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.
ARB Fridge Freezer 50 Review
Cons: Temperature performance not very good, expensive, power-hungry, awkward basket
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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 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 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.
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!
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