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 good insulation, is 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
The Koolatron is a thermoelectric model with an advertised capacity of 45 quarts and temperatures reaching 40ºF below ambient.
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. Most thermoelectric coolers, including this one, have warming functions, but the Koolatron achieves impressive higher temperatures of 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 deliver performance and keep things at your desired temperature, the Koolatron is your best bet.
All thermoelectric models we tested 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 they gained significantly less heat during the 36 hour period. 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! The other thermoelectric models we tested draw significantly less energy, if that's a selling point for you.
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, which is still pretty high compared to the other thermoelectric models. Still though, for the amount of cooling and heating power it gives, it's obvious the Koolatron is working hard.
Ease of Use
The Koolatron can be stood on its end and used either 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 one of the lightest coolers of its size 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. Its 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 is if it had wheels. 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 challenging to endure. If sleeping next to your thermoelectric cooler is on the docket, you might consider another model based on noise alone.
For a pretty decent thermoelectric cooler, we think the Koolatron holds good value. 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.
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.
— Maggie Brandenburg