BioLite NanoGrid: Outdoor lighting with spare juice for your iPhone

If you're heading out camping this summer, you may want to check out one of BioLite's newer products, the NanoGrid. It offers a full spectrum of lighting utilities with a backup battery for your iPhone and iPad. The NanoGrid is really two different accessories. The first part is the PowerLight, which packs a 4400 mAh battery which can charge your electronics over USB. It offers lighting through a directed torch, and an omnidirectional lamp. The SiteLights are the second part of the set, which come in a pair of individual lights which chain together and plug into the PowerLight. The cable for the SiteLights wind into themselves conveniently, and both units clamp onto one another for storage as a single handy orb. A second pair of SiteLights can be daisy-chained to the first to cover a wide area.

The upper section of the PowerLight provides a nice, even glow for many, many hours on a single charge. BioLite advertises that on low brightness, it can go for a full 72 hours. Besides light, you can expect to get at least a full iPhone charge from the battery. Even after a few sips of juice for my iPhone, the PowerLight still had plenty left to keep my campsite well-lit for several nights. The SiteLights expanded the range of lighting significantly. They were just as helpful on the ground to light up obstacles as they were dangling from tree branches. Of course, you may not be too keen to use these outside at night, since they can attract mosquitos, but they're equally helpful inside. I was quite glad to have these around when my building had a lengthy power outage, for example.

The PowerLight can be charged via BioLite's primary product, the wood-burning CampStove, but really, the battery can get its juice from any source over micro USB. I've charged mine through GoalZero solar panels without a problem. The included USB cable has a threaded covering, which feels nice and gives a sense of durability. Unfortunately, this style is more prone to tangles than traditional cords, and frays over time.

Both products are very well-built for mounting. The PowerLight has an S-hook that can rotate all the way around the device, so you can pop it on a branch as easily as a tent hook. The SiteLights, though a bit more finicky, are just as versatile. You get 10 feet of cord for each light, which can be caught in a groove on each light by the winding cavity, and adjusted with a sliding stabilizer on either cord. Getting these lights to angle out at just the right way can be a challenge, but you're given lots to work with.

There are a handful of usability issues. Out of the box, the NanoGrid lights are stuck on a store demo mode. You have to manually reset them or charge the PowerLight over USB to put it to normal functionality. I didn't relish having to dive into the rather dense instruction manual to figure out this issue. After that, you're dealing with a series of long-presses and multiple-presses on the PowerLight buttons to get everything where you want it. For three of the buttons, a long press allows dimming, but for the big one, it locks the lights in their current setting. You also have to make sure the switches on the individual SiteLights are flipped on, and they often needed a little extra push on the plugs to make contact with one another. On the whole, setting up can take quite a bit of fiddling.

There are also a few complaints in terms of build quality. All of the plugs on the PowerLight have small rubber plugs to provide a bit of water protection. After having the SiteLights plugged into the PowerLight, the flap of the plug stayed loose and a little open, reducing its splash protection. On top of that, the charge indicator LEDs on the back bleed through the casing a fair bit. I've experienced something similar with the CampStove LED as well. Combine these with the flimsy cover for the CampStove grill, and I don't have a ton confidence in BioLite's plastics. It's certainly nothing deal-breaking, but there are compromises.

$80 Buy now

Despite some marginal problems around usability and construction, this is a very neat family of products with few competitors. I suspect the NanoGrid family will be supplemented with other compatible accessories in the future. Regardless of whether or not you want to go all-in with BioLite's other, pricier products, this pair is very fun to use.

Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.