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Eton Soulra Solar Powered Sound System review: Eton Soulra Solar Powered Sound System

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We've seen some good portable iPod/iPhone audio systems in our time, but Eton's Soulra is one of the more-intriguing products we've come across in this category.

Eton Soulra Solar Powered Sound System
7.0

Eton Soulra Solar Powered Sound System

The Good

Rugged, splash-resistant design geared toward outdoor use; built-in rechargeable battery; integrated solar panel for trickle charging while outdoors; remote included; GSM-shielded so iPhone doesn't need to be switched to airplane mode.

The Bad

Solar charging requires direct, outdoor sunlight; no FM radio; a tad pricey.

The Bottom Line

Its sound won't blow you away, but the Eton Soulra is a durable and compact portable iPod/iPhone audio system that offers a built-in rechargeable battery and solar charging.

The unit has a rubberized aluminum body that the company says is splash-proof and the speakers are sealed on the inside to provide "protection from sand, water, and other outdoor elements" (according to the company's press materials). On top of that, the $199 Soulra incorporates not only a rechargeable lithium ion battery but a "high-efficiency" solar panel that allows you to trickle-charge the unit while it's outside (so long as there's ample sunlight, of course).

The best thing to do is charge the battery fully using the included AC adapter before you take it outside. Fully charged, you should get about 4 hours of battery life from the system as your iPod or iPhone is charged in the cradle. But that number will rise if you flip up the solar panel, which doubles as a cover for the dock.

Recharging the unit via the solar panel doesn't happen as quickly as it does using the AC adapter. It takes about 10 hours to fully charge the unit in the sun versus 4 hours with the AC adapter (solar charging will not work through a window). But so long as you've started with a good charge, you should be able to leave the unit outside playing for a good portion of the day (around 6 hours).

The Soulra is compact, measuring 6.6 by 11.9 by 3.5 inches (HWD). It weighs around 3.5 pounds, so it's got a little heft to it, though it's easy enough to carry around (there's a handle built into the top of the unit). Like most modern iPod/iPhone speakers, the Soulra is GSM shielded, so the iPhone doesn't need to be locked into airplane mode when used.

It's worth noting that if your iPhone or iPod is sheathed in a protective cover, you may have to take it off to get the device in the cradle. Once it's in the dock, you can then slip the removable translucent shield over it, which helps keep your device dry in the event of a splash of water or sand. It's also worth noting that Eton has included a rubber cover for the power and auxiliary inputs on the back of the unit, so you can keep them sealed off when you don't have something plugged into them.

Overall, the Soulra has an attractive, almost industrial design that seems like it will hold up well over time (that said, we only tested it for a few days). We liked the included remote--it, too, has a durable look and feel. If we had some quibbles, it concerns the lack of an FM tuner and the sound quality, which was fine but not quite on par with the Tivoli Audio iPAL, for example, or some of Altec Lansing's portable offerings.

Even with the bass boost on, the low-end didn't have much kick to it, and the speaker tends to distort at higher volumes. Still, for outdoor use, most people will find that it sounds just fine for casual listening.

You can get more-affordable portable units, such as the Logitech S715i and the Altec Lansing inMotion Classic that offer better sound. And the S715i even offers an onboard rechargeable battery as well. But those models don't feature the built-in solar panel, which adds value and provides the Eton Soulra with a uniquely "green" selling point.

Eton Soulra Solar Powered Sound System
7.0

Eton Soulra Solar Powered Sound System

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6