Review: A solar powered mobile phone

L.S.M Kabweza Avatar
ZTE-G S316

ZTE-G S316Last 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:

ZTE-G S316 packageAs 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.

The features

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.

Solar Charging

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.

Solar Phone ChargingThe 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.

Battery life

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.


  1. Nyembaktv

    I am glad you have positive and honest thoughts on this phone. i just have a question though correct me if i am wrong i think you forgot to mention this part. regardless of the amount of time it takes to fully charge. on an average day with normal usage how long does this battery last for?

    Oh yeah if you are not too sure feel free to send to me and i will be sure to test.

    1. Anonymous

      hey, thanks for the question. I was hoping this statement would provide that information:

      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.

      From the above, say you charge it to a full battery, you’e looking at about 5 hours of talking before it runs out. if you charge it in the sun to about a third of the battery bar, you’d probably get around 1 hour 40 minutes of talking.

      ” how long does this battery last for?” depends on usage, hence the talk time measure.

  2. Shmusendo

    The phone is cool especially for our grandpas in the rural areas

  3. ★ Byers Design ★

    Awesome phone…. @shmusendo – perfect for the rural areas… Zimbabwe web design –

    1. Anonymous

      Ok dude, enough with the advertising links. If it keeps on we’ll be forced to edit and remove the links. Otherwise keep contributing!

  4. Phineas

    Being offered by a company that advocating for going green, I would give it them. Unfortunately its too basic a phone – good for receiving and sending calls only and smsing as u put it across

    1. Tafmak3000

      I think if fulfills its purpose perfectly. I wouldn’t use this as a primary phone if I ‘need’ the internet. For ZESA free charging 3g, MP3, MMS etc are an insignificant price to pay. Its up to us the 3rd world consumers to embrace this technology, if we do I guess will give whoever is making such phones the incentive to make the phones that much better with more features.

      This is the one technology that 3rd world consumers can choose to make prominent. I hope whoever is making (really making them, not the Nhava kind of making) these phones is Zimbabwean, African or at least from a third world country.

      1. Anonymous

        It’s ZTE. Chinese.

        1. Tafmak3000

          Is Econet planning to make the phones locally?

          1. Tafmak3000

            Wait A minute Is Econet involved somehow???

  5. Tanyamandeg7

    i think solar is the way to go and sooner or later everything is going solar especially with the power deficit!!

  6. Yalismuizic

    Green energy is the way to go in this day and charge

  7. Hon Ngole

    I do not think that the phone will last with my grany, she can only locate it when it rings if she puts is away for charge. Vanoikanganwa kuti vayiisapai.

  8. Joe Black

    Third! And not just to put my name in the hat, but as a segue from the post about G-Tides and Nhavas and Chinese stuff.

    ZTE are a lot more than mobiles – they actually manufacture some mid- to top-range networking hardware. My first experience with these guys’ products was with dial-up and DSL modems, and although they’re simple, the software is pretty basic and the form factor appears amateurish, their stuff just works.

    What I expect from these phones (and their other products) is stuff that doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel, but does the job it’s made for. For that, I applaud them.

    I’m getting tired of products (I’m talking to you smartphones) that try to do a little bit of everything. I want to go back to the original iPod model – a product that does ONE THING and does that ONE THING exceptionally WELL.

    Chete. Simplicity is a big plus, and I applaud what these guys are doing.

    1. ★ Byers Design ★

      I completely disagree. I am not sure if you own a “smartphone” but I regard by iPhone as the best thing to happen to the mobile phone industry. It also works great as an iPod.

      1. Joe Black

        I use an iPhone. If you read my comment, I did not say that smartphones are bad. I said I prefer products that do simple no-frills jobs.

        So making snide comments like “I don’t know if you own a ‘smartphone’…” is unhelpful. You’re not special.

  9. Anonymous

    We’ve done the hat thing and the winner of the ZTE-G S316 solar phone is commenter number 5, Tanyamandeg7. He’s already been notified.

    On behalf of Techzim, thank you all for the tremendous support and feedback you continue to give!

  10. Kurai

    do i make it to the list, lol. No, I already have a similar phone, (wish i had a nhava). kikiki

  11. Tanyamandeg7

    thanks techzim for the 4n i will be putting it to the test my own feedback coming soon!

  12. Winston

    damn ! i should start checking this site on a more regular basis (a free phone in this day & age).

    Great site by the way ! Just a suggestion though……….. could you also when you review product’s just embed high resolution pic’s so when can see more detail of the product in question. for example check-out this site’s layout and structure

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