Brunton Ember Review
We've been using Brunton's Ember portable charger for about three months now and it's generally impressed us. Essentially it's a USB-rechargeable lithium ion battery unit in a compact case with an integral solar panel on the back to take advantage of any sunshine.
The battery's stated capacity is 2800mA, that's approximately twice the size of the battery in an iPhone 4 or later and the idea is that you can use it to top up your gadgets including smartphones and GPS units provided they use a USB-compatible charging system.
It's a neat, solid feeling little unit with swanky brushed metal sides and roughly half the size of a smartphone. Weight is 106g including the multi-adaptable USB charging cable. A propos of which, it's a really neat little bit of kit that includes an iPhone plug, micro-USB and mini-USB at the business end and a standard USB at the other.
The genius of it is that the plugs inter-nest, so there are no loose adaptors to fall off and go missing in your pack. To charge the Ember you simply plug the USB end into a device and the micro-USB into the Ember and leave it for approximately three to four hours until all four blue lights are illuminated and you're good to go.
You can also use a USB mains plug charger. One thing we noticed is that the Ember didn't always play nicely with the editorial Macbook, though it was generally fine. The alternative is the weeny solar panel on the back of the device, but the reality is that it's so small that even in bright-ish sunshine, it charges very slowly indeed - the quoted output is 100mA, so even at fully whack, you're looking at around 28 hours to fully charge the Ember, so mostly we've been using it as a simple back-up battery charger after pre-charging using USB.
Using it like that it's been decent. Having a back-up battery is reassuring if you're using a smartphone for power-hungry GPS navigation and we've found it good with the sometimes temperamental iPhone giving a notional two full charges.
The Ember's not waterproof by any means, it has unprotected USB sockets - 'water resistant' is the claim - if it were it would be the icing on the cake, but with sensible precautions, its coped fine so far.
As long as you don't expect the solar charger to do much, the compact little Brunton Ember does a good job of keeping your devices topped up and the one cable fits all USB attachment is a little bit of genius. Clear blue indicator lights give you a good idea of how much juice remains and how charging is going.
Unfortunately the solar panel, despite being of questionable use particularly in the UK, contributes to the high price of £70, though that's offset a little by a no quibble life-time guarantee called UProof, which means if you break the unit, 'Brunton will replace it, no question'.
A properly weather-proofed version, possibly without the solar panel would tick all our boxes and we had high hopes of the Veho Pebble that does some of that at a decent price, but ours died without warning, so the jury's out there.
If you're after a full-on solar panel charger, our advice would be to look at the Goal Zero range for a bulkier but more effective alternative, the Ember works best with USB.
More information at www.brunton.com/pages/power.