GOAL ZERO is a company that provides innovative solar power solutions by offering a variety of products that provide power for AC and DC (including USB) devices. The products are designed to work anywhere and at anytime by using batteries that are charged by harnessing the sun's energy. This review is focused on the GOAL ZERO Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit ($139.95) and Rock Out Portable Speaker ($39.99). Both products are intended to give users freedom from conventional power sources. The Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit includes the Nomad™ 7 solar panel system and GUIDE 10 PLUS battery pack. Also included for convenience is an Ultra Charge Solar Cord, 12V cigarette adapter, and USB cable.
The Nomad™ 7 uses a tri-fold design with two mono-crystalline solar panels occupying the center and left side and the Solar Port interface along with the compartment for holding the power pack on the right side. The folded Nomad™ 7 measures 9" x 6.5 x 1" without the GUIDE 10 PLUS battery pack installed in the pouch. The battery pack increases the thickness slightly. The top flap is held in place with Velcro and the perimeter of the assembly has tie-down loops for keeping the solar array in place when attached to a backpack or other structure.
The Nomad™ 7 solar panels produce good output power according to the specs. All power interfaces are provided by the Solar Port unit attached to the Nomad™ 7. On the 12V output we measured an open circuit voltage of 15.2V and a short circuit current of 550mA on a bright sunny day. The USB output provides up to 5 watts, while the 12V output is specified to provide up to 4 watts. The Guide 10 output, which is used to provide a power link to the Guide 10 Plus battery pack, provides a full 7 watts of output power with direct sunlight charging the battery pack fully in about 3-4 hours.
GUIDE 10 PLUS
The GUIDE 10 PLUS is an integrated power pack that hold four "AA" batteries and measures 4" x 2.5" x 0.8". The NiMH "AA batteries provided with the power pack were rated at 2300 mAH each. The unit is designed to take a charge from the mini USB or Solar input jack. When using the solar panel for charging, it is best to use the solar input on the GUIDE 10 PLUS for maximum efficiency. A fully charged battery pack can recharge your cell phone 1-3 times.
The LED will flash red at one second intervals indicating the unit is charging (0-50%). Once the unit reaches a 50% charge level, the LED will change to green and continue to flash at one second intervals. The flashing rate will increase once the unit reaches a charge level of 80% or greater and will remain on constantly when fully charged. The three position switch (off, on, light) is used to turn on the USB port or the built-in LED flashlight that runs 20+ hours per charge.
The Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit worked as advertised and provided a simple way to charge the GUIDE 10 PLUS battery pack while completely off the grid. Charge time was approximately 2 hours in bright sun, but will likely take longer in real-world situations where it might be mounted on a backpack. All-in-all it worked well.
Rock Out Speaker
The Rock Out Portable Speaker ($40) is a rechargeable MP3 and laptop speaker that provides up to 40 hours of playback time before needing a recharge. The wooden enclosure provides sonic advantages over plastic designs according to the company. The shock cord provides an easy way to attach the speaker to a pack, bike or belt and the back side zipper gives users access to the interfaces and to the internal holding pouch (for iPod, iPhone, or any similarly sized media player).
The Rock Out Portable Speaker has a small power switch with a bright LED indicator, making it easy to see even in daylight. The Audio Out jack allows multiple Rock Out speakers to be daisy-chained to one another by simply plugging one unit into the next. Unfortunately, we didn't have an additional unit to test this feature. The internal Lithium-ion, 3.7V, 0.6Ah (2.0 Wh) battery can be charged using the Nomad 7 or from a standard USB charger through the mini-USB jack. The charge light turns on when the unit is charging and turns off once the battery is fully charged. The 10-inch cable with the attached 3.5mm male plug is designed to interface with any media player or phone that has a 3.5mm jack. The unit measures approximately 6 x 3 x 3 in (16.5 x 7.6 x 7.6 cm) and weighs a mere 14 ounces.
Rock Out Performance
The Rock Out Portable Speaker has the capability to produce good output levels and according to my Sencore SP295 Sound Analyzer, it peaked at about 90 dB at 1 meter. Sound quality was decent, but certainly not as good as I have heard from other compact units such as Logitech's Mini Boom with built-in Bluetooth. However, at less than half the cost of the Logitech unit, the Rock Out Portable Speaker did a good job at producing reasonably good sounding music from our portable media devices. We tested an iPhone 4, Android-based Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Microsoft Zune. We did like the built-in pouch that securely holds the audio player inside the enclosure.
GOAL ZERO has released a variety of solar-based systems ranging from small portable units to much larger and heavier designs for serious outdoor activities. The products are solid and have worked well during our review period with no failures or performance issues to report. If you are in the market for a system that can keep you going while off the grid, your should definitely check out what GOAL ZERO has to offer.