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Last Build Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2017 05:15:03 GMT

 



Review: Power from the sky: the dodocool Portable Solar Charger

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 14:33:00 GMT

It's that time of year, when the sun starts making regular appearances in the sky and when I start to think about walks, camping and the great outdoors. Which means smartphone accessories that - ideally - prove really useful, doing multiple jobs with minimal bulk. In this case, a USB power bank that you can leave facing the sun to charge itself from empty, and which doubles as a powerful flashlight or tent lantern. The external design here is top notch, with ruggedised and rubberised ribbed high density plastic and a really sturdy metal hinge and stand, used above to help the accessory face the sun, to charge, and below to hang it from a ruck-sack strap. The hinge is just beautifully done and very strong - staying put at every angle from 45 to 180 degrees: The smartphone aspect of this is, of course, the integral USB power bank. Solar energy in, stored in internal Li-Ion cells and then output to charge your smartphone via any convenient USB cable. Super-green and idyllic, right? Well, yes and no. For starters, the power bank's USB output port is limited to 1A - this is slow by modern standards. Fine if you're leaving your phone plugged in overnight to this accessory, but no use for a quick top-up before heading down the country pub once the tent's erected. The other critical statistic, of course, is how long it takes to charge the internal 4200mAh battery from the sun. The solar panel is rated at 260mAh at 5V. I left the dodocool accessory in the full Spring sun all day and it charged to around 50%, from empty, about what I'd expect. Now, there are some uncertainties here - the charge level in the power bank is +/-20% (there are just four LEDs to indicate state), plus the sun was low in the sky and certainly nowhere near the intensity/energy it would have in mid-summer. But the concept does work. The "maximum solar conversion efficiency (of) 22%" is enough that, in the height of summer, with blue skies overhead, and with the charger perhaps hanging off your ruck sack (in the direction of the sun), you might expect the power bank to be mostly charged by the time you set up the tent at the end of the day. At which point it could then charge a typical smartphone from empty - with, as the title suggests, power that came entirely from the sun. In practice, of course, weather is unlikely to be this perfect, plus you'll find it hard to keep the gadget facing the sun all day in a real world excursion. So the solar element is probably best thought of as keeping this power bank 'topped up' and assumes that you won't drain it fully each night. Which you probably will, since the 4200mAh here is just enough to charge one smartphone fully. And that's not to mention other USB-rocking gadgets that you might also want to charge, including those from other people on the trip. So keep your expectations lowered, this isn't going to power your electronics on its own.  But that doesn't mean it's not very cool and working better than you might expect. You can also charge the power bank via a traditional (if old) microUSB port, at 1A again, so about a five hour recharge (i.e. overnight) at base somewhere from a mains charger, typically. All a little underwhelming, despite the green credentials. The other main feature is the swivelling bank of four high power LEDs. Together with the sturdy metal stand, these form the heart of what might be a very useful lantern on dark camping evenings, either self-propped up on the floor or hanging from a tent cross-pole. These are moderately bright, probably trying to steer a middle ground between being bright enough to be useful and dim enough not to drain the battery too fast. The LEDs accumulate to 1W and are supposed to stay lit for about 12 hours on a full power bank charge. Despite being a cool phone accessory for the outdoors enthusiast, I couldn't help but be a little disappointed. There's that 1A limit on input and output, which seems too low in 2017 - I thought 2.1A outputs were now more or less de rigeur? Then there's the 4200mAh capacity - I'd have hoped for a little more. Eve[...]



The dodocool Ultra Slim (and modular) 5000mAh power bank

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 16:12:00 GMT

Every power bank has to have a unique selling point these days, before I even consider it for review. The USP this time is that the output staging is modular, in that you can switch it from 'microUSB' mode to 'Apple Lightning' mode in seconds, i.e. take it out for the day in either guise. The downsides? There's currently no USB Type C option, output is limited to 1A, plus this gets muckier with fingerprints than your todder's toys - in seconds. Regardless of those caveats, there's an interesting idea here - a slim and portable power bank with a recessed USB-A port and the facility to snugly store a short charging cable for the format of your choice. As per the photos here, showing both Apple Lightning (iPhone) and microUSB leads in use/unfurled. The extension of your choice fits snugly into the right side of the power bank. Only the phone end is designed to be clipped off quickly, the USB-A end is deliberately buried inside the body and needs a bit of wiggling to change. And no, there's no USB Type C option yet - I did ask. Perhaps if the product sells well then a new extension can be crafted and/or bundled? However, all is not lost for, in addition to the integral/recessed cable extension, there's an extra USB Type A socket on the end of the power bank - and current can be supplied to both USB outputs if needed, albeit at a maximum of 1A for each. Also seen below is the microUSB input port, this is how the dodocool power bank is charged (this time at 2A). The limited current output (i.e. 1A per port) proves to be the biggest issue that some will have with this accessory - we're so used these days to quick charging solutions - usually 2A at 5V or Quick Charge 2.0 or 3.0 compatibility, so dropping back to 5V/1A seems somewhat old fashioned! Overall capacity is decent enough considering the slender form and weight (125g), mind you, enough to charge any phone from scratch at least once. One final issue I had with the dodocool power bank is its finish - it's glossy. Very, very glossy. So glossy that it acquires fingerprints and looks terrible after only a day of use. This is where 'glossy' phones would use an oleophobic coating, but here it's just shiny plastic - a matt finish would have looked less stunning out of the box but would have looked better in real life use. An interesting, semi-modular power bank then. The creators needs to make one with a matt finish and then throw in a USB-A to USB-C extension as well - increasing the current output would be the cherry on the cake. Watch this space - I'll let you know if a 'mark II' arrives! You can buy this on Amazon UK here, use promotional code: AZ5YAE4C to get 22% off until the 28th of March 2017, or on the USA Amazon site here (promotional code 86ROTUG6). In each case, the code is only valid for the 5000mAh power bank in black.[...]



Rafe Blandford and MWC 2017

Thu, 08 Sep 2016 06:54:29 GMT

Wrapping up MWC 2017 week, and with Rafe exhausted after 100,000 steps in five days, I wanted to provide at least a taste of this year's show, via Rafe's Twitter feed, via my own analysis, and so on. On the AAWP front, we saw the revised HP Elite x3 and news that the IDOL 4S Pro is heading to Europe, but the scope of MWC is vastly wider and Rafe's good at finding interesting tit-bits, see the embedded tweets below!Before heading into tweets though, I'd like to embed my own Phones Show 302, which attempted to round up the major phone releases of the show in a fast-paced but easy to watch six minutes or so. Nothing directly relevant to AAWP or AAS, but very definitely of interest. And AAS readers should watch the remaining three minutes, since I cover both the Nokia 9500 and a new QWERTY wannabe... src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ixQMg9b5FV4" width="853" height="480"> Anyway, from Rafe Blandford's public Twitter feed, to give you a 'dip in' flavour of MWC without having to actually go there, here are some of my favourite illustrated tweets of his, in approximate chronological order, spotted in between commitments for DigitasLBI. They're hopefully self-explanatory and you can click through if you want to know more about a particular subject: Alcatel show a number of mid tier Android phones at #MWC17, including A5 - "interactive LED-covered smartphone". https://t.co/0SRoCKXQzN pic.twitter.com/RSql0xNLUx — Rafe Blandford (@rafeblandford) February 27, 2017 So this was retweeted and 'liked' by Ari, I suspect that it's rather glad that this project is now out in the open. He'd previously been a driving factor in bringing 'Living images' from Nokia to Apple and now this dual-optics system seems set to take zooming, at least, to the next level in smartphones. In case you've been living under a rock, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus has two 12MP camera, but unlike other manufacturers clumsy attempts at doing something similar (LG, for example, had the second camera be a wide angle lens, Huawei went for snapping two photos from the same optics and trying for refocus effects, or by making one sensor black and white), one of these cameras has a 2x 'telephoto' lens, meaning genuine 2x zoom, though of course the sensor behind this lens will be slightly smaller than traditional 2015/2016 flagship sensors. This two-lenses approach to phone camera zooming is one that may even be licensed from Corephotonics, who have been touting this system around trade shows for a couple of years. It's certainly interesting and should provide better results when zoomed than the half-hearted effort in Windows 10 Camera, while at least equalling those from the older Lumia 1020 with its 41MP sensor. All very interesting indeed - I'll have an iPhone 7 Plus in for testing next week and I'll be sure to do a number of comparison features with the best of both Symbian (Nokia 808) and Windows Phone (Lumia 1020 and 950). Watch this space![...]