price is a bit high, but vendor seems to be having discount sales;
  • Depending upon the consumption of your unit, the battery may only provide one day of use.

Summary: There are lots of emergency power accessories and options available for phones, games systems, music players, etc. but most suffer from a common shortcoming -- lack of power when you need them most, far away from a wall socket.  Enter Monaco, with a different spin on a solution. Instead of providing just a battery or set of solar cells, why not combine them into a single package - a wall or solar chargeable battery pack!

What's in the Package

As with all the material we've received from WirelessGround, the package comes very well stocked, as you can see below.


Figure 1: Here's what comes in the box. 

From the top left, going clockwise, there is a standard USB output wall charger (USB jack on the bottom); the solar cell/battery unit, a USB power cord with standard USB at one end and a 2.5mm power jack at the other; adapters for changing the 2.5mm power jack to standard or mini or micro USB; and a standard USB to mini-USB cable for charging the solar cell/battery unit via the wall charger or an active USB port on another laptop or PC.

Figure 2: Here's a closer shot of the two cables provided with the unit.  On the left is the standard USB to mini-USB cable used to charge up the unit's battery.  On the right is the cable + adapters to supply power to your favorite power-depleted portable unit.

About the only thing missing from this package might be a specific adapter for Apple's iPhone series.  A quick check of the WirelessGround website shows that they have a version of this package for the Apple line, but with their own cables.  I'm sure there are adapter cables around somewhere...:-), or you could just use the USB cable supplied by Apple.

On the bottom of the solar cell/battery unit, there are two jacks.  One is used to supply power into the unit to charge the battery (if you're a bit short of sun), and the other provides power out to your device.

Figure 3:  Note the two jacks on the bottom.  The one on the left is marked POWER IN to denote connections to charge up the internal battery; and the other (marked POWER OUT) supplies power to other USB-powered devices.

Overall, the solar cell/battery unit is about the same size as my AT&T Tilt 2 and most of the larger-screen phones that are out there today.  It is considerably lighter than a Tilt2 (no sliding keyboard :-)) and feels like it's maybe a bit lighter than my iPod Touch.

Figure 4: A side look at the solar charger / battery. It's about the same thickness as most 'older style' (i.e. non-iPhone style) phones.

Charging It Up...

As mentioned earlier, you can charge up the unit from a variety of sources.  You can use the supplied wall charger and USB to mini-USB cable, or you can charge it up from an active USB port on a PC.  Out of the box, I decided to charge the unit from the wall.  Once it's connected, the charge light on the front panel glows red to show you it's charging.

Figure 5: When the included battery unit is charging, the LED on the front glows red.  When complete, it glows green.

After about 8 to 9 hours (I wasn't sure of the exact timing), the LED changed to green, indicating it was fully charged and ready to go.

One of the distinct advantages of this unit is that you can charge it up and use it even if you're not near a source of external power.  After depleting the battery (see below), I stuck on the front dash of the car as I was driving around to client sites.  Despite what they say on the website, my unit was fully recharged after just over 3 hours in the sunlight.  I did some testing of the solar cell indoors as well.  The cell isn't sensitive enough to charge using ordinary office or home lights -- it needs sunlight -- but it will charge with sunlight through an unfiltered window.  Unfortunately, all the windows on my office building have that reflective film attached so the charger wouldn't react at all.

It seems the unit recharges much faster after the initial charge. Possibly because the battery is completely run down with use, but subsequent charging via the wall charger only took 4 to 5 hours.

In Daily Use

After fully charging the unit from the wall, I attached it to my Tilt2 and ran it as the primary power source -- keeping the Tilt's battery at 100% and handling multiple calls, email updates, etc.  It was able to keep things going for about a day and a half.  Not too bad and certainly useful as an emergency power source, considering that still left me with a fully charged battery in the Tilt2.

The battery supplied in the Monaco is rated at 1800mAh, which provides plenty of ooomph to run and charge most cell phones and other handheld devices.  There is a long list of compatible phones on WirelessGround's website it should be able to work with any phone/device that can be powered/charged from a USB port.

The solar panel is a good size, so it gathers a lot of sunlight energy in a short period of time, and the unit is small and light enough that it doesn't add a lot of bulk to my pocket.


The Monaco is very good as a rechargeable backup battery for emergency use and it's handy to have it rechargeable from a variety of sources -- a wall socket or USB port if they are available, or using solar power if you decide to be green or are away from power sources.  It's definitely something I'll be keeping in my accessory kit bag.

Don is a Solution Architect with Fujitsu Consulting, specializing in Security and Project Value Management.  He's been working with PDAs and Smartphones since the early days of the Sharp Wizard, iPAQ and Jornadas.  As the Enterprise Mobility lead for North America, he works with clients who want to take their applications that one step further into 'mobility' by putting them right on the corporate phones.

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Old 09-29-2010, 06:11 PM
Jason Dunn
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Nice review Don! It seems like the dash of the car is the best place to put something with solar panels if you're driving around, yet batteries aren't supposed to get that hot in general - so I wonder if there's some sort of conflict there long-term (battery-harming I mean). I find it very interesting that the battery recharged faster from solar power than from wall power - you'd think it would be the other way around. Too bad it doesn't have a power meter so you know how much juice the battery has, how recharged it is after an hour, etc.
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Old 09-30-2010, 01:41 PM
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Nice review, Don! I was impressed enough to buy one.
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Old 09-30-2010, 03:09 PM
Join Date: Sep 2007
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Nice review, and I am considering buying one. I'm just trying to justify this. If I'm at home or at work, I have a plug in charger. If I'm in the car, I have a car charger. I don't go camping or that many outdoor activities that I'd need it for that. Someone give me a good reason to buy this!
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Old 09-30-2010, 03:47 PM
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mlashmet: Do you travel at all? One disastrous trip where United dumped me in Chicago due to snow and then washed their hands of any responsibility to accommodate me or make any attempt at all to get me to where I was going (New Orleans!), and the resultant long calls I had to make, when my charger was in my luggage (which United refused to hand over to me at any point other than New Orleans) has left me with a solid determination never to be without power for my 'phone again. I now travel with a Lil'Sync Pro battery and travel adaptor, but this device looks like it will replace the battery. When things go bad in airports, or on roads, power outlets can be hard to find, and a solar option looks like a good back-up. Was that enough reason? If not, the 50% off that WirelessGround had on their site yesterday (Sep 29th) might be enough to tip the balance!
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Old 09-30-2010, 05:19 PM
Jason Dunn
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Originally Posted by mlashmet View Post
Someone give me a good reason to buy this!
Do you ever travel by airplane? That's a typical use for a battery like this - minus the solar panel recharging part of the equation.
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Old 09-30-2010, 09:05 PM
Karey Westfall
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I love that this item allows us to depend more on natural ways to charge our devices. And don't forget, after the cost of the charger, the solar power is free.

Also, nowadays with more and more families relying on cell phones as a "home phone", this would be good for have on hand for power outages because it would allow families to keep a fully charged phone to make emergency phone calls when they have no other access to a traditional phone line or power source. That would make it invaluable in the event of an emergency (or allow you to keep bugging the power company every hour for the next 4 days to see when they will finally get your power restored. Yes, it has happened.).

Plus, this charger would be great to take with you while traveling to other countries because you wouldn't have to worry about finding a power adapter that would work where you were going. Or (as already mentioned) even finding power at all, if you are planning outdoor activities. Which, as I said above, a fully charged cell phone would be invaluable in the case of an emergency.

But I can also see how a solar charger may not be practical for everyone. Especially people who don't have access to a few hours of sunlight a day but I don't think there are many people who can't find some light during their daily routine.

But I am curious how it would perform on cloudy days; does it take longer to charge? This could also pose a problem for some people who live in the cloudy areas of our world where this device may not work as well.
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Old 10-01-2010, 04:20 PM
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Since I use an HTC phone and my wife uses an iPhone, I wish is had an iPhone adapter. Then I'd pick this up for sure.
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