Fixed at last — adventures with faulty products

What is wrong with something… or what is right with something? Why does something work or not work? What could have been done better? Thinking about this leads us to writing criticism…

THERE WAS a knock and my partner opened the door.

“Package”, said the courier, offering a brown cardboard box. “Sign here”.

My partner set it down on the table and, after she went to work, I decided to open it. Doing this was not without a small element of risk because she likes to open packages when they arrive. When she does this I just stand aside.

This was intriguing. A package form the US, its label bearing a California address. Out with the knife to slice the sticky tape, and it was open. Inside, a small photovoltaic panel, one of those devices that turn sunlight into electricity.

Then I remembered. It was a replacement device for one that had stopped working soon after we had bought it.


It worked, then it didn’t

We were driving north along the coast in a van, north along Highway 1, heading towards the northern NSW subtropics. Somewhere south of Port Macquarie my partner took a small, yellow device from her bag and plugged her phone into it.

“Oh look, it’s charging”, she exclaimed in triumph. Such is my partner’s clear and logical thinking and good common sense (I say that in envy) that even had current not flowed out of that yellow recharge battery/light device and into her old but still very serviceable iPhone, she would have dogged it until it did.

Current flowed because the yellow device, a compact rechargable battery that recharges small digital devices and is also a powerful floodlight and torch, houses a 4400 mAh lithium-ion battery with 16Wh of storage. Those milliamps are sufficient to recharge an iPhone6s+ around twice. I assume its much the same for an Android device of similar battery size. This exercise my partner repeated all along that road trip whenever her or my phone required a refill of amphours. It was far better than clicking the start button to find your phone battery flat.

LIght aplenty

Night came, and we parked the van at a small campsite on the outskirts of a rural town, somewhere with a shower where we could wash away the day’s sweat.

Come the night, we didn’t want to use the vehicle’s starter battery to run the dome light for any length of time as it might deplete it. So, again, it was that little yellow recharger/light to the rescue. Not only does it have a torch putting out a maximum of 250 Lumens, it has a floodlight that you can run both sides at 200 lumens or switch on only a single side to extend battery life at half that output.

Along with this device had come two small lamps that Biolite calls the SiteLight that connect together for easy packing. They daisychain to the yellow Powerlight to shed 150 lumens each. Strung along the length of the van’s roof, the main light plus these two smaller lights — Biolite calls it the Nanogrid — were more than enough to illuminate the vehicle interior. And that powerful little torch was useful in making our way to the shower through the darkness of evening.

That little yellow recharger/light worked well on that trip, then when we got home, it died.

The recharger/light can be recharged by connecting Biolite’s lightweight, compact photovoltaic panel and setting it out where it will get some sun.

This we did. All went well. Then the panel died.


The Americans

We had bought the Biolite panel from the company in the US. Disappointed that a device had worked then died, we contacted them.

A week went by but nothing was heard from Biolite USA. My partner emailed again. Again, nothing heard. This is how it went over the following weeks.

Finally, the Americans got back to say they had a backlog of emails to deal with because the woman who looks after that part of the business had gone off on maternity leave.

The Australians

The recharger/light we had bought from Biolite’s Australian agent. Disappointed that a new device had worked then died, we contacted them.

In contrast to the Americans, the response from the company’s Australian agent was prompt. They made suggestions to test the device. We did that. Still it wouldn’t work.

Back to the agent and they did what any reputable company would do. Send the unit back, they said. That done it was only a short time later that they emailed to let us know a replacement unit was on its way.


When it comes to customer service, the Australian agent far outdid their American counterpart. They were prompt in problem solving and finding a solution. The Americans were not.

Now, Biolite makes good products. They have a good reputation among the adventure sports and outdoor milieu. Their products are used by campers, van dwellers, travellers and bushwalkers. That is why the Americans needed a more rapid response and to have had temporary replacement staff to cover the work of their woman on maternity leave. Maybe their Australian agent should have sent over some Australian staff to help them through their difficulty and improve their temporary shortfall in service.

Will this experience influence my willingness to purchase Biolite products in future? I admit to feeeling a little wariness, but I don’t think it will prevent future purchases.

In fact, it hasn’t. While we were waiting for the replacement photovoltaic panel to arrive, another package, a small one, arrived at our door. I had no idea it was coming — my partner had ordered it as she had the recharger/light and the panel. It was a small package that she opened, of course, and in it were two Biolite Powerlight Mini lights.

“Useful for bushwalking”, she said. “And they attach to a bicycle”. My Partner does not have a bicycle. Nor do I. Nonetheless, these little rechargable lights work well. And they are still working well. They have already proven of use on dark,cloudy nights in negotiating the long flight of stairs to our front door.

So, replacement recharger/light received, replacement photovoltaic panel out on the living room table, all that remains is to test the panel. But I’ll leave that to my partner who, as well as opening packages, likes to test equipment.





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