As you know I'm all for products which enable us to tread a little lighter on this earth, so how could I refuse when the people at Dobbies offered me these starry solar powered path lights to evaluate?
I've often wondered if this type of lighting might be just the thing for my front garden: we're next to woodland, facing north and quite some way from the nearest street light, so things can get quite dark around here. Our neighbour has invested in a set of individual stick solar powered lights which seem to work quite well around their lawn edge, so if we had a set of something similar, we could gently make the neighbourhood a safer place without too much in the way of light pollution or running costs. Besides, a path lined with twinkly star shaped lights looked kinda fun :)
A few days later the lights arrived and were very easy to assemble and set out alongside our front drive. I even managed to find a place to site the solar panel without it being shaded by any shrubs. I then left them for a few days to see what they could do: this often involved making sure the solar panel was gently wiped clean (the instructions say not to press down when doing this) as my setting them out coincided with last week's snowfall.
Having had them out there for a week, here's what I've found:
- Lamps come out of their sockets easily, but can just as easily be put back together again.
- The on/off and static/animated switches are flimsy and hard to use: they look the same (unlike the enclosed leaflet diagram that comes with the lights which shows a clear difference in switch height depending on what you've done) and it can take several attempts to change from static to animated, or on to off and vice versa.
- One light completely dislodged (see photo below) after I brought them back in even though I was very careful in the way I handled them. Flimsy construction and just one session's use isn't quite what I had in mind.
- The ground spikes bend/break very easily.
- Lights have a variable brightness - some are bright and others are hard to tell if they're on.
- Lights are unsuitable for a north facing garden in the winter: a bright sunny day on Sunday gave only 25 minutes illumination (1 lamp only lasted 15 minutes). The leaflet says there's a maximum of 8 hours*.
- It's difficult to get the lights to be as upright as in the illustration as they're on a bendy wire. Personally this wasn't a problem as it meant I could gently alter the lights to peek out from under foliage where needed
Whilst I realise I've not tested them in ideal conditions, looking at the accompanying leaflet I would question whether they're suitable for use at this time of the year, even if I moved the lights to my south facing back garden. It's recommended the first day's use needs bright sunshine for 8 hours to fully charge the batteries. There's less than 8 hours daylight (never mind sunshine) in the Bath area from 9th December to 2nd January: this period will be even longer the further north you go. Also the leaflet's Maintenance section recommends they're put away for the winter to dry off thoroughly and then brought out again in the spring.
In summary - a great idea, but a disappointing execution. If I was reviewing these on Amazon I'd be giving them one star; possibly 2 for summer use. As they're an electrical item, I now need to take them to my local household centre for recycling.
However for the sake of balance, Patient Gardener's experience was much more positive than mine.