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Hands-on Gear Review
Renogy E.Flex5 Review
Cons: No pocket, no protective cover for panels, single USB port
Bottom line: The 5W is a unique, durable, incredibly lightweight panel, great for small charging tasks.
This is a unique panel in our uniform group of black, folding, portable panels. The Renogy resembles a notebook or a clipboard. It's the smallest and lightest of the panels and works quite well despite its size. This take on the portable panel does not have multiple folding panels that expand as it is opened. Instead, what you see is what you get one panel with the solar cells exposed all the time. The small but mighty Renogy 5W is a good buy since it is inexpensive and very portable. Though no panels compare to the Renogy in design, comparable lightweight panels with larger wattages are both of the Anker panels. The Anker 15W and the Anker 21W are extraordinarily lightweight for their size.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Our Award Winner for Lightweight Design, the Renogy 5W panel stands out as the lightest and smallest of the nine panels we tested this year. Its panels are durable and waterproof, even though the panel itself does not come with a canvas outer layer like most folding solar panels. The E.Flex5 is good choice for simple charging tasks for those concerned about weight and portability.
Charge Interruption Recovery
Its small size became the E.Flex5 panel's main drawback in terms of its ability to hold a charge in less than ideal conditions. The panel charged our battery 2% in its period of full sun exposure, but then failed to return to a charging state after being shaded for only a few seconds. The external battery did not charge at all after the panel was shaded, unlike other, larger capacity panels, like the Instapark Mercury 10W, which was able to hold a charge even when the sun was not gracing the surface of all of its panels. This makes sense, since the E.Flex5 has a much smaller surface area covered with solar cells. It's important to think about where you will be using the panels before committing to one. A panel with a larger surface area will do better in wooded areas, for example, because there are more solar cells exposed, and less chance of the whole panel becoming shaded by branches and leaves.
All of that aside, the Renogy is still impressive, since it has a 5W capacity at half the size of its competitors, the Goal Zero Nomad 7 and the Outad 7W. Both of these panels are two times the size of the Renogy, but have only 2W more power. When placed side by side, the Renogy can definitely hold its own among these larger panels.
Just because it's light and portable does not mean it is ineffective! The E.Flex5 surprised us in this category when it was able to charge our phone faster than the Nomad 7 and the Outad in our field tests. In just 5 minutes, the E.Flex5 had charged our iPhone 6 from fully dead to 5%, while the Outad would not even turn on a dead iPhone during the same amount of time. This proved to us that the Renogy works well to charge a fairly small device in a short amount of time, as long as the conditions are optimal. In 30 minutes, the Renogy charged an iPhone 6 27%. This is only a small percentage less than the Instapark Mercury 10W was able to charge in the same amount of time.
When set out in full sun with the task of charging a 6,000 mAh external battery, the Renogy 5W was able to charge from 0 to 9% in four hours. This data is pretty eye opening, especially when compared to a 21W panel, like the X-Dragon, which charged the same battery to full in three and a half hours. This just shows that higher wattage panels are much more efficient hands down.
Multiple Device Charging Speed
This panel is too small to charge multiple devices, so we didn't test its ability to. We will say that this is a very simplified design with only one USB port on the back side of the panel and no storage for cords, etc., which is a downside. The best contender that will charge multiple devices is the Anker PowerPort 21W - our Editors' Choice winner. Other contenders did not fare as well in the metric, with the PowerGreen 21W, Anker PowerPort Lite 15W, Instapark Mercury 10, and Nekteck 14W earning average scores.
Its simple design makes the E.Flex5 a durable option since there are no extra parts to break off or wear out. The downside is the solar cells are always exposed since the E.Flex5 does not have the same fold-up design that the other panels in the review do. We did not encounter any excess wear on the panel during testing, and its hard panel clipboard-like design make it surprisingly solid.
The panels have a coating on them that also protect them from scratches, weather, and general wear and tear, which is nice because the panel is so small and light it is easily slid into a messenger bag or a backpack for an overnight trip. Panels with comparable durability are the Instapark Mercury 10W and the Goal Zero Nomad 7. Both have cells with an extra protective layer that make it easy to wipe off and inspire confidence when leaving the panel out unattended all day. Scratches and scuff marks will inevitably appear on these panels after some time, but this award winner proved to be incredibly resilient for such a delicate-looking accessory.
Weight & Portability
The E.Flex5 panel is leaps and bounds ahead of all other panels in terms of weight. It weighs only 5.6oz, which is about 7oz lighter than the second lightest panel!
Its light weight design and small size make it extremely portable. It can slide in a backpack with books and computers with ease. It also comes with suction cups, so that you can hang on a window easily. The E.Flex is also one of the easier panels to prop up, against a rock, your device, the curb, etc., which we found to be a benefit during testing.
The size and weight of this panel makes it the most portable of the panels we tested. For small trips, or to keep in your bag around town, this panel works great. Because it doesn't fold up or have any closable storage pockets, it is not the best for long trips where you want your electronics to be organized and protected floating around in a larger bag of gear. If you are looking for a panel that will mostly be used for charging phones and other small devices, the Renogy will work great. Because it's only a 5W panel, keep in mind that it has only 1/4 of the power that the 20W panels have. Meaning that it's tough to compare the E.Flex5 performance to the performance of panels like the Anker 21W or X-Dragon 20W without taking that difference into account.
The E.Flex5 is a great affordable panel option. It sells online for about $30, which is definitely a budget option. Though it is low in price, it still functions well for such a small panel. For charging small devices, like phones or small batteries, the Renogy works well; It saves size and weight by sacrificing charge time with its low wattage.
A unique panel from our fleet of foldable solar panels, the E.Flex5 shines as a lightweight, affordable, and simple panel. It is best used for simple charging tasks, so if you are a tech wizard with lots of electronics, this might not be the best panel for you. If you simply need to keep your phone charged and are not concerned with extra bells and whistles, then this award winner is a good choice.
— Jane Jackson
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