In the last decade or so, technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, leaving life for most of us unimaginable without a mobile phone in our hands. Our phones, iPads, and laptops are almost always full of life with the battery charged on a daily basis.
However, this becomes a challenge when we are out and about, and more so, when we are camping in the wilderness. The best solar phone charger for our needs then comes to the rescue.
With the plentitude of phone chargers available in the market today, it is yet another challenge to dig out the best among these.
If the features listed on the solar phone chargers’ box seem too technical for you, don’t worry. We’ll simplify what you need to look for when shopping for a solar phone charger.
Solar Phone Chargers – Features Demystified
A solar phone charger basically has a solar panel which uses sunlight or light energy which is converted into electrical energy to charge a rechargeable battery. This battery is responsible for charging your device even in the absence of sunlight.
If you have tried to shop around for the best solar cell phone charger, you must have come across terms like amps, watts, ports, mAh – Do all these confuse you? Read on for a simple explanation of what these terms mean.
Volts are a measure of the amount of electric potential. USB ports have a standard voltage of 5V.
Amps are a measure of the current in your charger. The amperage of the USB ports in a solar charger is not always obvious in the specifications. For example, 3A max. may mean a total of 3A across all the USB ports at a specific time.
Or, it may mean a 3A max. in one USB port and 1A max. in another, which is the specification of a more powerful charger. So, be careful while noting all the specifications.
Choose a charger with output amps that can satisfy your requirements. For more efficient charging of devices like iPads, go for at least 2A ports.
Watts (Electrical Power)
Watts are a measure of the electrical power. This power is the output of the solar panel, and it determines the rate at which your internal battery can be charged, i.e., the higher the wattage, the quicker the solar panel can charge your battery.
Note that this does not affect the speed at which your device is charged.
Watts are volts times amps. So, to efficiently charge a tablet, we need 5V (USB port) x 2A = 10 W. Considering other losses, it’s best to go for one with at least 12 – 15 W.
Take a look at the following table to get a general idea of how much wattage you need:
|Devices to be charged||Panel Power Required|
|Simple cell phone/ MP3 player||3 – 4 W|
|IPad/multiple devices||15 W|
|Laptops||30 W or more ( some up to 60 W)|
|AC devices||25+ W + battery + DC-to-AC inverter|
Also, take into consideration the climatic conditions you are most likely to use your solar charger. If you want to use it in areas where you get just a few hours of good sunlight, you’d be better off with a higher wattage panel, so your charger can be charged quickly to take good use of the limited time of sunlight.
mAh (Battery Capacity)
The power required in watts that we derived above was for a single moment in time. If you multiply it by the number of hours you will use it, we get the battery capacity you require in amp-hours or milliamp-hours (1Ah = 1000mAh) – that is the mAh you see on the specifications of solar chargers. This number can give you an idea of how many times you can recharge your devices before the charger needs to be out in the sun for more power.
Types of Solar Panels
The three most common types are CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenide), monocrystalline panels, and polycrystalline panels. CIGS panels are flexible, cheaper, and lighter; however, they do not last very long.
Monocrystalline panels are the most expensive but are the most well-performing among the three. If you want a reasonably priced option that lasts better than CIGS, polycrystalline ones are good to go for.
External battery vs. Integrated Battery vs. Just the Solar Panel
The best option is to use a combination of an external battery and a solar panel. For short trips, a powerful external battery that can be charged at home will suffice.
For longer camps where there would be no power for more than a couple of days, a solar panel will be of great help. A panel with an integrated battery may seem like a great option, but, unfortunately, these devices are not very efficient and can work just for emergency situations.
Some other factors to consider
Also consider the number of USB ports available, the weight of the solar charger, the size, accessories included, and how portable it is.
Look for panels with essential features like auto-restart technology which will save you from switching it on again and again after common interruptions like a passing cloud. And then there’s the price to consider. The ideal price of a solar panel would be $10 – $15 per watt.
Popular Solar Phone Chargers
Time to take a look at a few of these solar chargers and their reviews!
POWERADD Apollo PRO 23000mAh
Weight: 1.52 lbs.
Dimensions: 8.66” x 4.92” x 0.87”
Specific Features: 23000mAh, 1DC output, 1USB port, connectors for popular laptops and phones; adjustable voltage of 12V/16V/19V, LED battery indicators, 2-year warranty
Best Use: A powerful external battery that can charge multiple devices. Good for long road trips and camps.
Description: The Poweradd Apollo Pro has a whopping battery capacity of 23000mAh, which is enough to charge an iPad, a smartphone, and a simpler phone. It can be plugged into a wall socket to be charged.
The solar panel, however, is small and is not very reliable in that there have been many instances when customers have experienced it not solar charging as expected. It automatically starts charging in the sun and takes 24 to 36 hours in good sunlight to get fully charged. It can hold its charge for 90 days between full recharges. It has LED indicators to show the capacity left.
It is automatically turned off if it doesn’t detect a connected device for 30 seconds. It comes with many connectors for different laptops and phones. You can charge your MacBook with a separately purchased magsafe adapter.
VOLTAIC Systems AMP 4W 4000mAh
Weight: 1.1 lb.
Dimensions: 5.5” x 1.5” x 6.5”
Specific Features: Removable battery, universal battery – 4000mAh, 15Wh, voltage selection-6V/12V, 2 panels – monocrystalline, waterproof, urethane coated, charges smartphones, tablets, DSLR cameras, 2-year warranty for the panel and 1-year warranty for the battery.
Best Use: Strong enough to be used in tough camping conditions; efficient solar panels and handy battery.
Description: The highly ranked ‘Amp’ by Voltaic has proved itself to be one of the best solar phone chargers available. Although a little expensive, it is well worth every penny. A great feature is its removable battery that is portable and handy.
It can charge any 5V device through USB or micro-USB. An indicator shows how much it has charged. The solar panel is lightweight, UV-resistant, and waterproof. The urethane coating on the solar panel not only protects it from damage, but it also makes it easy to clean and maintain the panels. 4 hours of sunlight charges this fully.
The charger can be changed to 12V to facilitate charging of DSLR camera batteries and other such devices. However, it is important to change it back to 6V when charging the battery to avoid damage.
Related: ‘Milliamp’ is another related 1-panel Voltaic Systems solar charger.
COBRA Electronics CPP 300 SP
Weight: 10.4 oz.
Dimensions: 0.75” x 3.65” x 6”
Specific Features: 2.1A, dual solar panels, USB or solar chargeable, charge 3 devices at a time, Lithium Polymer battery – 6000mAh, LCD.
Best Use: Lightweight, compact, can charge multiple phones
Description: Cobra Electronics’ CPP 300 SP has a lightweight Lithium-ion battery of specifications 3.7V/6000mAh which can efficiently charge a device multiple times – 2 – 3 smartphone charges is not uncommon with it. An LCD shows the status of the battery.
Multiple outputs help to charge up to three devices simultaneously. The CPP 300 can be charged by a USB connection or in the sunlight. It takes a long time of around 8 to 12 hours to get fully charged in strong sunlight, sometimes taking longer than 12 hours. It is compact in design and can easily be carried like a handheld device.
Related: For a related product, take a look at Cobra Electronics’ CPP 100 SP.
ANKER 8w Outdoor Solar Charger With Poweriq Technology
Weight: 1.1 lbs.
Dimensions: 9.2” x 6.7” x 0.8”
Specific Features: 8W, monocrystalline panel, foldable, PowerIQ Technology, 18-month warranty.
Best Use: Can be used to charge external batteries or charge a device live with the panel in sunlight.
Description: The Anker 8W solar charger is a monocrystalline panel that can be attached to tents, trees or backpacks to charge a USB device. It is light in weight and can be folded so it is compact enough to be packed. It can charge any USB device except the Asus Transformer and iPod Classic.
The port on this solar charger is of a unique PowerIQ technology, by which it detects the device connected charges accordingly, thus charging all devices at optimal speed. A heavy duty canvas binds the panels together, making them weatherproof, though it is advised to keep the device out of water to protect electrical elements.
This charger, however, does not come with a battery and hence, it is capable of charging your device when out in the sun. You may purchase external batteries and charge them with it if you want an option for charging devices at night or low light.
Related: Anker makes these with different specifications with different power and number of ports. One example is the dual port 15W charger.
RAVPOWER 16w Solar Charger With Ismart USB Ports
Weight: 2.2 lbs.
Dimensions: 10.1” x 1” x 7.6”
Specific Features: Total max. 3A across 2 USB ports, high conversion solar charging, iSmart and Smart IC technologies, weatherproof, 2 USB iSmart cables, four hooks for most sunlight capture.
Best Use: camping and trips to charge devices on the go.
Description: The RAVPower 16W Charger uses a high conversion SUNPOWER solar charging technology to receive the maximum power it can get for the weather conditions on a particular day. It also has four hooks to catch the maximum sunlight that it possibly can.
It is foldable, compact, and lightweight for its features. With iSmart and Smart IC technologies, it detects the devices connected to its two USB ports and distributes the output power such that both devices are charged as fast as possible.
You can use it to directly charge your devices when it is sunny or charge separately purchased external batteries with it to use later for charging your devices. Simply attach it to trees, tents, backpacks, or place it on other convenient locations and let it start charging. The panel is compatible with all USB devices. Moreover, it is designed to be weatherproof and can protect itself from water, mold, and other elements.
Related: If you want to charge your devices when the light is low, try RAVPower’s external battery.
NEKTECK Dual Sunpower Solar Panel Power Bank
Weight: 4.96 oz.
Dimensions: 6.2” x 3.3” x 1.6”
Specific Features: 2.2W SUNPOWER dual panel, built-in Lithium Polymer battery – 6000mAh, 2.1A output, 2 USB ports, LED indicators, 1-year warranty.
Best Use: anywhere to charge devices – flights, long trips, camping, etc.
Description: The Nekteck Dual Sunpower Solar Panel Power Bank is one of the first portable solar chargers with dual panels. The panels are powerful with 2.2 W power. It uses SUNPOWER technology for a high conversion of 21% to 24% to achieve maximum power. Its compact design facilitates ease of carrying, and anti-skid football grain texture facilitates ease of use.
Its output power of 2.1A across two USB ports helps to charge USB devices efficiently. Its internal battery has a capacity of 6000mAh. It can be charged from a wall socket or left to charge in the sunlight. You can hang it at a convenient place with the provided hook. It is weatherproof, and so, is versatile enough to be used in tough weather conditions like rain.
GOAL ZERO 42020 Venture 30 Solar Kit
Weight: 8.8 oz.
Dimensions: 4.5” x 3.2” x 1”
Specific Features: IPX6 weatherproof rating, USB & micro USB, 4.8A across two ports, Venture 30 Battery pack – 7800mAh, Nomad 7 solar panel, certified cables.
Description: The Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit is undoubtedly one of the most well-performing all-in-one solar chargers. Weatherproof from snow, rain, dust, etc. Cannot even be damaged when submerged in water. More efficient than most small solar panels.
The battery can be fully charged in 9 hours in sunlight and 4 hours from a USB. You can charge phones, tablets, cameras, and other devices, two at the same time. You can charge your devices either by connecting them to the Venture 30 battery or the Nomad 7 solar panel. You can also connect your devices to the battery while the battery is charging from the solar panel.
Related: You can get more powerful kits from Goal Zero like the Sherpa 50 with Nomad 20 kit.
EasyAcc® 7W Portable Solar Panel
Weight: 14.1 oz.
Dimensions: 10.2” x 8” x 1.4”
Specific Features: 7W solar panel, 1.2A
Best Use: Lightweight and affordable basic solar panel to be used anywhere sunny.
Description: The EasyAcc® solar panel is a lightweight, compact, and portable solar panel charger that can charge phones and small devices that need to be charged through USB or micro USB. This panel can be used to charge your devices or an external battery.
The panel can be hooked on your backpack for exposure to the sun. It charges very fast when there is proper sunlight. However, the charging gets slow even with slight interruptions. Overall, good value for the price.
Related: For a complete product along with a battery, you can consider the EasyAcc Classic 15000mAh Solar Panel Power Bank.
X-DRAGON 20w Solar Panel Charger
Weight: 1.65 lbs.
Dimensions: 13.2” x 7.8” x 1.5”
Specific Features: 20W, iSolar Technology, SUNPOWER, foldable, 2.4A
Best Use: Powerful solar panel with efficient features, great to use when hiking, camping, and even indoors.
Description: The X-Dragon Solar Panel is a powerful 20W charger that makes use of technologies like the iSolar technology which can help attain the highest power by adjusting the current and voltage automatically. The high performance of this panel is also because of the SUNPOWER technology which derives the maximum power from sunlight.
The panel is capable of charging any device that is USB compatible including smartphones, tablets, cameras, google glass, etc. What’s more! All this power of the panel is contained in a slim and relatively lightweight, foldable, and portable package!
ALLPOWERS 16w Solar Panel Charger
Weight: 1.41 lbs.
Dimensions: 9.1” x 6.3” x 0.51”
Specific Features: 16W, 2A, iSolar Technology, Portable.
Best Use: Can be used in bright sunlight to charge all USB devices.
Description: The Allpowers 16W Solar Panel Charger is yet another powerful charger that makes use of iSolar technology for maximum efficiency.
Easy to use with the provided hook and compact enough to carry with ease, this device is compatible with all 5V USB devices like video games, tablets, smartphones, digital cameras, and others.
Related: The Allpowers 18W Solar Panel Charger is a similar device with a little more power.
Make A Well-Informed Final Choice
Now that we have had a look at different popular solar panel chargers and understood their basic functionality and features, you are well-equipped with knowledge that is enough for a good decision.
To sum it all up, choose a solar panel charger that is capable of charging the devices you would like to use. If you are an extensive user of DSLRs and other high-power-hungry devices, you may want to go for a solar panel charger with more wattage and a suitable battery.
If all you want to charge is a seldom used smartphone on short trips in sunny weather, you can get away with a simple solar panel charger without a battery.
If you found this analysis of solar power chargers and their features helpful, don’t forget to let us know in the comments. We would also love to hear your experiences with using sunlight to power your favorite devices.