Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Waka Waka Power [Solar Lantern and USB Charger]

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile ChargerWaka Waka. It means "shining bright" in Swahili. Originally a Kickstarter project, they are now in full production and you can buy either model from Amazon, which is where I purchased my review sample from. For every unit sold, the company donates $10 to charity.

As someone who buys large amounts of gadgets, gizmos, doo-dads and whatchya-call-its, I'll admit that I normally don't feel much excitement to have something arriving in the mail soon. But as soon as I ordered this, I started obsessively checking the tracking to see when it was going to be here. There's just something appealing to me about a self-contained charging and lighting solution.

Product Description


This is essentially a solar powered lamp with built in USB mobile charger. This not only improves on the original (which was just a lamp) in functionality, but the Waka Waka Power increases the battery capacity considerably. Even if you never use the charger, this new model is worth it just for the extra run time on the LED lamp.

Official Specs (from getwakawaka.com)


Product   WakaWaka Power
Dimension121 x 17 x 78 mm
Weightapp. 200 grams
Light output 7 lux ambient / 30 lux taslight
LED0.5W Seoul Semicon, 120 lumen/watt
Indicators4 battery indicator LED’s - 1 solar charge LED - 1 USB charge indicator LED
Battery2200 mAh LiPo
Solar cell22% efficiency Sunpower cell
Power management   patented Intivation SNBST3 chip
Housingrecycleable ABS, ruggadized, flexible positioning: table top, on a bottle, from the ceiling 
QualityUNFCCC compliant, CE (UL pending)
Manualfull color, FSC paper
Warranty1 year

Overall Design


As an award winning designer myself, it's fair to say that I'm a big fan of good design. Most companies treat the design phase of a project like an obstacle; something to be overcome. Like, hurry up and design the thing so we can start building it. So, it is very gratifying to see a design this good-one that pays so much attention to detail.

Most of the good design revolves around the placement of the flip cover. It not only allows the lamp to placed in a number of convenient positions, it does the same for the solar charger, making it easy to get the perfect placement for aiming it at the sun. It's truly genius. And the detents which hold the flip cover in place where you want it have an almost perfect level of resistance. Any easier and it wouldn't hold, any harder and it would be a hassle to adjust it.

Another good design feature is that the flip cover protects the two charging ports from getting wet or debris in it. Evidence of good design is everywhere, from the ruggedized case to the less tangible aspects of the unit, like the efficient circuitry and choice of solar panel and LEDs.

Charging the Waka Waka


Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Being Charged Via Micro USB Port
Charging the Waka Waka from my laptop
The unit can be charged in one of two ways: Either with the built-in solar panel, or with a Micro USB connector located on the side of the unit. While charging from the USB, the 4 green power indicators will light up to show you the charge progress. When it is done charging from the USB, all 4 green lights will be lit.

While charging from the solar panel, the little red LED on the other side of the case will flash to indicate that there is enough light to charge the unit. I have read that the solar charge indicator blinks faster to tell you that it has more light, but that doesn't seem to be the case based on my testing. It seems to be that a slow blink means the unit has enough light to charge and is charging, and a fast blink means the unit is fully charged. In my tests, I could get it to fast blink with any amount of light once it was fully charged.

NOTE: To use either USB port, the unit needs to be folded open. This feature prevents dirt and debris from getting in the ports when not in use.

Charging Mobile Devices


Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Charging An HTC One Smartphone
Charging an HTC One Smartphone
The mobile device charger works like any other standard USB charger using a standard size USB connector. I have read where the unit can utilize its solar charger at the same time it is charging a mobile device, but this does not seem to be the case.

To activate the mobile charger, simply mash the oversized power button once, and the unit will give power to the USB connector, and your device will start charging. Since the Waka Waka Power has a 2200 mAH Lithium battery, it should have enough capacity to give most mobile devices like phones a full charge, and ti should give larger devices like tablets most of a charge.

Using The Lantern


The solar lantern part of the Waka Waka sports two eyeball-looking SSC emitters of an unknown model. There are no reflectors as such, which means the lantern is only well suited for close range illumination, which is what you want for a lantern.

Pressing the power button twice turns both LEDs on in the highest output mode. Subsequent presses on the button lower the output by 25% until the light turns off. Turning the lamp on high puts it into a special turbo mode, giving 200% output for 30 seconds, before switching into high mode at 100%, where it will remain.

Pressing the power button and holding it for two seconds activates the SOS mode, where the unit will flash SOS in Morse code.

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Lantern On Low
Low
Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Lantern On Medium 1
Medium 1
Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Lantern On Medium 2
Medium 2
Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Lantern On High
High

Lantern Run Time Tests


The regulation on the lantern appears to be flat, meaning it keeps its full brightness until it shuts off. It would be nice to see it enter "vampire" mode when it loses its regulation like some flashlights.

Brightness LevelRun TimeNotes
High13 hoursplus/minus an hour since I didn't see it the instant it shut off
Medium 222 hoursAlso plus/minus about an hour
Medium 137 hours, 5 min.-
Low50 hours*Predicted run time

* I did not run the low test, though I would predict its run time about about 50 hours given my existing results. At this point, it's pretty obvious that the run times are drastically over-stated. They are still plenty acceptable, though.

Micro USB Charge Test


I started the test by running the unit dead from one of the tests above. It took 6 1/2 hours to charge the unit to full by plugging it into my desktop computer's front side USB port. The charge time was fairly close to the stated charge time of 5 hours.

Solar Charge Test


Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Being Charged In The Sun
Pointed at the sun!
I started the solar charge test by running the unit completely dead from the first run time test. I then spent 3 days putting the unit in sunny window sills, on the deck and other places around the house and property which were getting direct sunlight. In those 3 days, the unit probably spent a total of 20-25 hours in direct sunlight. During this time, I was unable to get more than a 50% charge (2 lights) on the unit.

Now, my house is located in Northeastern Washington state, which is pretty far North. And granted, some of that time was spent in double pane window sills, and most of the time the unit was flat instead of angled directly at the sun. But it did get lots of direct sunlight, and it did spend some time outside directly angled at the sun.

After reading the other reviews, I didn't have very high expectations to begin with, but I was still a little disappointed. This far North, unless you are chasing the sun full time, I would say that the solar charging feature of this unit would be better suited for emergency purposes. For normal use, you will probably want to charge it from the micro USB port.

Build Quality


The overall build quality on my review sample is good. It's a little rough around the edges, but it appears to
Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Closeup Of Micro USB Port
A little rough around the edges in a couple places
be built well where it counts. Some minor build issues with my sample include an off center power button and a misaligned solar cell in the lower left corner. A couple random rough spots in the plastic; nothing major. The unit did come filthy though, which is not really a build quality issue but a little disappointing nonetheless.

But again, the unit seems to have the quality where it counts. And the circuitry appears to be excellent, if mostly undocumented. They could have cheaped out by using PWM to drive the LEDs or used a cheaper solar cell, so it's got the mojo where it counts.


Usability


The Waka Waka is a fun device to play with, and it's even fun to say! Yep, I'm playing with my Waka Waka. Like any other solar charger, the Waka Waka is only as good as the light you put it in, and I've had fun chasing the sun around and experimenting with what windows to put it into at various times during the day. Since the only real indicator you get from the unit basically just says "yep, there's enough light to charge", it's up to you to determine the amount of light it's getting, which should be as close to direct sunlight as you can get.

The built-in LED lantern is very functional, in part due to its excellent design. You can move the flip cover around and arrange the lamp in any number of interesting ways, like attaching to a bottle, and it's even got a lanyard hole. From experimenting with different configurations, I think the best way to use it as a lamp most of the time is by pointing it at a wall or ceiling to get the "bounce" effect.

The charger is also simple and functional. You plug something in, mash the giant power button, and a little blue light next to the USB port lights up to indicate that something is charging. When whatever you have plugged into it stops drawing power, the unit shuts off within about 10 seconds.

The oversize button looks interesting, and it's definitely a conversation piece, but I'm at loss to explain its size. Do people in third world countries have abnormally large thumbs? Was it a rookie CAD designer who made it that big by mistake? It's the only real weakness of the design that I can see, since the unit is water resistant, and the larger button needs a larger seal to keep water out of the unit. A small, electronic switch would be even more ideal. But it works, even if it does look a little funky.

Conclusions


This is a neat little device. The internal capacity (2200 mAH) is a little on the low side for just a mobile charger, but the Waka Waka is much more than that. It's light, has very rugged construction and an efficient, built-in light source. I would almost say this is mainly a lantern that can double as a charger.

The performance of the solar cell is a little disappointing, but it's a limitation common to all solar cells. I have a solar charger of a different brand that didn't fare any better in my tests. The bottom line is that this is an ideal device for use in the outdoors and during emergencies. For day to day use of just the mobile charger, or for use primarily indoors,  there are probably better solutions. And if you can, you're better off charging this from another USB port if you can.

For camping, I plan on this being my go to device, and the rest of the time it will be ready for any power outage. It sounds corny, but I do sleep better at night knowing that my cell phones will have power no matter what happens.

If you just want a solar lantern and don't care about the mobile charger, this model is still worth getting because it has a better battery with a higher capacity than the lantern-only model.

Gallery


Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, In Box
It comes in a nice box

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Back Of Box
Back of box

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Unboxed
It came a little filthy out of the box

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Instruction Sheet
Better than average instruction sheet- very well laid out

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Sleek Unit
It's much sleeker than the lantern-only version of the Waka Waka

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Closeup Of LEDs
Closeup of the two eyeball-looking LEDs

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Closeup Of Single LED
Closeup of one of the SSC LEDs

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Closeup Of Humongous Power Button
Humongous power button! Also a little bit of a gap, too

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Closeup Of Green Charge Indicator LEDs
Green charge indicator lights, showing 75% charge
Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Attached To My SwissGear Backpack
This is the way to do it if you're camping or on the trail

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, On Digital Scale
It's actually light compared to all my other chargers and power packs

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Next To Ruler
About the size of a smartphone

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, On Multimeter
It fluctuates between 4.98 and 4.99 volts

Waka Waka Power: Solar Lantern And Mobile Charger, Charging ZTE Engage With Special Charging Cable
It needs a special cable to charge my ZTE Engage Smartphone




4 comments:

  1. I got one too and read in the FAQ that while it will charge to 100% in sunlight, only three led lights might be lit because there is an overcharge protection built in that automatically stops charging when the battery is full and starts discharging the battery. So the battery is always around 98% instead of a full 100% and the 4 LEDs will only only light up at 100%. The three lit LEDs means 75% or more and even at 99% you will only get 3 lit LEDs on the charging indicator.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hmm it shows 4 LEDs lit when I charge it to full from the USB port on my desktop. Does it have a different charge circuit for the solar and for USB? Either way it's a decently serious design flaw that when in an emergency I will never know if it's charged all the way or not, when I am charging from the solar panel.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Mark, I like the detailed review approach you have compared to some other sites one comes across. I've yet to try a wakawaka myself but hope to do so soon. Fyi the Bushell Solarwrap Mini is only 3oz with similar battery capacity; would be interested to see what you think of it if you ever get one. Richard

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Hmmm I've seen the Bushnell. I may just buy one to review :)

      Delete