Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $80 | Compare prices at 5 resellers
Pros: Light, inexpensive, simple, can charge two devices at once.
Cons: Can't charge multiple iPhones, can't charge iPad, iPhone charging issues.
Best Uses: Backpacking, sailing, hiking, car camping.
Manufacturer: Goal Zero
This solar panel was our Best Buy winner in 2011 and 2012. In 2013 there is much stiffer competition. Our new best buy winner is the InstaPark Mercury 10 which is more powerful, charges a tablet and and iphone at once, is less expensive and is far less likely to have the charge interrupted. The Nomad 7 is still a great panel, there are just a lot of other options out there now. How does this panel compare to others? Check out our complete Portable Solar Panel Review
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This panel has a rare combination of being light, affordable, self-contained, and actually performing well. Few panels are this simple: you can plug most USB devices directly into the panel to charge them. In fact, few other Goal Zero panel let you plug a USB device directly to the panel (one notable exception is the Goal Zero Nomad 13. In addition, you can attach the included 12 volt cigarette adapter to the panel and charge a second device. Some other panels let you charge two devices at once but usually it is just two usb devices.
It comes with a very useful pocket that allows you to store chargers, cords or the Guide 10 Battery Pack. This feature is not to be underestimated – one of the most annoying things about many solar panels is it is hard to keep all the necessary adapters and cords with the panel. This feature also allows you to keep the device you are charging in the pocket, which comes in handy if you need to hang the panel up off the ground. If your panel does not have a pocket you will need to have an extra stuff sack.
This is one of the few panels with an abundance of built-in nylon loops for hanging the panel. Most other panels just have a grommet in the corner which you then need to tie string to or bring a carabiner if you plan to hang the panel. The Nomad 7 has many little loops that will go over a hook or small tree limb.
The fact that the panel is so self-contained is awesome. You just buy it and use it. With most other panels, we had to buy string to hang the panel with, find a little stuff sack to keep track of key cords, and buy a 12 volt cigarette splitter adapter (the previous link goes to our favorite model) if we wanted to charge more than once device at once.
This is one of the lightest panels we tested and generally we found that any panel that was lighter had far less power and functionality.
This panel does a great job of charging small devices. However, it won't charge an iPad or larger devices. It charged one iPhone 4 and 5 but did not have enough power to charge two iPhone 4s at once. The main dis-advantage is that iPhone charging is very cranky (see below).
Problems Charging iPhone 4, 5 and iPad Mini
This device has a serious issue when charging an Apple iPhone 4 (Goal Zero acknowledges this on their website). If you pass your hand or just about anything between the panel and sun for even a half a second, it stops the charging process. The only way to get the iPhone charging again is to unplug it and plug it back in. This also happens if a small cloud passes over. This is really annoying because it means you constantly have to monitor your phone if you want to be sure it is charging. While testing on a five-day sailing trip and while climbing El Capitan in Yosemite, we found that if we tried to leave the panel un-attended for an hour, usually it would have stopped charging because someone walked in front of it or a small cloud passed over. There is a solution: buy the Goal Zero Guide 10 for $50, plug the panel into the pack and plug the pack into the phone. If something passes over the panel, the Guide 10 pack will not stop the iPhone from charging.
The issue described above is fairly specific to the iPhone 4 and 5. We tested the iPhone 3, iPods and other cell phones and rarely had the same problem.
Guide 10 Battery Pack Accessory
The Goal Zero Guide 10 allows you to store extra power in a package that a little heavier and bigger than a smart phone. You can charge it off the Nomad 7 or just about any USB power source (computer, car charger). Should you buy it? It depends.
It allows to you to charge AA rechargeable batteries. It also lets you store power for usage at night, when it gets cloudy or during a storm. That said, it does not charge that much power. Goal Zero says it lets you recharge your cell phone three times. Maybe with some cell phones, but it only charged our iPhone 4 half way in repeated tests. It won't charge an iPad. But, it does resolve the iPhone 4 charging issue described above and does allow you to charge it while simultaneously charging another device. It is ideal for winter travel or travel in bad weather where exposure to the sun will be spotty. Its $60 price tag is steep considering the Nomad 7 by itself is not much more. However, you can often get this for $30 if you buy it in the Goal Zero Nomad 7 Adventure Kit, for $130. Beware that sometimes this is sold with batteries and sometimes without. It is useless without batteries unless you have your own compatible rechargeable ones handy.
Goal Zero Rockout Speaker
The Rockout Speaker is a speaker with a battery to store a charge from your Nomad 7 or a USB power source (your computer, a car charger, etc). It is great for its size, weight, price, and incredible durable. But overall the sound quality is not awesome. We put this in head-to-head tests with the Altec Lansing iM600 and found the Altec to have about the double the power and sound quality. For most car camping and outdoor situations, we would recommend something like the Altec Lansing setup. For backpacking or a situation where weight and durability are at a premium, we would take the Rockout Speaker.
Other Versions and Accessories
If you're looking for something lightweight (and that will fit in your pocket) to power your smartphone or other USB devices, check out the Switch 8, for $40. Be sure to purchase a solar panel, which is sold separately.
The next size up is the Goal Zero Nomad 13, $160, which can charge a number of devices at once. Or, you can opt for the Nomad 20 Kit, $400, which includes a Nomad 20 Solar Panel and a Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator.
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: November 22, 2013
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