Geek Gifts 2011: SoL Hybrid Power Pack for iPhone 4

The SoL solar-powered charging case for the iPhone 4 is bulky and rather uninteresting as far as gadgets go until you consider that it could save your life.

Everyone loves a great gadget. Despite miraculous claims and far-fetched marketing copy though, few tech gifts possess the potential to truly change your life. The SoL solar-powered charging case for the iPhone 4 is a little different. Technically, it could save your life.


  • Product: SoL Hybrid Power Pack for iPhone 4
  • Company: SoL
  • Product dimensions: 113mm x 66mm x 21mm
  • Weight: 66.5g
  • Color: Black
  • Battery: Built-in 2400mAh rechargeable lithium polymer battery
  • Solar charging: 5.5V at 110mAh in full sun
  • Price: $79.95
  • Notes: The case I reviewed will also work with the iPhone 4S. In addition, SoL makes a solar-powered charging case for the iPhone 2G, 3G, 3GS and the iPod Touch 2G and 3G.

What I like

  • Electrical freedom: The ability to recharge a cell phone without access to electricity is compelling. Field staff, campers, and others who must be or work outdoors or in environments without dependable electrical power will find the SoL charging case handy. The case includes its own battery, which can rapidly recharge an Apple iPhone 4.
  • Multiple charging sources: The SoL charging case recharges when exposed either to sunlight or incandescent light. The case's battery can also be charged using an included Mini 5-pin USB cable.
  • Screen protectors: The SoL Hybrid Power Pack includes three iPhone 4 screen protectors. I'm not a big user of such protectors, but the design of the SoL charging case makes the screen protectors a necessity. The charging case positions the iPhone's main display so that it receives no bumper or buffer protection. Without the screen protectors, it's foreseeable that the iPhone display could easily become scratched.
  • LED flashlight: You could criticize the charging case suggesting it doesn't know what it wants to be (a supplemental battery, a solar-powered charging case, a protective shell, or a flashlight). Instead, I'll look on the bright side (pun intended) and recognize that the case's built-in LED flashlight, while low power, could well come in handy when looking for dropped keys or other nearby objects.
  • Charges phone quickly: While I wasn't able to substantiate the company's claims that the product charges three times faster than a wall outlet and extends battery life by 300%, I did observe the solar case charge my iPhone quickly -- it was as fast or maybe even faster than a wall outlet.

iPhone 4 with the SoL Hybrid Power Pack on it.

What I don't like

  • Weight: Hikers, field workers, and others who are active outdoors know the importance of lightweight accessories. The heavier an item, the more it costs (in energy and fuel) to transport. The case adds significant heft (66.5g) to the iPhone's (137g) weight.
  • Size: The combined charging case and iPhone create a larger package and make it difficult to store the paired unit in typical locations (such as my car's cell-phone holder or a regular pants pocket). It's just too big.

SoL's solar-powered charging case for the iPhone 4.

Geek bottom line

The SoL Hybrid Power Pack isn't a product many iPhone users are going to buy because they like its look or the ability to prolong the device's electrical charge; the SoL will shine most when iPhone 4 users require the ability to recharge their iPhones in the absence of reliable electrical sources. if you're active outdoors and ever needed to charge the phone, at least once to make an emergency call, if you had the solar-powered charging case charged, it will solve that problem, at least based on my tests.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *
  • Geek factor: ***
  • Value: **
  • Overall: **

For more reviews of tech gadgets, gizmos, games, and books, download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2011.