What is it? The Fuse 10W by Voltaic Systems is a portable solar charger for laptops, tablets, cell phones, cameras, and other small electronics.
In a nutshell: The Fuse 10W is a fantastic gadget for backpackers, climbers, campers, van dwellers—anyone who might need to power a laptop for a few hours every couple of days, or charge several small electronics daily. Access to several hours of direct sunlight is a must. It comes with almost all the adapters one could possibly need to charge an array of electronic devices; MacBook users and photographers will need to purchase additional adapters.
Where to buy it: Voltaic Systems website
Where to buy it cheaper: Voltaic Systems Clearance/Sample Sale, $279 (limited quantities)
Dimensions: Solar panel – 16.5″ x 11″ x 2″; V60 Battery – 7.25″ x 4.875″ x 0.5″
Weight: Solar panel – 2 lb. 4.5 oz.; V60 Battery – 1 lb. 2 oz.; Solar panel + V60 Battery + adapters = 4 lb. 7.5 oz.
There are two basic components to the Fuse 10W: the 10 watt solar panel (it’s actually three 3.4 watt panels), and the V60 battery. Some devices can be plugged directly in to the solar panel, but for laptops the company advises users to charge the V60 battery with the solar panel, and then connect the laptop to the fully charged V60 battery.
Voltaic says that it takes 12 hours of direct sunlight to fully charge the V60 battery that comes with the Fuse 10W. This is true. It really does take 12 hours, and the solar panel must be in direct sunlight. Not on a dashboard beneath a windshield, not propped up behind a bedroom window screen, and not partially shaded by a tree. Twelve hours. Direct sunlight.
Twelve hours of direct sunlight is pretty difficult to attain for the average user. Most people will be able to fully charge the battery by leaving it outside for two days in a row. The unit comes with both AC and DC chargers so that the battery can be charged using a standard wall outlet or a 12 volt outlet instead of the solar panel. This makes the V60 great for a travel.
Once the V60 battery is fully charged, it can then be used to charge iPhones, iPads, iPods, smart phones, dumb phones, mifi devices, bluetooth headsets—pretty much anything with a USB port—and laptops. The Fuse 10W comes with several adapters that I imagine will be able to fulfill most people’s needs. However, anyone wishing to charge a camera battery or a MacBook will have to purchase additional adapters. Voltaic sells camera battery adapters specific to one’s camera for $20 each. They seem to have done a good job of providing a selection that covers 95% of the photography enthusiast market. MacBook users… that’s a little more complicated.
There are two ways of connecting a MacBook to the V60 battery. Actually, two and a half. Voltaic makes and sells an adapter, called the MagSafe Adapter, that will allow users to plug a MacBook Pro directly into the V60 battery. This adapter costs $20, and it’s sold exclusively by Voltaic on their adapters page. The second option is to purchase a car charger for the MacBook, such as this one, and use it in conjunction with the car charger socket that is included with the Fuse 10W. The MacBook plugs into the car charger, the car charger plugs into the car charger socket, the car charger socket plugs into the V60 battery. The first option is a little cleaner and $10 cheaper; the second is a little more flexible. I went with the second option because I like the idea of being able to charge my laptop using the cigarette lighter in my car.
The half. Each of the options mentioned above only works with MacBooks manufactured prior to June 2012. These MacBooks use the original MagSafe port. MacBooks manufactured after June 2012 have a slimmer port, called the MagSafe 2. If you have one of these newer MacBooks, in addition to using either of the methods outlined above, you’ll also need a MagSafe to MagSafe 2 adapter, which simply attaches to the MagSafe tip of whichever option you choose to go with.
So let’s get down to business. How well does the entire setup work to charge laptops? I charged the V60 battery by attaching it to the solar panel and leaving them outside for two days straight. After making sure that the battery was 100% charged, I set the V60 to 16V and plugged it into my MacBook Pro when it had 10% battery left. While I casually perused the internet and checked my email, the V60 powered my computer and charged my computer’s battery from 10% to 56% in about 45 minutes. How long 56% lasts varies based on several things, such as graphics performance, and display brightness. 56% on my computer lasted me another 2 hours beyond the initial 45 minutes when the V60 was plugged in. Not bad at all.
In the 45 minutes that the V60 was plugged in to my computer, the V60 got incredibly hot—almost worthy of oven mitts—so be careful where you place it. It also gets very hot when it is being charged by the solar panel. The company recommends leaving the main zipper on the pack open to let some of the heat escape.
A few days later I charged the V60 back up to about 80%. I was able to charge my cell phone, mifi device, iPod, and iPod speaker, and I still had somewhere between 20-40% left on the V60.
The battery indicator on the V60 is a simple push button with 5 red dots. Each dot represents a 20% range, so when I press the button and 2 dots light up, I know that the battery is somewhere between 20-40% full. It’s not as specific as I’d like it to be, but it does work.
There are three voltage choices for the output port: 19V, 16V, and 12V. The USB output port is 5V. You’ll need to know the appropriate voltage for each of your devices. The 16V setting both provided power and charged my MacBook battery.
The Fuse 10W was designed to be attached to other things, such as a backpack, or a rack on a bicycle. It comes with one long adjustable strap for the top, and two shorter adjustable straps for the bottom. I had no problems hooking mine to my daypack, and I thought the design functioned quite well. The Fuse 10W does weigh a bit more than any backpacker, climber, or cyclist would like, but one would be hard pressed to find a comparable product (one that charges laptops in addition to small devices) that weighs any less.
There is only one teeny, tiny thing I would change about this product. The zipper on the internal mesh compartment is the worst zipper in the world. It sticks and absolutely refuses to zip closed smoothly. It will zip up, but only after a great deal of tugging and swearing.
I purchased my Fuse 10W from Voltaic’s Clearance/Sample Sale page for $279. Items on this page are either low in quantity or have slight cosmetic flaws. My unit came with a velcro flap sewn backwards—not a big deal at all, and totally worth it for a $60 discount. The solar panel and the battery work flawlessly, and it still came with all of the necessary adapters. Actually, mine didn’t have a DC charger for the V60 battery like it was supposed to, but I emailed customer service and got a response within a couple hours that they would send one over. How awesome is that?
All in all, the Fuse 10W is a really great solution for anyone who’ll be off the grid for days at a time and who will occasionally need to run a laptop and/or charge several small electronics daily. It’s not for power users who have their noses buried in pixels for hours on end. Keep in mind that several hours of direct sun is essential. Sorry Seattleites, this product is not for you. The Fuse 10W is an excellent product—it’s well-made, and it works as advertised. Those things combined with Voltaic’s excellent customer service means that the Fuse 10W earns two thumbs up from me.