Last month, we attended the Econet Energy launch in Harare. At the event Econet gave out some solar powered ZTE-G S316 mobile phones to everyone attending. For us it was a convenient opportunity to review the solar powered mobile phones and provide our general opinion on them.
I’ve used the phone as my primary mobile phone for about 2 weeks. Our take on the phone is that we like it overall. Features wise, being a solar powered phone, you get the sense it was designed in a minimalist fashion to save as much power as possible during use. It’s a phone you’ll use to make and receive calls & SMSs.
The package and setup:
As you can see from the picture on the right, the phone comes with a regular travel charger in the box. This tells you the solar aspect is not the primary way to charge this phone. The back cover of the phone serves as the solar charger for the phone. The phone itself feels quite solid in the hands and though we didn’t use it long enough to tell, it looks like one that doesn’t break easily.
Like we said above, it’s a basic phone. You get GSM calls, SMS messaging, an alarm and a torch. That’s about it. It has a color screen which makes for a decent display.
Without a camera, MP3s and FM Radio young people may find this solar phone somewhat too basic. But for others, if it can make and receive calls, send and receive SMSs, the phone is complete. I personally didn’t issues with the lack of those extras. I almost never use them even when I have them.
You should not expect this phone to charge under the sun as efficiently as it would on a regular electricity charger. Not even when the sun is very bright. ZTE itself says to expect a full charge after about 15 to 20 hours in the sun. In short this means you’ll never get a full charge in a single day. Or maybe put differently, if you actually use the phone, you’ll never get a full charge from the sun.
Recharging it from empty, about 5 hours of direct blazing sunshine gave me about a third of a full charge so the ZTE specs are more or less correct.
The phone can still charge, albeit at a very low rate (painfully low actually) when the sun’s not so bright. You can tell how much recharge the phone is getting by checking a tiny light that flashes at a rate determined by the power of the recharge. Rapid flashing means the phone is getting more power.
Ambient temperature also affects the solar charging. Temperatures lower than 0 Degrees Celsius make recharge impossible even when there is some sunlight. The too hot extreme is also not suitable. The safe range is 0 – 60 Degrees Celsius.
The ZTE manual says the solar recharge method is only a supplementary means to charge the battery. We feel the same about this. You will still need the regular electricity from time to time. Cloudy and rainy days especially. Also, the solar recharging is quite slow if you need to use the phone or be on the move with it.
The battery life is quite pleasing. On a full battery you can do 6 days with an average of about 12 calls a day. I would put the average life in talk time at about 5.5 hours give or take.
Availability and Pricing
As far as we know, the phone is available at Econet Shops country-wide. You may also find them at a few other gadget shops especially in Harare. It’s going US $33 at Econet. Not a bad price for the value.
The solar charging is obviously what makes this mobile phone stand out. The convenience of being able to charge your phone using just the sun cannot over overstated.
Zimbabwe is a country riddled by power problems. Electricity supply from the national power grid is clearly not enough for the country. Tens of thousands of households (even in towns and major cities) go without power for hours each day due to load shedding. A solar phone would help keep mobile phone communication alive even when there are power cuts.
It would also make a world of difference to people living in areas that don’t have power at all. Like a lot of rural communities in this country and the countries surrounding us. People living in rural areas have to travel long distances to charge their mobile phones at the closest shopping center for a fee. The solar phone would really make mobile communication a not so strenuous and costly exercise for such people.
Without taking away the great convenience the solar phone offers as it is, we feel it would be even better if it came with a separate solar charger that can take in batteries and charge them independent of the phone itself. This way a person can be charging one battery while they use another on the phone.
We’re giving it away
We’re giving the solar phone we used for this review away. We’ll choose someone from the first 5 comments on the review. We’ll just put their names in a hat and pick one. We don’t want to complicate things so we’re not guaranteeing anything about the phone itself. We’ll deliver the phone if you’re in Harare. If not, we’ll post it to you. Unfortunately we can only send it to an address in Zimbabwe at the moment.
Bear in mind this phone has been used for 2 weeks so you’re not exactly getting a brand spanking new solar phone.