I wrote about the Freeloader Classic last month but at that time had not actually tried a unit. I was then sent one to look at but with mixed results. It arrived partially charged, so I opened it an put it on an inside window sill thinking it would charge fully in a few days.
I was disappointed to find that the reverse happened; it actually lost its charge. It is as if there is a small power drain simply from attaching the panels, and if that exceeds what is delivered then the unit runs out of power.
To be fair though, the manual notes that being behind glass severely decreases the charging speed – down to around one third of that outside – because of UV filters in the glass. Further, England in March is not a good time for bright sunlight.
So how good is the Freeloader? I took some measurements.
Inside in a naturally lighted room, the Freeloader panel delivered just 0.4mA. Negligible.
Outside in early morning sunlight, this rises to 15 mA. Still very small.
However, outside in late morning sunlight, on a bright day, the panel managed over 65 mA and 6.5v. This is close to the rated spec of 75mA at 5.5v – the manual says 150mA but that is for two panels. In the picture below I’ve left the multimeter on hold to display the measurement.
The battery in the Freeloader is 1200 mAh. So at 130 mA it would take 9.5 hours or so to charge.
These figure are not bad, and it is a great concept, but impractical for many of us. How much bright sunlight do you get? Can you leave it somewhere sunny, outside, and safe? How will it cope with downpours?
Solar Technology also offers a supercharger panel, twice as powerful at 1.5watt, and designed to attach to the back of a rucksack. That could work when you are out and about.