Running out of battery when on holiday, or simply away from a power supply, is a common annoyance of modern life. The Freeloader Classic attempts to blast these trivial woes away. It's a solar charger with its own rechargeable battery, so it doesn't have to be sunny the very moment you need that boost of juice.
The Solar Freeloader Classic is an idea that you may at first dismiss as a gimmick. Solar chargers tend to be seen as the preserve of the elitist eco-snob - they may have environmental cred on their side but they're not terribly practical, especially in the UK. This isn't just a throwaway gadget though.
Its outer shell is coated in aluminium and it splits into three parts - the battery and the two solar charging panels. When not charging, these can be hooked together, panel-to-panel, keeping them protected thanks to their aluminium outer. This solar sandwich then plugs into the battery, giving you a tough little phone-sized block that can simply be chucked in a bag without worrying about damage.
To change the Freeloader Classic, transformer-like, into its charging arrangement simply pull the solar panel block out, separate it and plug the two panels into each side of the battery. We expected the charging side of the solar panels to be much less strong than the aluminium casing, but they're pretty tough too, coated in strong plastic. Its build quality is a cut above that of most affordable niche gadgets.
On the left hand-side of the battery unit are two USB ports, one full size and the other a miniUSB slot. The first is used to connect the various charging adaptors, while the smaller can be used to hook the Freeloader Classic up to a PC for a more intensive 3 hour charge. This feature will be very useful for those miserable summer and long winter months, and boosts the flexibility of the device massively.
The easy availability of extra battery units is also a huge bonus, as they hold their charge pretty well. They cost £19.99 each and are available from Solar Technology direct as well as other retailers.
The small backlit LCD display is the cherry on the top of this surprisingly classy package. It lights up and shows icons for current battery level, whether each of the solar panels is picking up charge and whether a device is connected and charging. There's a specific Globetrotter Edition of the Freeloader available, which bundles in various protective extras but we'd be happy leaving the Classic to contend with rumbling around in a rucksack sans safety gear.