The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

ARB Fridge Freezer 50 Review

Doesn't keep up with the competition, but surpasses them all with the highest price.
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Price:  $1,032 List | $1,029.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Cools relatively quickly, helpful/thorough manual, long warranty, large capacity
Cons:  Temperature performance not very good, expensive, power-hungry, awkward basket
Manufacturer:   ARB
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 14, 2019
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63
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 7
  • Temperature Control - 25% 7
  • Insulation - 25% 7
  • Energy Consumption - 20% 6
  • Ease of Use - 15% 5
  • Portability - 10% 5
  • Features - 5% 7

Our Verdict

We expected more from this cooler based on manufacturer claims and its price that rivals the Editors' Choice winner. Unfortunately, the ARB's performance was lackluster against the competition. It has a hard time maintaining a consistent temperature, doesn't have the subzero range of its competitors, is power-hungry in comparison, and fairly heavy. If it were only up against thermoelectric models, no doubt the ARB would win, but it just couldn't stand up to the other compressor coolers. For the money, it's easy for us to recommend the Dometic CFX 50W over this one.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $1,029.99 at Amazon$999.99 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$512.90 at Amazon$399.99 at Amazon$146.99 at Amazon
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Pros Cools relatively quickly, helpful/thorough manual, long warranty, large capacityExcellent temperature control, energy efficient, large capacity, extremely sturdy, full of useful featuresExcellent low energy mode, long cord, good temperature range and control, useful baskets, less expensiveVery energy efficient, relatively inexpensive, impressive minimum temperature, surprisingly lightweight, long cordLargest temperature range, good insulation, lightweight, few moving parts, can be used as a chest or standing up
Cons Temperature performance not very good, expensive, power-hungry, awkward basketExpensive, relatively short cords, no energy-saving modeHeavy, small capacity, control panel on backNot durable, takes a long time to cool, insulation not great, fairly loudNo AC cord included, not the most durable, energy hog
Bottom Line Doesn't keep up with the competition, but surpasses them all with the highest price.Precision performance and everything you want in a cooler made to last through years of adventures.Performance where it matters for a lower cost.An impressive performer for a lot less than the competition.Impressive temperature range on a lightweight, no-frills thermoelectric cooler.
Rating Categories ARB Fridge Freezer 50 Dometic CFX 50W Whynter FM-45G Costway 54 Koolatron Portable 45
Temperature Control (25%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
Insulation (25%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
4
Energy Consumption (20%)
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
4
Ease Of Use (15%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
0
5
Portability (10%)
10
0
5
10
0
6
10
0
3
10
0
7
10
0
8
Features (5%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
6
10
0
4
Specs ARB Fridge Freezer... Dometic CFX 50W Whynter FM-45G Costway 54 Koolatron Portable...
Minimum Temperature Achieved (F) 1.4º -8.9º -5.8º -8.9º 52.7º with contents
26.8º empty
Temperature Increase in 36 Hours Unplugged (F) 15.8º 20.7º 21.6º 27.9º 9.9º
Power Draw in Watts (cooling) 64.3 W 51.8 W 65.5 W
35.5 (low)
50.0 W
38.9 W (eco)
62.3 W
Power Draw in Watts (steady) 0.7 W 0.8 W 0.8 W 1.0 W N/A
Power Draw (heating) N/A N/A N/A N/A 48.1 W
Voltage Use (cooling) 11.98 V 13.26 V 13.39 V 13.47 V 13.29 V
Amperage Use (cooling) 5.37 A 3.89 A 4.91 A 3.72 A 4.69 A
Minutes to Cool (according to display) 158 min 16 min 145 min 80 min N/A
Hours to Cool (measured) 4.7 hrs 5.5 hrs 8 hrs 9.5 hrs >12 hrs
Maximum Temperature Achieved (F) N/A N/A N/A N/A 130.8º
Temperature Accuracy (diff btwn display and actual) +/- 5.8º F +/- 3.0º F +/- 1.6º F +/- 3.8º F N/A
Weight 49.8 lb 46.4 lb 54.6 lb 34 lb 14.2 lb
Claimed Capacity (volume) 47.3 L
50 quarts
46 L
48.6 quarts
42.5 L
45 quarts
51.1 L
54 quarts
43 L
45 quarts
Measured Capacity (volume) 50.2 L
47.5 quarts
54.2 L
51.3 quarts
42.4 L
40.1 quarts
49.1 L
51.8 quarts
45.1 L
47.7 quarts
Capacity (cans) 72 cans 86 cans 58 cans 72 cans 63 cans
Method of Cooling 12V compressor 12V compressor 12V compressor 12V compressor thermoelectric
Advertised Achievable Temperature Range (F) 0º to 50º -8º to 50º -8º to 50º -4º to 50º 40º below ambient and up to 135º
Acceptable Ambient Temperature Range (F) 61º to 109º
(min temp cannot be reached if >90º)
61º to 109º
(min temp cannot be reached is >90º)
41º to 90º
(max setting if >90º)
50º to 109º not specified
Exterior Dimensions (D x W x H) 15" x 28" x 17" 17.9" x 28.5" x 18.5" 17.25" x 25" x 20" 21" x 27.5" x 14" 16" x 21" x 17.25"
Interior Dimensions (D x W x H) 11.2" x 13.3"/6" x 15.8"/8.1" 13.2" x 13.5"/7.25" x 14.2"/6.25" 11.25" x 11"/7.25" x 15"/7.25" 10.4" x 12.75"/6.4" x 17.25"/10.6" 12.25" x 15.5" x 14.5"
DC Cord Length (feet) 6' 6' 3" 9' 6" 7' 9.75" 8' 10"
AC Cord Length (feet) 6' 3" (AC cord)
8' 9" (AC adapter only)
15' 3" (DC and AC adapter)
6' 3" 6' 2" 6' 4.25" (AC adapter only)
14' 7" (DC and AC adapter)
6' 11" (AC adapter only)
15' 11" (DC and AC adapter)
Comes With AC cord, DC cord, DC to AC adapter and cord AC cord, DC cord AC cord, DC cord DC cord, DC to AC adapter and cord DC cord
Features optional mounting, internal light, removable adapter collar on DC cord, secure cord attachment on back, C/F display, drain/plug WiFi app, internal light, C/F display, USB port, adjust display brightness, drain/plug, removable adapter collar on DC cord, emergency switch for control panel failure displays battery level, drain/plug eco power-saving function, internal light heating ability

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


Comparing all seven powered coolers. The bottom row is the four compressor models from left to right: Dometic  ARB  Costway  Whynter. The top row is the three thermoelectric models from left to right: Koolatron  Knox  Igloo.
Comparing all seven powered coolers. The bottom row is the four compressor models from left to right: Dometic, ARB, Costway, Whynter. The top row is the three thermoelectric models from left to right: Koolatron, Knox, Igloo.

Temperature Control


The ARB scored the lowest of the compressor coolers we tested when it comes to temperature control. Its minimum temperature was 1.4º F - not the 0º ARB claims, nor the subzero temps of all its competitors. Not only that, the ARB couldn't maintain a consistent temperature during our testing, as you can see in the graph below. It also showed the least accurate display temperature, which was an average of 5.8º F different from its actual internal temperature.

This graph illustrates the performance of compressor models during the minimum temperature test. You can see here that the ARB's temperature fluctuated wildly.
This graph illustrates the performance of compressor models during the minimum temperature test. You can see here that the ARB's temperature fluctuated wildly.

Additionally, the ARB is rated to be used only in temperatures over 70º F, which doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for chilly nights. Its only redeeming temperature control feature in our eyes is that it took the least amount of time to reach its minimum temperature of any in our review. However, as that minimum temperature is nearly 10º F above the second place contender (the Dometic) for that test, this first place medal seems to shine less brightly.

Insulation


Though the ARB gained the least heat during our 36-hour insulation test, it also was starting at the highest temperature. Whereas all the other models actually reached their mid-30s setting, the ARB failed to do so, and therefore began the insulation test at a non-USDA-safe temperature of 46º F! The ARB also isn't quite as rugged as some of the beefier models we tested like the Dometic and Whynter, and specifically states you may not use it as a seat, which we are personally bummed about (pun intended). It's still built pretty solidly though, and just like the Dometic, features a 2 pole auxiliary plug hidden under the DC collar that can be used to more securely attach it to an energy source for bumpy adventures.

Thick walls help hold in the cold  as does the fully sealing lid.
Thick walls help hold in the cold, as does the fully sealing lid.

Energy Consumption


One of the most power-hungry coolers we tested, the ARB gobbles a whopping 64.3 watts, just one watt less than the hungriest model, the Whynter. However, the Whynter also features a Low Power mode, that draws only 35.5 watts, saving power when you need it. The ARB has no such option. It does have an impressively large book as a user manual, though, that is actually helpful and thorough - an important feature for an appliance such as this. Unfortunately, said manual specifically states that many vehicles are not capable of providing the required energy load. Be sure to check your vehicle before you buy!

Separate AC and DC plugs and a replaceable fuse are located on the back of the ARB. Note the handy cord holding slots on the sides.
Separate AC and DC plugs and a replaceable fuse are located on the back of the ARB. Note the handy cord holding slots on the sides.

Ease of Use


The second-largest cooler we tested in this review, the ARB is one of the few models that has a spot-on capacity claim to match its actual dimensions. We fit a full 72 cans inside this spacious chest. The ARB comes with AC and DC cords and an AC adapter to extend the length of the DC cord. It also has a drain and internal light, which are handy. However, we weren't big fans of the asymmetrical basket, which is incredibly hard to get out when it's full, and the divider fits very loosely, making it difficult to keep it in place. It also opens length-ways, which is less convenient both for getting objects out and for the extra headspace you need to open it. Additionally, the manual states that you must use the mounting hardware, and you can't take this cooler anywhere without permanently mounting it, which we think takes it off the plate for the casual user.

A big beefy latch seals in your contents but also takes a little getting used to.
A big beefy latch seals in your contents but also takes a little getting used to.

Portability


This cooler is heavy! Clocking in at just under 50 lb, the ARB is an asymmetrically-weighted beast. It does have sturdy handles for lifting but is an awkward shape that we don't love. Though the ARB comes with three cords, as previously mentioned, they're the shortest cords of any compressor model we tested, at just 6'. However, if you have access to AC power, you can string together the DC cord and AC adapter to get an impressive 15' 3".

The bottom of the ARB  showing its feet  mounting hardware  and the bottom of the drain.
The bottom of the ARB, showing its feet, mounting hardware, and the bottom of the drain.

Features


The ARB has hardware on the bottom for easy mounting, which we appreciate. The 2 pole auxiliary power socket under the DC socket increases the range and usefulness of this cooler. At the time of writing, ARB also offers the longest manufacturer's warranty of any model we tested - three years! That's a pretty nice perk for an appliance that costs over $1000. However, the ARB is by far the loudest compressor cooler we tested. The manual claims 50 dbA, and though we didn't actually measure noise emissions, we found this one to be quite annoying to sit next to.

The drain and plug in the ARB are both made of hard plastic. This model isn't rated to have liquid sloshing around inside  so the drain only serves to facilitate easy cleaning.
The drain and plug in the ARB are both made of hard plastic. This model isn't rated to have liquid sloshing around inside, so the drain only serves to facilitate easy cleaning.

Best Applications


The ARB could be a good fit for a boat, where it can be permanently mounted with a lot of space to open its tall lid and less concern about the amount of power it draws. But several other models we tested could also be used on a boat while performing better and costing less.

The light in the ARB is located above the large  main compartment to help you find what you're looking for.
The light in the ARB is located above the large, main compartment to help you find what you're looking for.

Value


The ARB scored at the bottom of the compressor cooler stack. It's really just not an impressive model on any level, yet costs over $1000. Unfortunately, this cooler isn't a high-value cooler, though we certainly hope that future versions may be better performers.

Conclusion


The ARB is not an impressive cooler when stacked up against the competition. Its temperature control is lacking, its energy use is high, and its portability is a pain. And to top it all off, it's the most expensive model we tested!

Not our favorite compressor model  the ARB still does the job.
Not our favorite compressor model, the ARB still does the job.

Other Versions and Accessories


ARB makes many other sizes of cooler as well as remote monitors for them. They also sell fitted slide mounts and insulation bags for their coolers.


Maggie Brandenburg