While the folks over at Devotec Industries probably weren't up all night coming up with the name for the Solar Sound, they did manage to put put together a sleek, portable and environmentally friendly bluetooth speaker.
The Solar Sound comes packaged with everything you need to get up and running: A mini USB to USB A connector, a (foreign) power plug (with USB port), a 75cm retractable double ended 3.5mm cable, a short user guide and a handy protective case.
While I had a fair idea of the unit's size before it hit my desk, I was somewhat taken aback by how small the unit actually is. The glossy black rectangular cuboid measures a stealthy 16.5cm in length and 5.5cm square (both depth and height). Bar the two side panels (which each house a 3cm speaker and 1.5cm vent) the unit is finished in a very glossy fingerprint magnet black.
Along with a light up Devotec Industries logo, the front features three touch sensitive buttons - An on/sleep/pause/play button in the middle, a lower volume/previous track button on the left and a raise volume/next track button on the right. All buttons light up blue when touched while the logo lights up green, yellow, blue or red depending on the unit's status.
The rear of the unit's uniform black is broken by a small panel containing a power button, MIC hole, 3.5mm Line in and Mini USB 5V DC in. Unlike all other solar devices I have ever encountered, the solar panels atop the Solar Sound seem to genuinely match the rest of the unit's design: To illustrate the point, not only do the panels look the part, they actually feel like the unit's other surfaces.
Features and Usage
Essentially, the Solar Sound has been designed to act as a Bluetooth speaker and for the most part that is exactly how I tested it. When switched on, the unit gives off two subtle beeps and flashes the Devotec Industries logo blue. Most of the testing centred around my iPhone 3GS which I paired without issue. In fact, not two minutes after removing the Solar Sound from its packaging, it was playing back some of my favourite tunes. Thankfully, the Solar Sound tested shipped with a fairly good charge. The touch buttons worked well to play/pause and raise lower the volume but for some reason I couldn't get the buttons to skip or review the previous track when using my iPhone as the source. In contrast, when the Solar Sound was paired to my MacBook Pro, holding down the raise volume/skip button for five seconds skipped to the next track in iTunes. Pressing (and holding) Review/Lower volume returned to the start of the song that was playing.
As for sound quality, the Solar Sound proved to be quite good - Better than expected, really. The sound quality is excellent and can be compared to home ceiling stereo speakers.
The Solar Sound produced audio that was both clear and pleasing to the ear. In testing, the speaker sounded noticeably better than my laptop speakers and while reviewing the unit was the task at hand, I found myself genuinely listening to the Solar Sound for pleasure most of the time. As you may expect then, my time with the unit proved to be quite enjoyable with reliable playback and syncing with all devices tested. Throughout testing, there were only two real issues that detracted from the overall experience - Using the Solar Sound as a Handsfree speaker phone and the jolting beep encountered when hitting the unit's upper volume limit.
When using a phone (iphone 3GS at least) a short tone sounds when an incoming call is detected. By pressing the play/pause button on the Solar Sound accepts the call and begins acting as a handsfree bluetooth speaker. While the clarity of the incoming audio was good, callers reported that the audio received from the Solar Sound's built in microphone was often broken and generally difficult to understand.
The solar charging aspect of the unit was much more convincing and whenever the unit was in direct sunlight, the Devotec Industries logo lit up yellow/green to signify it was charging. While we had no way of testing the assumption, the unit seemed to indicate that even during playback the solar panels were replenishing the batteries charge - Albeit at a much lower rate than was required for playback.
The Solar Sound's power is stored in a Lithium ION battery rated at 1500mAh and is claimed to produce eight hours of continuous playback at medium volume and approximately four hours at maximum volume. In my tests I found that playback lasted approximately six hours at (what I considered to be) a reasonable volume.
The battery can be charged via USB (or the included wall charger if you are in Britain) which takes about 4 hours. Charging via the solar panel takes considerably longer at 12-16 hours. Also worth noting is that while the Solar Sound does appear to charge during playback, the solar panel isn't able to power the unit directly if the battery has no charge.
Bluetooth reliabilty was generally good and in the open air I found the ten metre claimed working distance to be accurate, with perfect reception between my iPhone and Solar Sound at distances up to around 9 metres. In an indoor environment peppered with wireless signals, however, the Solar Sound's reliability was reduced to around 5 metres.
• 2x 2W speakers for proper stereo sound
• Wireless connectivity to any Bluetooth® phone or MP3 player supporting the A2DP and AVRCP profiles
• Plug into any standard headphone jack with the included 3.5mm headphone retractable cable
• Built in Mic for hands free communication when paired with a suitable phone
• Large solar panel for charging the built in Lithium-Ion 1500mAh battery
• 8 Hours continuous play time at medium volume from the internal battery, 4 hours at max volume
• Touch-screen panel for remotely controlling your music, including Fast Forward and Rewind buttons, as well as Volume Control
• Includes protective case, AC/DC plug and charging cable
• Charging time: from 4 hours by AC/USB, about 12-24 hours from solar panel
• Small Dimensions: 16.5 x 5.5 x 5.5cm
• Weight: 260g, about 0.5lbs.
From the first moment the Solar Sound arrived on my desk, it has been in constant operation in one way or another. Not only did the audio quality impress, but so too did it's small footprint and sleek appearance. It's ability to recharge via solar power while gimmicky on paper, was well implemented and was, to be blunt, rather cool.
Despite its poor performance as a hands free unit, for quality portable bluetooth audio playback, the Solar Sound is an affordable alternative to similar but far more expensive devices.
The Solar Sound can be purchased directly from Devotec Industries directly at a special promotional price of 49.99 Pounds (regularly 59.99 Pounds).