Test by Coy Starnes: Unit provided by Brunton for test purposes
Have you ever been on a backpacking trip and have your phone die halfway through the trip, or maybe have your camera batteries die and miss some great photo opportunities? And possibly even worse, have your GPS die and get lost? Well Brunton has just the device to cure this problem. Enter the Brunton Restore otherwise referred to as the Restore throughout the rest of this review. The Restore is basically a solar powered charger built onto a heavy duty rechargeable battery. The Restore’s battery can also be charged via a computer USB 2.0 port or through a car power outlet before heading outdoors. However there is one caveat to all this. It seems the camera, phone and all other small electronic device makers are in cahoots to make the ends that plug into each devise different. But more on that later.
Charging the Restore
According to the manual, charging the unit itself takes 4 hours by USB and 2 hours by car charger. It does not give a time for charging by sun but to do so, just open the unit and point the solar panels toward the sun. There is no need to press any buttons or turn anything on or off when charging. Since it was already night time when I first opened the package I plugged it into the USB 2.0 connection on my computer. The manual warns to be sure it is a USB 2.O. When I first plugged it in the bigger light on the left started flashing green and the next one over started flashing (in sync) a faint green. I looked about 30 minutes later and next one was also now dimly flashing. After another hour there was still no change. I got busy and it was an hour and a half before I looked again but it was fully lit all the way across and all 5 lights were now blue and no longer flashing. Anyways, I am not sure exactly when it finished charging but only 3 hours had passed since I first plugged it in. It was supposed to take 4 hours but I’m not complaining. Here are a few photos showing the charging process.
How to use the Restore
It’s pretty simple really. Of course it will need to be charged before use. Just remember that to charge the Restore other than with sunlight, you need the Mini-USB plugged into the Restore and the USB 2.0 end plugged into the car charger adapter or the USB connection on your computer. Once charged everything is just the opposite. Just remember to have the USB end plugged into the Restore and the Mini-USB going to the device needing power. If your unit does not have a female end to receive the Min-USB you may be able to use the Mini-USB to Micro-USB adapter. If not, you will need to have an adapter that will work, or if your lucky, your device came with a USB charge cord. One thing I immediately discovered is that there are two buttons on the Restore and to get power out of it and into whatever it is I am wanting to charge I have to press the button located on the same side the Mini-USB plug is located. When the light beside the power button goes red I know the Restore is charging my device. This is also a good time to see if the Restore is fully charged or not, because when you mash the power button the blue LED lights on top of the unit light up briefly to show the charge left in the unit. One blue light would indicate about 25%, 2 about 50%, 3 about 75% and 4 100%.
My phone and GPS also indicate when they are charging. I also discovered that by pressing the button on the other side (the USB side) I have a pretty decent white LED…and after putting on some stronger reading glasses I saw that it was marked with a light symbol. The light is not real bright and I’d hate to depend on it for walking around in the dark, but, I could if I had too. I also imagine it would last for weeks if the Restore were fully charged. I should note that the light goes off after about 5 minutes (I’ve already checked) which is probably a good thing as I’d hate to mash it accidentally and have it draining my battery.
Specifications taken from the Brunton website
- Water resistant
- Durable rubberized shell
- Internal rechargeable lithium polymer
- Power gauge and auto shut-off
- Solar Panel: Two (2) 100 mA polycrystalline
- Battery Storage: 2,200 mAh battery.
- Output: 1,000 mA / 5V (USB 2.0 compatible)
- Dimensions: 3″ x 5.75″ x 1.13″
- Weight: 7.2 oz
- Mini-USB output with option to purchase adapters for all other handheld electronics (I looked and did not see any adapters on the website)
Other Key Features and Notes
The website and manual do not say how long it takes to charge the Restore using sunlight. My guess is because it will depend on how bright the sun is and how often the user adjust the Restore to face directly at the sun. It does say that the Restore will charge most devices in 1 to 2 hours. Then manual says the unit will work in temperatures from -10 F to 120 F. That’s quite a range. Even though the Restore is listed as water resistant there is a warning not to submerge it in water or use the unit if it is wet. Of course if it is raining there won’t be much point in trying to charge the unit and I foresee using the unit at night to do any recharging. At least I know to be careful about getting it too wet. The case for the Restore is designed with slots at either end so it is possible to attach the Retore on top of a pack or perhaps a bike pannier so that the unit can be charging while on the go. It will be interesting to see how this actually pans out in the field though.
I wanted to mention how and for what I will be using the Brunton Restore. First of all, I got lucky in that my Samsung phone came with a USB cable. Actually it is an AC charger but a USB plugs into it the part that plugs into a wall outlet. I don’t use a full featured GPS (yet) but my Garmin Forerunner 305 can also be charged with the Restore. I will need to put the watch on the charge cradle but the cradle has a Mini-USB connection. In fact, it uses an AC charger similar to my phone in that it has a USB connection on the part that plugs into an AC wall plug.
I was not as lucky with my cameras (I have 3). None of them will charge with a USB 2.0 connection even though my Canon A590 has a Mini-USB port to download imaged off the camera. However, it uses AA batteries. Therefore, I have already ordered a charger that will charge both AA and AAA batteries via USB. I also ordered some AAA rechargeable batteries since I already had several AA rechargeable batteries but no AAA rechargeables on hand. I want to try it with the AAAs since I have several LED lights that use AAA batteries. Maybe by the time I file my next report I will have had a chance to use the Restore on these batteries.
Having a backup battery that will power several devices and can be charged in several different ways.
The neat way the power cord stores on the Restore.
Needing so many different connection adapters for different devices (not really Bruntons fault but still a pain)
The manual and website left off some vital instructions on how to operate.
Stay tuned for my next report in approximately 1 month from now.
Brunton Restore Update: April 4, 2011
I am a little late with my update but I was hoping to charge the Restore with the sun while on a hike or when riding my bike. Unfortunately, I still have not come up with a good way to attach the unit to my bike, and I have not been hiking with a pack yet. Plus, I have only been out a couple of hours each time for my exercise hikes and bike rides. Having said that, I have been using the Restore and it is a pretty neat devise.
As I reported earlier, I initially charged the Restore with the 2.0 USB connection on my computer. The next time I needed to charge my cell phone I used the Restore and let it charge about 4 hours. I know the directions said it would fully charge most devices in around 2 hours but I checked it right at 2 hours and is was still charging. I got busy and didn’t check it again until 2 more hours had passed and it was fully charged. Here is a photo of the Restore charging the phone.
In the mean time, I ordered a USB battery charger so I could use the Restore to charge the rechargeable (Kodak brand Ni-MH 2100 mAh) batteries on my Canon A590. I used the camera several times but after a few weeks I finally got the low battery warning. I kept using it until it shut off and even a few time after that, but it finally got to where it would start and shut right back off. The following is my best attempt to describe how it went but be warned, I’m not very good at describing technical stuff.
I’d like to say everything went smoothly but that would not be true… The USB battery charger came with a few different attachments but it seemed pretty straight forward to just plug the USB end from the Restore into the charger (Mini-USB plugged into the Restore) and let it charge the batteries. Of course this is the configuration for charging the Restore and not the batteries. Anyway, when I plugged it up, the lightning looking light on the restore went to flashing (see first image below), but in just a few minutes all the blue lights were lit up (second image below). Of course the Restore was fully charged already so this was how it should be. However, I was expecting the light on the USB charger that indicated the batteries were charging to stay lit and it was now off. It was also green instead of red when it first came on and the red light indicates the batteries are charging. I figured something was wrong so I looked at everything and realized I was charging the Restore…
After a little head scratching I realized what I was doing wrong. Luckily, the charger came with a little 2 prong attachment that let me go from a USB to USB connection. I plugged everything back up and the red light on the USB battery Charger lit up. The only light on the Restore that lit up now was a little red indicator light on the Mini-USB side, opposite of the side I had the USB connector plugged in. The direction on the USB charger say not to charge AA batteries over 24 hours (12 hours for AAA). The Restore says it charges most devices in about 2 hour… so I took the middle road and left them charging 12 hours. Also, the charger does not indicate a full charge by turning green and my camera only shows me when the batteries are getting weak, so I’m not positive they are full charged. I need to get one of those testers that indicate a batteries condition.
I then went about recharging the Restore with my computer USB connection. The green flashing light was only showing up in the lightning shaped one and dimly in the next one over. I’m still not sure if that means it is mostly discharged or not but regardless, it was showing fully recharged in just a little over 2 hours. It was still flashing about the same at 1.5 hours and seemed to have moved down to the second light at 2 hours, but I never saw the third or forth lights blink at all, and it was blue all the way across at 2.5 hours.
I have since charged my phone a couple of more times with the Restore and subsequently recharged the Restore using my computer USB, but have yet to use it out in the field. However, I did want to at least be able to report on how the Restore could be charged in the sun. I charged my phone with the Restore and was ready to test the solar charging feature. The only problem was, it was cloudy for the next 5 days…. It finally cleared up and on April 2nd I placed it out on my deck. I suspect the Restore was down to about half charge going by the 2 blue lights that would light up if I mashed the indicator button on the right side. I started solar charging at around 8 AM and would slightly change the position every few hours to keep it pointed directly at the sun. I also propped it up slightly instead of leaving it flat to get more direct sunlight. One thing to note is that the unit does not flash while solar charging like it does when charging using my computer USB.
By 3 PM my deck was no longer in the sun. I quickly checked the charge status by mashing the power button. It was showing 3 blue lights with the 4th LED dimly lit up. I then moved it around to the front of the house to catch the evening sun. I placed it on the back or my wife’s car window. Then something interesting happened. At around 5 PM my she needed to go to a neighbors house about 3 miles down the road. She told me bye while I was watching a final four basketball game and I plum forgot about having the Restore on her car. On the way over she stopped to get gas and a guy a the station says, “lady, you have a game on your car”. Naturally she was confused and wondered if he might be up to no good, but then noticed it sitting on her rear window. She thanked him and retrieved it safely inside the car. Anyways, she was home by 6 PM. The sun was nearly down so I checked the charge status. It was still showing 75% but the last blue light seemed brighter so I suspect it was getting close to fully charged. Now that it has warmed up I plan to doing some camping and will try to use it as intended.
Brunton Restore Final Update
For my final update I’d like to sum what I have learned while using the Restore. But first of all, I have a confession to make. No matter how simple something is to operate, I can usually find a way to mess up, and I did. And that leads to an important aspect of using any gear. Read the manual enough to memorize its use or be ready to go back and review it ever so often. I’ll get into what went wrong in a minute so please keep in mind as you read the following that the problem I was having was all my fault. When used correctly the Restore has always been up to the job.
And now for my mess-up. It all started innocently enough…I had used the Restore to charge a couple of rechargeable AA batteries a few days before we experienced a 3 day power outage due to the tornadoes that struck our general area on April the 27th. My hometown was spared any major damage but I was not really prepared for 3 days without power. I’m not complaining though!!!! Anyways, since I failed to recharge the Restore after charging the batteries, on the 28th I placed it out on my deck to do some solar charging. It was showing only 1 blue light so it was around 25% charged. I left it out all day and it was showing 3 blue lights by the end of the day, in other words, about 75%. I brought it inside and prepared to charge my cell phone which was almost dead. I had always been able to just plug it in and charge it before, so I was a little surprised when it would not do anything. I plugged my USB battery charger to the Restore just to double check, but still was not getting any juice. You see, in every previous use, I had always unplugged the Mini USB cord before plugging my phone USB cord into the other side of the Restore. I was perplexed as to what the problem might be but I couldn’t find the manual and I had no internet to look anything up. Fast forward a couple of days. We got power back and I topped the Restore off using the USB from my computer. I then tried to charge my phone again and it went to charging immediately. My phone was nearly dead so I let the phone fully charge. And to be sure it stayed connected and charging I kept an eye on the little red light on the side that indicates all is working properly. This use pulled the Restore down to 1 blue light or about 25%. I then solar charged the Restore 2 full days to get it back to 100% and again tried to charge my phone. No luck again. I was now getting frustrated. Then for some reason it dawned on me that maybe if I unplugged the Mini USB from the other side, it might charge, but I couldn’t remember always doing this before. But low and behold it went to charging immediately. Just to be sure, I unplugged my phone, plugged the Mini USB back in the other side and started over. Again, my phone would not charge. I unplugged the Mini USB and it started charging. Problem solved!!!!
I was felling pretty smug at my discovery and was thinking this would be something great to add to the User Manual. Unfortunately, I finally found it, and sure enough, in two places it distinctly says. ‘Unplug the MiniUSB connector from the side or the unit.” You see, to use the unit with the provided cord you automatically unplug the Mini USB . But I was using my own cords for charging my phone and the batteries.. I just got lucky the first several times I used it and always did what I was supposed to do.
An now, a few words about my solar charging experiences. I found it takes two full days of bright sunshine to take the Restore from 1 blue light (25%) to 4 blue lights (fully charged). However, it only took one day to bring it from 1 bar to 3 so I expected it to go from 1 to all 4 in a day and a half. And by all day, I mean from early morning sun at around 7 AM to late afternoon sun at around 7 PM. Later this summer I should have more than 12 hours but in the winter I would have less.
I’ll wrap things up with my overall impressions and thoughts. First of all, the Restore is a really neat device for being able to charge various electronics when out in the field or without power from the grid. Theoretically, I could probably keep my phone charged from now on because I usually get 2 days use from a full charge and I can get the Restore fully charged in the sun (it would not be completely drained from charging my phone) in about 2 days. However, I did notice that we had several days when it was cloudy and even raining so I would not like to have to fully depend on the Restore for this use. My other thought is that the unit is easy to use but it is not idiot proof. However, most normal people will probably not have the problems I had..
I am from northeast Alabama where I spend a lot of my time divided among several hobbies that include backpacking and dayhiking, canoeing, kayaking, riding my bike or recumbent and just getting out enjoying nature.