I held out as long as I could…but I can no longer endorse the Creative Edge Solar 5 as my go-to lightweight travel solar charger. Yes it’s light, yes it stores power…but that’s about all it’s good for. If that’s all you need, please by all means go ahead and read more about it in my review here.
If you need solar charging capability, continue reading this for a review of the Goal Zero Nomad 7 compared to the Creative Edge.
The solar function of the Solar 5 just doesn’t work. In fact, going back to the Creative Edge website, I now see a disclaimer that I’m fairly certain wasn’t there before – “the solar panel feature is designed for emergency use.” If I missed that earlier, my fault, but I want everyone else to heed this warning. Other users I’ve talked to didn’t know this either.
The Creative Edge 5 solar panel has a rated output of 200mA. The battery itself stores 5,000mAh (milliamp-hours), which is pretty good for a device weighing only 5.3 ounces and with built in solar charging functionality.
But in order to charge the battery, this panel will need to be in direct, uninterrupted sunlight for approximately 25 hours. Considering the sun is only high enough in the sky to get an equivalent of six hours charging per day, you’re looking at over four days to charge this device from the sun.
Not only does the math work out that way, but it was also my experience using this product on the John Muir Trail.
Goal Zero Switch 10 and Nomad 7
Some of you may be familiar with Goal Zero. They specialize in portable power based on the sun. They have a stellar engineering team and are constantly improving on their products, which range from pocket-sized batteries to giant solar generators capable of powering refrigerators. I used one of their discontinued products on my sailing trip years ago to charge AA & AAA batteries and also to directly charge my iPod. It worked great!
Two current products worth mentioning are the Nomad 7 and the Switch 10.
The Nomad 7 is a folding solar charger. The pros are that its output is rated at about 800mA, compared to the 200mA of the Creative Edge. It folds down into a slim profile that will easily fit in a pack. The cons are that it weighs 16.2 ounces, compared to the 5.3 ounces of the Creative Edge. But, you get four times the power for just over three times the weight. This weight includes charging cables.
And although you get four times the output of the Creative Edge, the price is only about twice as much at $79.99. The big difference, however, is that it does not store power in its own battery pack, only the battery of the device you’re charging.
To store power in an external pack, you can connect the Nomad 7 to the Switch 10, a portable battery sold as a kit with the Nomad 7. The pros are that it can be efficiently recharged using the Nomad 7 (about 4 hours) or with AC power. The battery holds 3,000mAh, less than the 5,000mAh of the Creative Edge, and the weight is relative at 4 ounces. The standalone price is just slightly higher than the Creative Edge at $39.99.
The Switch 10 can also be accessorized by adding a flashlight head attachment or fan head attachment directly to the battery.
Comparing Creative Edge and Goal Zero
So now looking at a comparison of these products, we see the following:
- Creative Edge Solar 5: 5,000mAh, 5.3 ounces, $35.99, no solar charging capability (for practical purposes).
- Nomad 7 + Switch 10: 3,000mAh, 20.2 ounces, $114.49 with solar charging capability (including fan and flashlight).
The price increase and weight increase is significant, given the decreased battery capacity.
However, the solar panel efficiency makes up for this in spades. You can get your 3,000mAh in 4 hours with Goal Zero’s Nomad 7. To get the same with Creative Edge’s Solar 5, you’ll need to wait 15 hours.
I’ve found Goal Zero’s claims for charging time to be accurate. You even get some charge in diffused light, like on overcast days and in shadows (though hardly significant). They also offer the durability and weather resistance that I need.
Applying the Creative Edge or Goal Zero
So how do you know which one to get?
If you won’t be off the grid for too long and will only need to charge up both your smartphone and camera once, the Creative Edge is probably the better option given the price and weight.
If you need even less power, like you’ll only need to charge up your camera once, the Switch 10 may be a better option because it’s slightly smaller. I also like how the USB connector flips out of the battery, eliminating the need for cables.
If, however, you plan on being off the grid for a while and will need more than the 5,000mAh that the Creative Edge provides, you’ll at least need the Nomad 7. If the weather is clear where you’re going, you may not even need the Switch 10. Charge your device (camera, phone, tablet) straight from the Nomad 7 – something you can’t do with the Creative Edge Solar 5.
And if you need some stored power, the Nomad 7 with the Switch 10 will add another 4 ounces to your pack.
If keeping your camera charged is as important to you as it is to me, it’s time to suck up the extra ounces. Your photography will thank you.