Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $55 - $60 | Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros: Light, inexpensive, simple, internal battery.
Cons: No cigarette lighter adapter, only charges USB devices.
Best Uses: Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping.
This is our favorite small solar panel under $60. It is the most compact panel we tested and the lightest. It is so small we found ourselves using it more than any other panel we tested in our review. The only panel that it scored behind is the SolarMonkey Adventurer. The SolarMonkey comes with more adapters, is easier to set up and easier to use in windy conditions. It is also double the price so its a tough call deciding which one to go with.
If you want to power more than just a smartphone, go with the Instapark Mercury 10. Another option to a solar charger is an external battery. External batteries are less expensive and often charge your phone 3-5 times. See our analysis on what might be better for your needs in our External Battery Review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Why do we love this panel? The best price-for-performance of any panel we tested. It is also the most portable panel we tested and lightest. That alone would probably have won it the Best Buy award. But wait…there's more: an internal battery that allows you to charge the panel all day long without your device plugged in.
With an output power of one amp, this is plenty to charge your smartphone, iPhone, tablet or other USB device like a camera or GPS unit. One amp is not a ton, but it is more than a lot of other competing small devices. And there is no other unit even close to this size that delivers one amp of power.
This panel offers no storage. We recommend bringing a fabric sunglasses case and attaching it to the panel to hold your USB cord and the cord that charges the internal battery.
Ease of Use
This panel is relatively easy to use. You do have to unroll it, then if there is any wind, find rocks to keep it from blowing away. Unlike the SolarMonkey Adventure, it is not easy to optimally face it to the sun without finding a number of rocks and or just the right tree or bush. It also feels a little more delicate than the other panels were tested. So far it has been quite durable, but the thin thin form factor of the solar cells makes us a little nervous. Handle with care.
Also, you have to keep track of the little plastic protective caps. Not a big deal, but its one more thing to keep track of. A sunglasses case gives you a place to put these caps.
This panel scores high on versatility in the sense that it comes with its own built-in battery. The battery is enough to charge your smartphone one time or tablet about half a charge. It's hard to overstate how convenient it is to have this battery. It means you can charge your device at night once the sun goes down, and always be collecting charge even if your device is not plugged into the panel.
This is by far the lightest portable solar charger we have tested. It is also by far the most compact. Most other small panels can barely fit in your pocket; you could fit about four of these in a pocket. It's a very efficient design. We won't be surprised if we don't see more panels in this form factor by next year.
This wins our Best Buy award because it is not only one of the least expensive panels, it is also very high-performing, easy to use, and extremely convenient due to its tiny package. While the more expensive and larger panels are better for high power needs, this is by far the best value panel for charging a smartphone or small electronic device. Which is which just about everyone needs a small solar for.
This is the ideal panel for taking on a backpacking trip to make sure that your smartphone, camera, or GPS unit stays charged. It is also useful for just around town and traveling. It is so small that you can throw it in your luggage or briefcase without it taking up much space. Then when you get to the airport, you don't have to search around for an outlet to charge your phone. If you're on a long flight, you don't have to worry about your phone or tablet running out of juice halfway.
This is the best small solar panel for under $60. If you want to charge a small electronic device and want something really compact, this is the panel to get.
The PowerSync SolarWrap 250, sells for $155 and charges in six hours in the sun, while the PowerSync SolarWrap 400 sells for $214 and charges in 3.5 hours. Both have the option to plug into the wall. The additional length of the SolarWrap 400 cuts the charging time by 2.5 hours (when comparing to the SolarWrap 250).
The Battery Bar 2x USB retails for $119 and has two USB outputs for charging up to two devices. The battery indicator will let you know when you're running low and the battery bar can charge in six hours via a wall plug. You can expect two smartphone charges, three mp3 player charges, and up to five camera charges.
— Chris McNamara
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: September 13, 2014
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