Sol Laptop Blues

laurelrusswurm at

I have a teeny tiny netbook so I can write when I'm away from home. Two hours was a good run for the battery in the beginning, but it's running slower now as batteries do.  There are other issues, too; it is slow, there isn't enough oomph to play tiny bits of home video without juddering, and if I open two or more tabs in a browser it's likely to seize up.  I'd been complaining about it a lot a year ago, and a Fediverse friend told me about a solar laptop that was pretty interesting.  I was even more intrigued when Hosh told me it came loaded with Ubuntu (not my choice of OS, but far and away better than windows or mac) and the clincher was that it was a Canadian product.   Like most people, I shop local when I can.  One advantage of buying a high ticket item that doesn't cross a border means there are no customs surprises later.  And, of course, supporting tech innovation in my home province is win-win, right?

Other netizens I know at home and abroad were equally interested.  People like to find out from earl adopters.  My friend Lydia's husband is in green tech, so naturally she couldn't wait to hear, and across the pond in Denmark Morton was just as interested, as was Hosh himself.  One of big appeals was a battery supposed to run ten hours, but even if the performance wasn't that good, the computer's could be charged with its solar panels in the sun.  For a writer, that means the freedom to spend a whole day writing in a park; or wilderness vacations without needing access to a wall plug. 

Since I kept mooning over the Sol computer during NaNoWriMo... and after, my husband said he thought it would be the perfect Christmas present for me.  Yay!  So I ordered a top of the line machine, with all the extras and upgrades (except the one to windows!), and settled in for the 4-6 week wait.   

I knew it was a young company, but it hadn't really sunk in that the lengthy wait was because the computer wasn't actually in production yet.  But instead of arriving, there were delays.  Technical difficulties.  Fixing bugs.  Needing to set things up with a distributor.  Sure, these things should have been done before their online store opened, but I know myself that there are always things you didn't count on.  

As the summer went by I emailed them, and even phoned the number on the web page.  I had a bit of a turn when it was out of service, but I called the number for Wewi (the mother company).  Nothing to worry about, the website hadn't been updated.  And the guy I talked to (probably Wewi owner David Snir) offered me a refund then and there.  I knew it was a startup, I wanted to support them, not push them into insolvency.  And besides, I didn't want a refund, I wanted my solar powered laptop.  

Then my husband decided to run for the Green Party in the federal election, I thought it could be at a chance for some extra publicity for Wewi, so I asked if a loaner might be possible for the duration of the campaign.  There was no response at all, which made me nervous, but I had an election campaign to run.  And when the election was over there was NaNoWriMo, so I didn't have time to chase after my new computer.  Certainly part of that held the hope that the company would get its act together and send me my Sol.  

But that wasn't to be.  As the anniversary of my purchase approached, it was time to get serious about getting a refund.  So I called, and worked my way through their voicemail contacts until I got to an actual human.  He took my information and promised to get back to me, then suggested I call him again if I didn't hear back on Friday.  

After hearing nothing on Friday, I called again on Monday.  This time his line went straight through to voice mail.  Next I spoke to the woman on the bottom of the directory; she tried to put me off, but I insisted I wanted a refund, and notification of it.  The next time I called the only option the phone system was disabled, and there was no longer any way to speak to anyone.  Next I called the Wewi company phone number, which took me straight to company owner David Snir's voicemail.  I left him a message but he never replied.  Then I sent him an email; no answer.  

Today I wandered through the Wewi Facebook page and discovered I wasn't the only person who had paid for Sol Laptops in vain:
and more still on G+

I know I won't be so quick to buy into new tech in the future.  This kind of business practices can't be good for the tech community.  If you know anyone who is considering this, talk them out of it. 

Possibly the worst thing is that even though the company wasn't shipping laptops, it kept updating the website, and now supposedly the next generation Sol is available.  It certainly doesn't help to have the Wikipedia page lending credibility to these people.   At this point it doesn't really matter any more if this can be chalked up to small business growing pains or if it was a con job from the start; either way, I'll be using my own wee netbook for some time to come. :(

Tupulpo likes this.

Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠), Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠), Efraim Flashner, Efraim Flashner and 1 others shared this.

Show all 11 replies

Speaking of solar-powered computing, instead: I do it relatively often; I have a portable panel about 60x60 cm (folded in half for carrying) and a 7Ah battery, both with handles (wouldn't do for a hike, but as long as you're not walking that much it's fine).

Any random laptop can probably be used for a decent amount of time, as long as the battery is already charged in advance, but the devices I usually use are:

* OpenPandora: a gaming handheld with a decent keyboard, GNU/Linux OS and a great community. It is small, but surprisingly efficient. I don't think they sell it anymore, but they are working on a successor and it's still supported by the producer. It has a *huge* battery for its size and only needs recharging from the solar panel when using wifi to get on the internet.

* Efika MX Smartbook: an ARM based netbook which came with Ubuntu from the producer: extremely light and with long battery times, Debian worked just fine on it. No longer produced, no longer supported and no longer upgradeable since there is no support in mainline kernel. Still works, sort-of, but you can't really trust it on the internet. It also was never really able to play videos under Debian because of the lack of proprietary codecs.

Nowadays I'm looking at the Arm64-based laptop that Olimex is working on: right now there is no mainline support, but AFAIK the sunxi community may be working on it. They are an established company, so they won't need crowdfunding, but there are still no infos on pricing etc.

Elena ``of Valhalla'' at 2016-01-13T17:11:36Z

laurelrusswurm, Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) likes this.

I'm a happy customer of Olimex, really exiting to hear they're trying for an arm64 laptop!

joeyh at 2016-01-13T19:47:54Z

Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) likes this.

@laurelrusswurm Maybe it's time to call the credit card company?

Jason Self at 2016-01-13T22:19:55Z

Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠), X11R5 likes this.

Elena I understand solar technology has been getting dramatically better. For me, a big part of the issue is portability. 

Crowdfunding is certainly one way to go if you're looking for investors, but this company didn't present itself as seeking funding, but as a company that had already passed the investor/prototype stage and was already manufacturing these computers (having field tested them in parts of the world where electricity is sparse or non-existent.  It presented itself as a tech company opening a retail division.  

@joeyh The idea was that although the folding 4 part solar panel folds into the lid compartment, but not built into the comouter, it was attached by cable, (and you could order 2 different lengths, which I did).  The user would take it out of the lid, and position it in the sun, on the other side of the room in a window, or even outside the room with the long extension cord...  or out in full sun while I work in the shade.   Since the solar panel isn't attached, replacing it (or the computer) presumably this component would be replacable and perhaps upgradable as solar technology improves even fast than it has in recent decades.  
@Jason Self Its been over a year, at this point, I can't see what the credit card company could do.  

laurelrusswurm at 2016-01-24T00:04:02Z