Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $43
Pros: Light, inexpensive, simple, internal battery.
Cons: Our panel stopped working well after 4 months, no cigarette lighter adapter: only charges USB devices.
Best Uses: Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping.
If you need a small panel that is inexpensive, will charge your phone/tablet AND has an internal battery, this is a good deal. It performed nearly as well as the Editors' Choice SolarMonkey Adventurer and yet was half the price. However, after about 3 months, the panel stopped working that well. It would not hold much of a charge and when plugged in, it stopped charging the iPhone short of a full charge even in direct sun. Other user reviews have reported similar problems. For this reason, we need to test a few more of these devices before we can recommend it. In the meantime, if you are looking for a good budget and compact solar charger, we recommend going with the Bushnell Bear Grylls SolarWrap Mini. The SolarWrap is a little more expensive, but we found it much more reliable. Our other Best Buy is its sibling, the Instapark Mercury 10, which produces over twice the power and can charge two devices at once. The Mercury 10 is better if you don't mind a little extra weight. But the 4S and the SolarWrap have the advantage of an internal battery and being easily clipped to your backpack while hiking. For the Mercury 10, we generally recommend getting an extra external battery, which further raises the weight and cost.
Got a laptop or larger device to charge? Read our full Portable Solar Review to see the more powerful options.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
4 W is not a mighty number but it is plenty to charge any laptop or smartphone we threw at it. At 800 mA, this panel charges a phone or tablet about as fast as any other panel we tested. Only a few other panels charged at 1000 mA or higher. In addition, the internal battery means you don't have to worry about a passing cloud interrupting the charge. This panel gives you peace of mind because you don't have to constantly monitor it to make sure it is charging.
There is no real storage with this panel. You can fold your charging cable into the panel…but it seems to always slide back out. we recommend bringing an extra soft sunglasses case to hold your charging cables.
Ease of Use
This is about the easiest panel to use if you are just charging one USB device. You just need your USB charging cord for whatever you are charging.
There are grommets at the edges of the panel for clipping to trees, tiny carabiners or string. This makes it very easy to orient the panel for optimal sun exposure. However, the grommets are quite small so you likely need to purchase some extra string and create loops to really be able to attach the panel to much.
The panel folds into itself, which make it very compact. However, it also makes it a little hard to lay perfectly flat. Not a big deal, but something to point out as it can take a little wrestling to get the panel to face perfectly perpendicular to the sun.
The 4S lacks adapters and you can't add them later. There is no CLA capability or way to charge a laptop or device that does not have a USB cable. Certain devices, such as some camera battery chargers, are not easily charged from this panel. This is really a panel for charging smartphones and tablets. Other panels with a wider variety of adapters will be better for charging camera batteries, motorcycle batteries, laptops and a wider variety of devices.
This panel is not light overall. However it is light per watt. All the other panels nearly as powerful were almost double the weight. Another way to look at it is that this is by far the lightest panel that can charge two devices at once.
Anyway you look at it, the Mercury 4S is an amazing value. Overall it is one of the least expensive panels, and it is by far the least expensive per watt. It is also by far the least expensive panel that can charge two devices at once.
This panel is ideal for groups with two to four people that all want to keep their smartphones and tablets charged. It is also ideal for a single person that has a "mobile office" with a tablet and smartphone that will be in heavy use in the field. We highly recommend combining this panel with an inexpensive external battery so that you can charge the battery and a device at once.
If you are on a budget and don't want to spring for the SolarMonkey adventurer, then this is the panel to get. Your dollar won't go any further for a small and light device that charges your tablet or phone.
— Chris McNamara
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: September 19, 2013
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