Photography is increasingly about sharing. Many of us are desperate to get something – anything – on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as fast as we can, even when we’re out in the field. So what do you do when you’re off-grid? Whether you’re posting photos via a smartphone or you prefer to process and upload photos in-situ using a laptop, the Skyroam Solis X is out to tempt you with nothing less than global 4G WiFi in a whopping 130+ countries.
However, this garish ‘smart spot’ (new-speak for hotspot) goes some extra miles by including extra features that you won’t expect on a device that’s ostensibly all about global connectivity. For instance, how about an 8MP camera?
That does seem a little crazy. Skyroam insists that the camera is ideal for families wanting to capture ‘candid moments’ (really?) or ‘FaceTime’ home.
That camera may not be a deal-maker, but it’s not worth getting upset about because the Solis X (an upgrade on the original Solis) is a hugely impressive device.
Firstly, we love its small size. Weighing 313g/11 oz. and measuring 23x88 mm/3.5x0.9 inches, it’s much teenier that the previous incarnation, so much so that it’s now pocket-sized. Yes, it is bright orange, for reasons that we don’t fully understand, but in terms of design, it’s simple and efficient.
On the outside is a USB-C slot for recharging it, but there’s a lot more to its built-in battery than that. As well as providing enough power for the Solis X to attach to 4G and spit-out a WiFi network for up to 10 devices for around 16 hours, its internal 4,700mAh battery can be shared via USB-C (though only at slow 1-amp speeds). A USB-C to USB-A adaptor is supplied in the box, which is a nice touch.
The decision to use it to refuel a smartphone is a big one since it renders the Solis X unusable – or, at least, less usable – if you do later decide to go online. It’s also worth noting that the original Solis has a significantly larger 6,200 mAh battery. Perhaps this new version is best used as a portable battery pack only in emergencies, or only on days when it’s not going to be used as a hotspot.
Skyroam Solis X: running costs
It’s time we looked at the WiFi data plans, which make or break any hotspot (sorry, ‘smartspot’). It’s actually pretty reasonable and devilishly easy to use. You buy a Solis X. Then you download the Skyroam app and choose your plan. The choice is between a day-pass ($9 for 24 hours of unlimited WiFi), a monthly GoData plan ($9/mo for 1GB then $9 per additional GB), or an unlimited monthly plan ($99 for 30 days).
You just set-up an account and pay via PayPal or a credit/debit card. However, if your ‘right to roam’ already includes most of Europe, and perhaps even a wide selection of countries around the world, the usefulness of the Solix X will massively decrease. That said, smartphone SIM cards that do allow roaming abroad don’t always allow laptops to tether.
The idea of an unlimited 24 hours pass is one that we like. During our test, the Solis X attached to a local 4G network in Berlin, Germany, whilst at IFA 2019 (by pure coincidence Berlin is where the Solis X was designed) and after a five-minute boot-up and search (as well as a short issue with a local network failure and a re-boot) we could get online using a smartphone and a laptop.
The 4G speeds were faster than the hotel WiFi where we were. What’s more, the Solis app used to control the Solis X and buy data is clear and keeps things simple; you activate a deal and it begins counting down the 24 hours or the data. Skyroam has 300 carrier partners around the world, and promises to use the network offering the fastest connection wherever you are.
The app also controls that odd camera, though note that it doesn’t work at all when the Solis X is recharging. Boasting 720p HD resolution, auto-focus, flash, two microphones, and a tiny speaker, the camera is easy to activate and provides a good, clear picture even in relatively low light. It’s a wide-angle lens so good for capturing scenery, but also easy to get groups of people into the frame. It’s a shame that it’s not got its own 1/4-inch tripod thread on the bottom for easier placement. However, it does have a Dropbox link in case you want to upload videos and photos to the cloud straight from the Solis X.
The Solis X also comes with a built-in GPS-powered smart assistant that wants to tie-up a smart home using IFTT and offers to control or automate thousands of apps and services from the Solis WiFi App. It’s the fourth pillar in its ‘connect, charge, capture and control’ mantra, but arguably it's over-reaching what a ‘smart spot’ needs to do. However, by this time we’re long sold on the Solis X.
Impeccably travel-friendly, and loaded with some useful – and some slightly odd – features, at its core the Skyroam Solis X is all about one thing; getting onto Instagram from almost anywhere at any time in an easy-to-understand way. For some photographers, that’s going to be irresistible.
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