Portable Powerpack Solar panel reviews

As everyone who lives here knows, Hawaii is no stranger to power outrages. The last big storm that came through knocked power out on the North Shore for half a day, yet that of course would be child’s play, if we got hit by something the magnitude of Iniki or Irma. As we all know, it’s just a matter of time.

So, how to charge our devices, in this event? Not everyone can afford a gas-powered generator (at least $1000) much less deal with the hassle of storing fuel. There are a few fixes that will at least keep small devices like your phone, pad, flashlight or radio powered up.

The first option, and the least expensive, is to stock up on batteries. The industry standard for modern flashlights, radios, lanterns, etc is the 18650 Li-Ion battery. Get yourself a battery charger to keep them topped off.

If you want to charge devices such as tablets, cell phones, etc., you’ll need to get some type of powerbank, essentially a battery with ports that allow you to charge any USB-based device. I’d suggest, opting for a portable solar panel which can assist in charging small devices, and keeping powerbanks topped off. There are a number of them available for backpackers or home users.

Input: Solar panels with charging cable arrangement. Output: Panel—>Powerpak—>Phone is the correct order

Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit

With a little research, I soon came upon the weatherproof GoalZero Zero Venture 30 portable power-bank phone, tablet & solar panel combo. It is a compact kit that includes storage and recharger. The kit is designed for the backpacker or traveler but anyone with charging needs in an emergency can benefit from this system.

Designed to charge point-of-view cameras, tablets, phones and other USB compatible devices, it’s 28 Wh (3.6V 7800 mAh) rechargeable battery can be coupled with a Nomad 7, 13 or 20-watt solar panel. Together they weigh a little more than 1-½ pounds. Built for travel or backpacking, for home use, it’s a bit under-powered.

Output kit showing cable types and solar panel chaining feature

The battery unit has been designed to be weatherproof (light rain not submersion) and shock-proof (moderate impact resistance) and can remember charging profiles of the devices you connect. The battery can be placed into a protective shipping mode designed to avoid self-discharge during periods of storage. For natural disasters, fully charging the battery and then placing it in storage mode for future use, is recommended prior to the event. Such a practice extends battery life significantly. The manufacturer claims “hundreds of life charging cycles” for the battery. The battery has two USB ports each capable of dishing out 2.4A each just like a plug version would. Apple, Android and Windows devices compatible with the output cables above.

This system included a 7-watt panel. While a standard 2A USB plug-in source can charge the battery in as little as 5 hours, charging times will vary from 16-hours with the 7-watt panel to 6-hours with the 20 watt panel. Priced accordingly, an innovative aspect of this kit is up to 4 solar panels can be chained together via the chaining input port.  Remember, battery and device charging times will depend on both the panels capacity, the angle of the sun to the panels, and the amount of sunlight available in your geographic location.

Test setup: Input (solar panels) and Output (cable types): Panel—>Powerpak—>Phone is the correct order

During periods of use, charge the battery fully first, then connect to the battery and charge your devices is the recommended use cycle. And, don’t forget to place the recharger in storage mode before you put it away for future use. Prior to an emergency, I suggest a dry run with the devices you plan to use before the emergency occurs so you understand the limits and capabilities of your Venture 30 Solar panel recharger kit.

SunJack 14W solar charger with 1o000mAh battery pack retails for $169 and is a good bet for camping or home use.

Sunjack 14W Portable Solar Charger + Powerbank

Another solar panel/powerbank combo we tested was the Sunjack 14W Portable Solar Charger + Powerbank.

The solar charger has four panels and when folded is about the size of an Apple iPad. It folds into a rugged nylon case, which can be quickly unfolded and hung up to face the sun. A mesh pouch on the rear holds the charging port and cables, the devices to be charged, and the battery pack. It has a series of grommets along the edges of the panel so that you can easily attach it to your backpack.

The panels provide up to 14W of 5 volt USB power under a bright sun ideally producing 2,000mAh every hour. That means you can recharge the powerbank that comes with it in about 4 hours (under a bright Hawaii sun).

Sunjack’s powerbank includes Qualcomm’s “Quick Charge 3.0” technology, which speeds up charging appreciably if the device on the other end (in this case my phone) also has “Quick Charge” capabilities.

The panels provide up to 14W of 5 volt USB power under a bright sun ideally producing 2,000mAh every hour. That means you can recharge the powerbank that comes with it in about 4 hours (under a bright Hawaii sun).

According to the experts I spoke to at Illuminationgear.com 1.5-2Ah is the minimum acceptable usable panel output.

Otherwise, charging your powerbank, or anything else, will take a full day. The Sunjack 14 W system, which retails for $149 (with the power bank) is a good place to start. You could also consider their 20W kit with 2 lithium battery packs, for $169.

The Sunjack’s 10,000mAh Advanced Powerbank, which comes with the solar kit (or sells separately for $29) has three ports, the standard USB, the micro USB and the new USB-C. What I really like is that it comes with Qualcomm’s “Quick Charge 3.0” technology. This means if you have a phone or other device that is “quick charge” compatible (such as my Samsung 7) this little unit will charge your device (according to the manufacturer) up to 80% faster.

A mesh pouch on the rear holds the charging port and cables, the devices to be charged, and the battery pack. (Courtesy Tim Yan photo)

Whether it’s 80% or 59% faster is anyone’s guess but it’s fast. My cell phone was charged in about 20 minutes. In an emergency situation this could be crucial.

I’d certainly recommend this nifty little combo from SunJack.

The takeaway on this piece is the larger solar charging unit you can afford, the better. What’s more, if you can get a combo that comes with a fast-charging powerbank, assuming your devices also have this capability, get one.

Editor’s Note: Rob Kay contributed to this article.

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