Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Product Review - Waka Waka Power

There is a new trend developing in the prepper community in regards to portable power.  A multitude of new products promising to deliver renewable,portable power have emerged onto the market including this one:  the Waka Waka power.  This is the big brother to the Waka Waka, which is essentially an LED light with a solar panel.  The difference with the new Power model is that is has a built in USB charger plug that will charge smart phones, MP3 players, E readers, or small tablets.

The Waka Waka (I love the name) is powered by a 2200mAh Lithium Polymer battery, which is a gell form of  the more commonly known Lithium Ion cell.  LiPo batteries have some interesting charging requirements and other characteristics which will become important later on in the review. 

The first feature I will address is the output of the unit.  Two LEDs make this a pretty decent light for power outages or other emergencies.  If you're like me, the first thing you are going to do when you unbox your Waka Waka is look at the front of the unit, which is oddly mindful of a smiley face, and turn on the light.  Please don't do this unless you enjoy seeing spots for at least 20 minutes.  These 2 LEDs give off some impressive lumens at full strength.  Luckily though, the brightness can be adjusted with successive pressing of the one and only control button.  Personally, I think it would have been better to start it at the lowest setting and work up, but it is designed to do the opposite.

The flip open cover acts as a stand and can be used to position the light in almost any way you could think of, including being hung by a piece of para cord (or whatever else you have) and even placed on the top of a soda bottle.  Keep in mind that although it is fairly light weight at only 200 grams, it will tip over an empty bottle, so make sure you have something in it.

For charging phones and other devices, you have a standard USB port on the side of the unit, so make sure you have the appropriate charging cord.  Charged to full capacity, this unit easily and quite quickly charged an Iphone 4 twice (not from completely dead, but at about 30%) and still had some juice left over.  It did not however charge my old Motorola flip  phone, but no standard USB connection does either, so no surprise there.  If the device you want to charge can be charged with a standard USB cord from your computer, you should be good to go.

There are 2 ways to charge this unit up.  It can be plugged into a typical USB port with a micro USB connector, or with the built in solar panel, which occupies the entire back side of the unit.  This is where the LiPo battery makes a difference, and unfortunately, not a good one. Lithium Polymer batteries are tricky to charge properly and need some very careful charging parameters near the end of the charging cycle.  Most of the other reviews of this product that I read came to the same conclusion.  The unit is very slow to charge past the 75% mark, and I had the same observation.  Charging with a USB cable from my laptop was by far the fastest way to get the Waka Waka up to full power.  The built in solar panel was well, disappointing.  This really doesn't come as a surprise to me because no matter what a solar manufacturer claims, solar panels are inefficient, and don't work in cloudy conditions.  Sorry, but they just don't.

The claim of the unit is that it can achieve 75% charge (notice that number?) in 6 hours, on a sunny day, at New York latitude.  I guess that could explain the long solar charge times I experienced.  In my tests, solar charging took 2 days of direct sunlight to get up to a full charge.  In cloudy conditions, it was almost impossible to get the charge indicating LED to blink at all.  When the unit was placed facing full sun, it did charge at it's fastest rate (indicated by 3 quick blinks of the indicator) but to keep this rate up, it had to be repositioned about every hour or so as the sun moved around in the sky.  Given this, I think that the charge rate on a clear summer day outdoors would be OK, but don't rely on this during stormy conditions.

Certainly, this unit is better than nothing as a solar charged power pack.  If you keep it charged with the USB cable, it makes an excellent portable charger.  As a light,well, it works great.  It is bright, or dim if you like, lasts quite a long time from a full charge and the positioning options are fantastic.  From a full charge, and on full brightness, it lasted well beyond the claimed 20 hours, and that was continuous use.  Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, you can charge your phone and use the light at the same time.

You can get your Waka Waka Power for $69.00US here .

Now, if you think that is a bit pricey, consider this...

For every WakaWaka Power sold in the west, a donation is made to the Waka Waka Foundation to finance entrepreneurial education, micro-loans to women energy entrepreneurs, and subsidies for the very poor in countries like in Nigeria, Haiti, Nepal, India and Latin America to replace polluting, dangerous kerosene lamps. 


  1. You are correct about the solar efficiency. Most of these small solar gadgets use crystalline solar cells, which can tout that they are the most efficient technology, but they require direct sunlight. So, when they say they will recharge in 10 hours, they mean 10 hours of direct peak sunlight exposure (which in turn means about two days of summer sunshine all day for Canadian lower latitudes). Just because the little LED comes on letting you know that the unit is exposed to daylight doesn't mean it is sending more than a few mA to the battery.

    So, for Canada, the best solar technology is thin film. Look for products such as Powerfilm (made in the USA) and others.

    Lastly, a comment regarding the battery capacity of these small solar gadgets. Since this article was originally published, USB devices have become much more power hungry. From smartphones to iPads, not only to you now need at least 3,000mAHr to charge a smartphone from dead, you will need to supply it at a 1A rate or better to make the phone's charging system happy. 2A for tablets.

    So, to balance all this out, if you want to have a solar charger worth anything to a Canadian, you will have a thin film panel, with waterproof construction, of at least 5 Watts, charging a storage battery of at least 5,000mAHr.

    Hope your readers find these comments helpful. Thanks for the forum!