Product Review: SunBell Solar Lamp and Phone Charger

SunBell Solar LampThe Bell series of solar lamps was initially designed for the off-grid market, but after you use one of these a few times you’re pretty much hooked, no matter how connected you are. The Norwegian company behind it, BRIGHT Products, sent us a couple of samples to try out last week, and within a few minutes we came up with a laundry list of household uses for the desk lamp/phone charger model that could translate to businesses as well as consumers.

For small or standalone retail businesses, in particular, the Bell series offers an opportunity to add an attention-getting green touch for a relatively modest investment.

[clarification: Bright Products is the manufacturer of SunBell. You can find both SunBell and Little Sun at, which provided both of the products for Triple Pundit to sample]

The Little Sun solar lamp

The first solar lamp we pulled out of the box, Little Sun, is designed both as a palm-sized hanging light and a hands-free wearable flashlight, which you hang around your neck on a cord. It’s a great example of the ways in which industrial designers have turned the creative challenge of solar technology into an opportunity.

The challenge is the solar cell itself: It demands a flat surface that sets a hard limit on the designer’s options.

Working within that scope, the Little Sun has an appealing, petal-shaped design that enables the lamp to double as a form of decorative lighting.

Speaking of usefulness, one thing we look for in a personal solar device is a simple out-of-the-box experience. In other words, you take the device out of the box, and you can start exploring it intuitively, without having to work through directions.

Little Sun passed that test with flying colors. Let’s also note that it comes with rechargeable batteries already installed, so there’s no fussing over batteries, either.

The SunBell solar lamp and phone charger

We can think of a couple of ways in which Little Sun would be useful for both homes and businesses — poking around in the back of closets and drawers comes to mind — but the fun really started when we got to the SunBell solar lamp and phone charger.

The SunBell consists of a lamp shade and a removeable fixture that holds the battery, the input/output for the solar cell and mobile phone, and a small lamp.

When you stand the lampshade on its head and slip the fixture on top, you can use the small lamp for task lighting. It’s seated on a long, flexible neck so you can easily adjust its position to suit your needs.

Since the neck is long and flexible, you can also poke the head of the small lamp down through the fixture and into the lampshade, to turn it into a table lamp. The neck creates a sturdy loop, so you can also hang the lamp from a hook.

To top it off, you can also take the fixture off the lampshade and hang it around your neck, using the small lamp as a wearable flashlight.

Let’s also note that since the fixture is relatively small and light, you can also slip it in your bag and use it to charge your mobile phone on the go.

As for the out-of-the-box experience, one thing we should note is that SunBell is a multi-use device, so it’s going to be a little more complex than a simple flashlight. If you’ve sampled a number of solar devices before you could probably figure it out without the instructions, but I had to sneak a peek.

A truly flexible design

The reason I had to peek at the instructions was because I was looking for the impressively long, 9-foot cable for the solar panel, and I couldn’t figure out how they packed it into such a small box. But, there it was, cleverly tucked around the solar panel and concealed by a flexible cover. Press the center of the cover and the edges flip up so you can unwind the cable.

That seemed a bit of a cumbersome arrangement, given how simple and intuitive everything else is, but there’s a good reason. It has to do with the aforementioned creativity in meeting the design challenges posed by solar cells.

The 9-foot cable means you can place the solar panel at quite some distance from the fixture, so if you have less than optimal daylight (like in my house), you have more flexibility to get the best sunlight for charging the solar cells.

The solar panel also doubles as a sleek, attractive base and stabilizer for the lampshade, but it wouldn’t look so sleek and attractive with a 9-foot cable snaking across the table. That’s where the cover comes in. Once the battery is charged, you can put the lampshade on the solar panel, tuck the cable back inside, flip the edges of the cover back into place, and nobody will ever know there’s a cable hidden inside.

I could go on and on about this fun device, but I’m running out of space. From now on, my cell phone is going to charge with 100 percent solar power from my SunBell, which is what it’s doing right now.

That brings us back around to SunBell’s usefulness for grid connected business. Offering your customers free solar-powered phone charging while they wait is just for starters.

If you can think of some other ones, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Image: Courtesy of BRIGHT Products.

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Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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