Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: Ikea's SUNNAN Solar Powered Desk Light

A looonnnggg time ago I mentioned I bought Ikea's solar powered light called SUNNAN hoping it would be the holy grail of environmentally conscious lighting products. It took me a few months to get to know this kermit buddy of mine and of course until now to review it. I actually wrote up a very long and in depth draft review one week after I bought this lamp but my opinion changed DRAMATICALLY! You MUST read this, especially if you are considering buying this!

What is it?

Well it is a solar powered desk lamp, cordless with an adjustable neck and portable solar panel. It comes in now 7 different colours; most are bright colours of blue, green, red, orange and yellow and two newish colours black and white. It's 44cm tall with a 7 cm head, requires 3 rechargeable AA batteries that are included and LED lights that are supposed to last longer than normal bulbs. The cost comes to about $20. It's not the only product in Ikea that's solar powered - there's at least 10 others ranging from desk lamps to light fittings to floor lamps. Ikea is famous for their affordable, sleek and stylish range of furnishings and homewares.

The question is performance! It can't take long to charge, need a lengthy output of light and the light needs to be bright enough. It really is no use even if it happens to be solar powered if you don't get enough light or for long enough. 
Their indication is that it takes 9-12 hours in sunlight to fully charge and will give full light for about 3 hours after being charged.

How does is perform? 

(Please read the ETA/Conclusions below regarding my latest opinion.)
I chose to get a green as my bedroom is mainly white so it was originally the least imposing colour with a touch of freshness and I personally quite like it. At the time of purchase they didn't release the black or white colour yet and I might have picked white had I the chance.
The lamp has a 'gooseneck' which is a bendy metal neck. It's not attractive and the colour of the neck on all the lamps are black instead of the main colour. It's easily manipulated and durable considering the use it might get and it's very stiff so holds its position well. It can get unsteady if you bend the head of the light too low and flips its base up but the balance between the weight of the light as a whole and the steadiness is fair.

The first problem is the solar panel. I love how its removable allowing for portability making it easy to find a place to charge the lamp and the lamp has no cords adding to the portability. But charging takes 9-12 hours in SUNLIGHT not to mention more if cloudy and that's considerably appalling. It would be better if they added the option of buying additional solar cells as backups so that you can replace an empty battery. What also happened as I continued to use it is that the battery pack isn't steady and can flicker or not even register to turn the light on. The lamp is only suitable for using on a flat non moving area. I was struggling with this as I had thought the lamp was broken when it wouldn't turn on as I tried it repeatedly.

On top of that we have the light itself. It might give quite a bright light for 15 mins having been fully charged but after that it slowly dims and they report it 3 hours (yes, that is true but not brightly). They have got part of this right by choosing LED, a energy saving form of lightbulb. As inbuilt I am not sure how long the bulb is expected to last (they say 25% longer than incandescent), hopefully a lifetime because I wouldn't want to go back to get it replaced as an inbuilt bulb. The light is solid, plastic, steady in the head and should not break.
The packaging is the most curious of all! It comes in a zip lock bag with a bag on the head of the lamp and a quick pictorial instruction guide. It's very low fuss and the compact packaging may be one of the reasons contributing to the cheap price. It's also very environmentally friendly without too much excess packaging.
For me the two biggest problems, the dim light and the charging time/short battery life, and it was ultimately the crucial downfall to the design of the lamp. I was having to take out the the battery to charge it up in the sunniest place in the house which would change as the sun went past. After using it for a short while it wouldn't be bright enough for reading (it's bad for your eyes to read in too dark!) and it was just too much hassle to use.
I'm not sure what the warranty is but the return policy is 90 days and with the Ikea Family card it is a full year. The price is definitely affordable. At $20 it was a no brainer for me. At the previous $40 then I might not have bought it. 

Overall the design aesthetics look very modern and sleek and the available colours would suit anyone of any age. If you are an adult go for the black version so that the solar panel blends into the lamp. If this is for kids, all the bright colours are suitable and they will probably be able to pick their favourite colour.

ETA January/2013: For years this was in my draft folder because I didn't know what to think about it. At first I was all for this and it worked convincingly maybe a month. For a while I complained (explained above) that this would flicker on and off not connecting properly. Not long after the lamp ceased working and I was shocked to find such bad quality. The question now is, is it a battery problem that killed the lamp and needs replacing or is my lamp completely dead? If it's the battery, battery life is dismal, several months. If it's dead, I'm not happy but I can't return it now since it's too long.

One reader (Denelian, thanks!) warned me about proprietary or inbuilt lights (lasting 5-10 years) and that's an environmental and cost downside worth noting. Old batteries if replaced yearly would be excessive too. But this didn't even last a full year. One other concern I had was that in some places Ikea claims to have a scheme of giving a child in poverty a free lamp for every one it sold but if this lack of quality control exists I fear that the many lamps are unlikely to work or last, a sad predicament indeed.
Would I buy this again? No. This was a let down and doesn't suit my needs. I needed something reliable with longevity and brightness and it didn't bring that (IT'S DEAD!). For all the non crucial elements of this light it did well but the parts that mattered most didn't.
Who would like this/benefit? If you have a particular place in the house that it filled with light that you would see yourself using at evening/night then this is for you. It's for when you are just needing to check on something or quickly guide you in the dark and would be a good bedside item in that purpose only. Maybe it would be good to help kids understand hands on about sustainability and have them put the solar cells in the sun... though forget about reading your favourite book beside SUNNAN! 

If this bad quality issue is a widespread problem (I'm not the only one it seems, one person bought 4 and none of them worked, many other reviews reveal either that they never worked in the first place or after several months they die) I condemn buying any of Ikea's Solar Powered light range. I wish in the back of my mind that it did work, buying another might prove that but I'm not willing to pay another $20-40, I want a free replacement! 

In all these solar powered items are gimmicks, not foolhardy products with potential and 100% environmentally friendly. When the time comes think what will happen when you trash it, creates land fill, contamination...just another mass produced short lived product. 

(I was going to post my own pictures but am too annoyed to find them. This is it.) 

What do you think about enviro conscious products? Are most of them just not good enough or are their some good alternatives you know about?

Love Porcelaine.


  1. I too bought 3 of these lamps a couple of years back for my son.

    One of the lamps started having problems early on, so I unscrewed the bottom of the battery pack to find it was a loose connection between the solar panel and the battery housing (holding 2 rechargeable AA batteries - which were and are still fine).

    For a while I used this solar pack to charge most AA batteries I needed - though it really only works for things that don't need to be super-charged. My son unfortunately ripped the wire out of the solar panel, and I have not got around to borrowing a soldering iron to fix it (... if I ever find it again). The other 2 lamps are starting to die now as well - they now need a quick whack to connect properly.

    One other annoyance is that not all the different coloured lamps/ different coloured solar battery packs are interchangeable, with slight changes to the plastic-dock-thingy (which is the official engineering term).

    I'm still relatively happy that I bought these, and will accept donations of the old solar battery packs/ lamps from anyone in Melbourne.

    1. Hi Tolchok. I'm glad to hear you have made use of these lamps! It's a shame that they haven't worked long at all for its intended use though.

  2. wowww.....Great informative blog.............. solar pv

  3. Visited Ikea today specifically to look at an get one of these... a buddy of mine mentioned them to me. They are now $5. At $19, I probably wouldn't buy, one, as my intentions were to pull it apart, test the solar cell for capacity, and re-purpose the solar charger and LEDs. At $5, I can't resist (well, I could, but that's another story).
    So I picked up 3... hopefully tomorrow I can pull one apart and test open-circuit voltage and short-circuit current. Maybe this is just a glorified solar yard lamp, but for that price, even if they're junk, I'm happy for parts.
    And for my purposes, re-wiring, down-sizing the # of LEDs, or even replacing the three die with discrete components are all options. Mini yard spots on the deck or near the side walk would be fine, and changing the LEDs to get longer run time, or adding a photocell or even timer are all with consideration for a couple of dollars and some experimentation and hobby time.

    Now, don't get me started on the Dioder RGB light sticks -- also on sale... When my wife sees all I've bought, brand new, just for me to take apart and experiment with... well, I could be on restrictions for a day or so. ;-D

  4. I bought 3 of these lights several years ago. One of them has finally stopped working. The other ones stopped working, but just required a replacement of the rechargeable batteries. I haven't figured out what is wrong with the third one, but it's not just the batteries...yet, I haven't given up on it. These lights have been fantastic when the power goes out during a storm for reading and on camping trips. I just leave them in a light area to stay charged up. Sadly, there is no IKEA near me, but I can't find these on their website any more and I think they are discontinued. I have been extremely happy with these little lights.

  5. Well it is a solar powered desk lamp, cordless with an adjustable neck and portable solar panel. It comes in now 7 different colours; most are ...

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