The Koolatron demonstrates the best temperature control of the thermoelectric models we tested, earning it our Top Pick for a powered cooler of its kind. It reached both the coldest and the warmest temperatures, has pretty good insulation, is pretty easy to use, and is the lightest cooler we tested. This performance comes at a high energy cost though and doesn't come with an AC cord, limiting the Koolatron's capacity to the car without an additional purchase. It may not be the fanciest model we tested, but for what it can do for its contents, we think it's the best thermoelectric model.
Koolatron Portable 45 Review
Cons: No AC cord included, not the most durable, energy hog
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We tested these coolers side by side through a battery of tests to bring you the best. Read on to learn why the Koolatron earned our Top Pick for a Thermoelectric Cooler.
Like all three thermoelectric coolers we tested, the Koolatron isn't meant to work as a fridge and cool your room temperature items. However, when we tested it to see how cold it can really get, this little guy was the only one to reach 40º F below ambient temperature (26.8º F in our test), as it claims. Both the Koolatron and the Knox have warming functions, but the Koolatron achieved much higher temperatures - over 130º F!
That being said, the Koolatron won't regulate its internal temperature and is just ON all the time. This only becomes a problem in heating mode, as this unit can't be left with the heat on for longer than 45 minutes at a time or else the interior lining may become damaged. This becomes a fairly annoying routine of unplugging and replugging the device back in to keep your food warm while keeping an eye on the clock. But if you want your thermoelectric cooler to perform best at keeping things the temperature you want them, the Koolatron is your best bet.
All three thermoelectric models performed similarly during our insulation testing, with the Koolatron being the best by a small margin. At first glance, it may appear that these coolers are better insulators than the compressor models, as all three gained significantly less heat during 36 hours. However, this is due to the fact that the thermoelectric coolers weren't as cold to begin with, and so had less heat to gain before reaching close to room temperature.
The Koolatron doesn't spark the most confidence in its durability. The plug for the electric cord permanently dangles out the righthand side, which is less than ideal. It also smelled pretty funky after our heat test. The hinges are thin plastic and feel flimsy and thin. When we scoured the internet, we also found longevity complaints from other users. That being said, the Koolatron is built with very few moving parts, which can help extend the overall lifetime of the unit, with fewer things rattling around to break.
We were quite surprised to learn how much energy this little thermoelectric cooler takes. In cooling mode, it draws more than several of the compressor coolers we tested - 62.3 watts! If saving energy is of concern to you, the Koolatron is not the most friendly model. Both the other thermoelectric models we tested draw significantly less. The Knox uses just 46.1 W.
Even running the heating mode is quite a power hungry endeavor for this little icebox. The heat function still takes 48.1 W to function, as compared to the Knox's 39.0 W. Still though, for the amount of cooling and heating power it gives, it's obvious the Koolatron is working hard.
Ease of Use
Both the Koolatron and the Igloo can be stood on their ends and used as a mini fridge or laid flat like a small chest. The Koolatron has a single shelf that can be placed at a myriad of heights in the chest position, or across the top of the cooler when used as a chest. The whole thing closes with a fairly strong magnet, and the lid features a cut-out design, adding capacity to this small box.
While Koolatron claims this model can hold 72 cans, we maxed it out at 63 - which is still the largest thermoelectric model we tested! Additionally, the Koolatron (and other thermoelectric models) is meant to be packed with ice just like a regular cooler, and the electric component will help to extend the life of that ice. It's not necessary to use it this way, though it certainly gives you more control over the temperature on a hot day!
The Koolatron is the lightest cooler we tested, tipping the scales at just 14.2 lb. It has easy to use handle indents on the sides (again with the lack of moving parts) to aid in carrying. Even loaded with food, this cooler isn't awful to carry because of these comfortable handles and the rounded shape. It's DC cord is also an impressive 8' 10" - the longest of any thermoelectric model by nearly a foot!
The only thing that could make the Koolatron easier to carry for a cooler its size as if it had wheels as the Knox does. Truly though, for a cooler, the Koolatron is quite portable.
This little ice chest is a fairly no-frills appliance. It switches easily between heating and cooling by a simple reversal of the plug. At the time of writing, Koolatron backs this box with a one-year warranty. We think that's a pretty nice touch for something that could hold the fate of the picnic in its proverbial hands.
Our biggest complaint about the Koolatron, in terms of this metric, is that it's very noisy. It makes an impressively annoying, medium to high-pitched hum that we found exceedingly difficult to enjoy. If sleeping next to your thermoelectric cooler is on the docket, you might consider another model based on noise alone.
The Koolatron is a solid thermoelectric cooler. If you're on the hunt for a cooler that can chill your warm beers, keep meat fresh on 90º days, or maintain a consistent temperature, you want a compressor model. Check out the Dometic or Costway for some excellent options. But if you just need some help for your ice or a little extra oomph and a step up from your traditional cooler, we think the Koolatron is a solid choice.
For a pretty decent thermoelectric cooler, we think the Koolatron holds pretty good value. For $200 or less, it delivers the best temperature performance of any thermoelectric model we tested - and let's be honest, temperature control is why you're looking at a powered cooler in the first place. For a slightly cheaper thermoelectric cooler that's not quite as impressive on the whole temperature control thing, but is really easy to use and still a decent option, you might consider the Knox.
The Koolatron delivers where it counts. It boasts the most impressive temperature range of any thermoelectric cooler we tested, making it our Top Pick for a Thermoelectric Cooler. It may not be the fanciest model out there or the most efficient energy user, but it delivers on insulation, weight, and overall utility. If you're on the hunt for a great-performing thermoelectric cooler, you'll enjoy what you get with the Koolatron.
Other Versions and Accessories
Koolatron sells a LOT of other sizes and shapes of thermoelectric coolers - including one as wild as a keg chiller! They also sell the AC adapter and cable to go along with their coolers.
— Maggie Brandenburg