For better or for worse, we've come to rely on our portable gizmos and gadgets for just about every aspect of our lives. With camping season right around the corner, though, it's not like you're going to find a lot of power outlets in the middle of the woods. Powered by Ascent Solar, the EnerPlex Kickr IV is a portable and foldable solar charger that can be used with nearly any device that will take power from a USB port. This way, even if you are miles away from civilization, your smartphone, tablet, GPS, MP3 player, digital camera and whatever else can still stay juiced up.
Specs at a Glance
There are effectively two main goals that the EnerPlex Kickr IV is trying to achieve. First, it has to be as portable as possible, so that you can throw it into your backpack and not have it take up a lot of space. Second, it has to be able to generate enough electricity to actually be a useful charging station for your various mobile gadgets.
To this end, the folks at EnerPlex have come up with a simple yet effective solution of using four fairly large solar panels that fold onto themselves. The net result is, when closed, the Kickr IV is about the same size as a thin book at 18.7 x 17.4 x 0.64cm. It also weighs just 310 grams. The whole product is reasonably flexible and durable, so it should be able to withstand some minor abuse without too much hassle. It's rated at 6.5W with the copper iridium gallium di-selenide cells offering a conversion efficiency of 10.5%.
Folding Out Four Panels of Sun Collection
The build quality appears to be quite robust and you'll notice that the corners have grommet rings in place so that you can attach the EnerPlex Kickr IV to whatever else you have via rings, tethers, tie-downs and so on. If you really wanted, you can even drape it over the back of your backpack as you trek your way down the river or bike your way across that trail.
There is a single 5V USB charging port as the output and it is rated at 1.0A. That makes it powerful enough to charge most Android smartphones and the iPhone, but it may not be compatible with higher draw devices like the iPad. I also found that the USB port itself sat a little too snug against the surface of the Kickr IV. It would be easier to access if the USB port were placed just a touch higher. I do appreciate the inclusion of the 3-way charging cable though.
No Internal Battery Pack
While the EnerPlex Kickr IV may not be able to charge 2.0A devices like the iPad directly, there's nothing stopping you from using one of the many USB battery packs on the market in tandem for that purpose. Simply use the Kickr IV to charge something like the Antec PowerUp 6000 and then use the Antec to charge the iPad.
Indeed, because the Kickr IV doesn't have an internal rechargeable battery of its own, this is really the best way to go about maximizing your use from this device. When you're out on your day of kayaking or fishing, drape that Kickr IV out in the sun and let it charge up as many of those portable batteries as you can. This way, when the sun goes down, you'll still have USB power ready to go.
How Much Sun Does the EnerPlex Kickr IV Need?
That's a tough question to answer, because your mileage will really vary. When connecting the EnerPlex Kickr IV to the Antec PowerUp 6000 as a test, I found that the solar panels really did need to see a fair bit of sun before any kind of real charging got started. It naturally worked best under direct sunlight in the middle of the day, but I had limited success with indirect sunlight under a variety of conditions.
Assuming that you'll be using this outdoors, you'll really want to scout out some of the best locations near your campsite where you'll get several hours of consistent sun. This is an issue common with most solar chargers and is not unique to the Kickr IV. According to EnerPlex, under the right conditions, the Kickr IV will fully charge an iPhone 5 in just 1.4 hours, topping up a Google Nexus 7 in as little as 4.4 hours. That's just as good as plugging into a standard wall outlet.
MEGATechie Sun-sational or MEGATechie Sunburned?
If you're a city mouse like me who rarely ventures beyond the comfortable confines of a fully operational power grid, you may find limited utility for the EnerPlex Kickr IV outside of emergency situations like what happened with Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy. If you're more of the outdoorsy type who still wants to take his or her gadgets for an off-the-grid adventure, then there is certainly value here.
Let's get one thing clear. Good solar power isn't all that cheap. Case in point, the EnerPlex Kickr IV retails for $129.99. That being said, it is capable to drawing in a lot more power than its smaller and cheaper competitors. It's really up to you to decide whether it's worth it or not.