Since we've talked about solar-powered cell phones like the, we thought it was only natural to review a solar-powered charger as well. Though the XeMini Plus from Revolve Electronics has been sitting around the CNET office for several weeks, we were inspired by Earth Day to finally give the charger its turn.
Appropriately enough, the XeMini Plus' box and user manual are made of recycled paper. Even better, the device itself is free of any hazardous substances and is made of recycled plastics blended with bamboo sawdust waste. Inside you'll find the charger, a car charger adapter, and three USB cables with different ends (Mini-USB, Micro-USB, and USB female). The box breaks down quickly for recycling and the whole arrangement fits easily in a small drawer.
The lightweight charger measures 3.5 inches long by 4.13 inches wide by 0.69 inch deep. Front and center is the 4-inch solar panel while just below sit three charging indicator lights. On the bottom end are a Mini-USB port, two USB ports, and a button that displays the XeMini Plus' power level. Finishing the simple design is a standard electrical plug on the back.
You can power the XeMini Plus from an electrical outlet, a computer, a car, or the sun. The first three options work just as you'd expect and it's all very convenient thanks to the multiple cables you get in the box. In turn, the XeMini Plus will power just about any gadget (even two at a time) with the appropriate connection. If the supplied cables don't fit your device (like an iPhone, for instance), you can use your manufacturer-supplied cable provided it has a standard USB plug on one end.
Solar charging, however, can be a little more challenging. When we tested the XeMini Plus over a period of a couple of weeks in San Francisco, we had to struggle to get the device enough exposure, even though the sun wasn't hiding behind clouds most days.