Review: Novothink’s Surge solar iPhone charging case - Macenstein

Review: Novothink’s Surge solar iPhone charging case

Awww.. she could probably charge it from her smile alone…

If you’re anything like me, odds are you’re worried about being able to charge your iPhone once the world ends via either a robot or zombie invasion. After the apocalypse, convenient access to AC power is likely going to be scarce, which is why I was excited to try out the Novothink Surge solar power iPhone charger/case.


Form factor-wise, the Novothink Surge is not all that different from a number of other iPhone chargers, most closely resembling the Mili Powerpack. The “open top” design will deliver decent but by no means complete protection from scratches and accidental nicks, however the hard plastic design is not likely to supply much cushioning to your phone should you drop it. The case is constructed of a shiny plastic and available in a number of color combinations, both interior and exterior, while the sides of the unit have a rubberized grip to minimize slippage. The overall look is quite nice and the unit feels good in the hand, without adding too much bulk and weight to the iPhone.

The most notable difference (and the key selling point to the Surge) is the large solar panel which dominates the back of the unit which allows you to use the sun to (slowly) charge the Surge and your iPhone when you’re away from a power source (weather permitting). During bad weather, or if you’re in a hurry, there’s a mini USB port on the bottom of the unit you can use to charge the unit via a computer’s USB port just as you would for most iPhone chargers. Below the solar panel is a set of 4 LEDs which indicate the current charge, and a button to activate them (learn more about these LEDs in out “Issues” section).

One final nice design touch is a hole in the case that allows you to fasten it to a backpack or such to help it pick up a little extra sunlight while you’re out and about.

Novothink offers an online Solar Planner you can use to help calculate just how much solar charging you’d need to keep your iPhone charged during a given trip. As a test I entered in the following amount of iPhone use I would think I would use on an imaginary 1 week camping trip: 10 minutes a day of talking, 120 minutes of audio, 20 minutes of internet, and 120 minutes of video. There aren’t any settings for GPS or Games, so I figure the 2 hours of video would sort of cover that. The results of the calculator claim if I kept the charger in the sun for 6.4 hours a day, I would maintain a COMPLETE charge throughout the trip, or a more realistic 3.2 hours would keep my iPhone functioning within those specs for the 7 days.


Pretty much my only real gripe with the Surge is that it does not seem to provide as much power as it claims, and it takes quite awhile to charge via the solar charger. The Novothink site says the “Integrated rechargeable 1320 mAh 3.7 V lithium-ion polymer battery offers 105% capacity of iPhone 3G”, yet in our tests, with a fully drained iPhone, and a fully charged (via USB) Surge, we were only able to get a 78% charge before the Surge was out of juice. (As a side note, when the Surge runs dry, your iPhone may may a series of “powering up” chirps as it decided whether or not it can tap any more power out of the unit, so you may not want to charge a fully drained phone overnight, or risk being woken up).

Now, as I re-read the above claim by Novothink, I realize they conspicuously say the Surge provides 105% battery life of the iPhone 3G (which had a 1150 mAh battery), not the 3GS (which has a 1219 mAh), but given the 1320 mAh rating, you would think it should give EITHER phone a full 100% charge, but in multiple tests, we never were able to get greater than 78%.

Also, your location and time of year will likely affect your solar charging time. For example, I live in NJ and tested the Surge in May. While I was able to bring the Surge to a full charge in only a few hours via a USB connection, it took me about 6 DAYS of leaving my Surge out in direct sunlight ALL DAY. Granted New Jersey in May is not exactly Arizona in August, but I was a little surprised to find it took so long. So the idea that just hooking your surge to your backpack while hiking and that would be enough to keep an iPhone going are a little optimistic in my opinion. I don’t doubt that if you do not use your iPhone heavily during a trip the Surge may be able to top it off, but given it took me 6 Days to charge fully, and about 2 hours to DRAIN fully, I have some doubts. Still, it DOES work, and in a time of crisis you could likely get enough juice to make a phone call in half an hour of so. And yes, when the world ends, you could probably play Flight Control for an hour or so a day until you run out of Spam and die of starvation.

My only other complaint would be with the accuracy of the charge LEDs on the back of the unit. Starting from 4 fully green bars, I was down to 2 within about 20 minutes, and down to 0 in about 40 minutes,. However, the unit continued to charge for about 2 hours. So I would not put too much faith in the built-in meter.


Priced at $79.99, Novothink’s Surge is certainly more versatile than your average iPhone charger, and no more bulky or heavy than the competition. Not only can the Surge charge via USB, as most cases, but its ability to be charged via the sun makes it a great choice for the active hiker/camper. However, the expectation that keeping your iPhone in the case and hooked to your backpack will somehow charge the phone via ambient light is a bit optimistic.

Price: $79.99

Pros: Can charge via USB or Sunlight, can hook to a backpack, keep your iPhone going after the world ends

Cons: Takes a really long time to charge fully via solar, charging LEDs are not all that accurate

2 Responses to “Review: Novothink’s Surge solar iPhone charging case”
  1. Panolo says:

    Don’t know about the charger, but the girl looks like a candidate for Mac Chick of the month.

  2. David says:

    Looks good.. awesome girl at the front…but really, you need to have the phone lying flat so the sun hits the solar panel, yet it has ZERO front protection? Hmmm… sorry.

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