Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $94 - $123 | Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros: Light, simple, charges tablets, internal battery, good low light performance
Cons: Can't charge multiple devices
Best Uses: Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping
Along with the Poweradd Apollo 2, this is one of our favorite compact solar panels for charging iPhone/smartphones and iPads/tablets. It is only rated to three watts of power (a relatively small number) but that doesn't seem to matter. This is due to the effectiveness of the panel and the integration with the built-in battery. What stands out about this panel is it just works. That may sound simple enough, but we have found that most small panels this competes with come with little annoying quirks and reliability issues. Best of all, it almost always charges whether an object passes between the panel and the sun or there are a lot of patchy clouds. The only reason not to get this panel is if you are on a tight budget. The Apollo 2 is a less expensive option that still has an integrated battery to store charge. We also recommend the Anker 14W Foldable Dual Port Solar Panel which is less than half the price and our Best Buy winner. Check out our complete Portable Solar Review to see how this panel performed against others.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
What stands out about this panel is the built-in battery. It is so thin that you barely notice it; this panel is more compact than similarly performing panels without a battery.
This panel is a great example of why it's not just the watt rating that determines the effectiveness of the panel. It is only rated at three watts but performed better than many panels with much higher watt ratings. For example, the Goal Zero Nomad 7 is rated to seven watts but will not charge an iPad and consistently lost the charge to our iPhone 4 and iPhone 5. The SolarMonkey charged our iPhone about one percent every minute, or a full charge in about an hour and half. This is par for most solar chargers. But most importantly, it never lost the charge. It can be extremely frustrating when you lay out your panel and phone for an hour and come back only to see that 10 minutes into charging, the phone lost its connection.
Best of all, with the built-in battery you can continue to charge your device once the sun goes down. The 2500mAh battery has enough capacity to recharge most smartphones 1-2 times. You can also easily clip the panel outside your pack and get a charge while hiking or you can pre-charge the battery from your computer or a wall socket using the included USB cable.
While you can only charge one USB device at a time, there is a workaround. If you buy an inexpensive external battery with two USB ports, you can charge that battery with the panel while two devices are charging from the battery. These batteries range in cost from $30-50.
A great benefit of this panel is it doesn't need a storage bag. There are no cables or adapters to keep track of other than the USB cable that you use with your phone or tablet. That said, it does come with a lightweight storage case. The case is big enough to hold your phone, charging cable, and any extra adapters you need. The case also is designed with a few loops that make it easy to hang the panel from a carabiner, tree branch, string or hook.
Ease of Use
This panel could not be easier to use. You just flip open the clamshell design and point it towards the sun. There is a direct USB plug which means you don't need any extra adapters to charge your phone or tablet. A benefit of the clamshell design is that you can sit it on a flat surface and orient half of the panel perfectly to the sun for maximum charging. With most other panels it can be difficult to get the panel perfectly perpendicular without using a variety of objects or string to hang it just right.
This is one of the lightest panels we tested. More importantly, it is one of the most compact. It is almost small enough to fit in your jeans pocket. It is small enough to fit in most jacket pockets. Because it has the internal battery, this means you can easily charge your phone while hiking.
This is the ideal panel for charging a smartphone, which is what most people want a portable solar panel for. It is great for backpacking as well as just keeping with you no matter where you are. We have used this solar device deep in the Sierra backcountry as well on as plane flights.
This device is not cheap. That said we really enjoyed its performance, light weight, and compact size. If you use this a lot in the backcountry like we do, then you should get a lot of long-term value from it. The Poweradd Apollo 2 has a similar function since it also has an integrated battery for less money if you want something close to the SolarMonkey but don't want to spend as much.
If you are mainly charging a cell phone or a tablet this device is hard to beat. It is just so compact, simple, and effective. The only reason not to get it is if you're looking for a less expensive option or you need more power. In that case, we recommend checking out our full portable solar review to see the other options.
The much bigger version is called the PowerTraveller SolarGorilla - it is large enough to charge a laptop. A very similar product is the PowerMonkey Extreme. This is similar to the SolarMonkey Adventurer, but comes with an extra 9000 mAh battery for an additional $70. Considering that most batteries of that size can be found for $30-$40, we would probably just combine the SolarMonkey with a battery. See our complete External Battery Review to see our current favorite.
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: December 15, 2014
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