Charging efficiency and dependability are just two important metrics we've focused on when crafting our metrics. As we began testing our new 2018 fleet, the BigBlue 28 stood out as a contender for our Editors' Choice Award. The 28 watt model from BigBlue excelled in both charging efficiency and dependability, complete with an auto-restart function and integrated ammeter; these features allow the panel to continue to deliver a charge in less-than-ideal conditions. After testing, we compared the BigBlue to the other panels in our fleet and were surprised to see that it's also one of the more affordable options of its size. Simply put, we loved this panel for its effective charging, durable and straightforward design, and the fact that it is reliable even when the sun is not!
BigBlue 28W Review
Cons: Bulky, heaviest weight
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We were impressed by this panel, which came from a relatively unknown company. BigBlue has created an inexpensive, highly efficient panel that charged our electronic devices with ease. Though it is a bit large and bulky, we found the extra size didn't matter because we knew this panel would get the job done.
Charge Interruption Recovery
One of the coolest features that our Editors' Choice award winner has is the ability to recover from an interruption. Whether you are charging on a partly cloudy day, or the sun angle changes to cast a shadow over the panel while you are charging, the BigBlue has an auto-restart function that makes reconnecting to your device a smooth affair. Though the charge was slow with interruptions, this panel has less of a chance of not charging your device at all (after an interruption). Other large-capacity panels, like the X-Dragon 20 have better success recovering from an interruption than smaller panels like the Goal Zero Nomad 7.
As this is the largest capacity panel we tested, it comes as no surprise that the BigBlue 28W received some of our highest scores in charging speed of any panel we tested. Our new test batteries are 20,000mAh batteries, meaning they have a much larger capacity than the batteries used in our previous tests; this also means that it took these new panels longer overall to charge these batteries. That aside, the BigBlue was the fastest-charging panel in our update. In 30 minutes, the panel charged our test battery 4%. For comparison, the RavPower 24W charged the same battery 2% in the same amount of time, and the Goal Zero Nomad 7 only charged the battery 1% over the course of 30 minutes. Only the BigBlue and the X-Dragon 20W received a 9 out of 10 in this category in our metric comparisons. These two are outstanding when it comes to speed and efficiency, and this played a significant part in the BigBlue taking home the Editor's Choice Award.
Multiple Device Charging Speed
Though the BigBlue panel comes with two USB ports, we recommend only charging one device at a time, in an effort to achieve maximum efficiency. This multi-device function seems to be more of a marketing scheme than an effective way to charge electronics. That said, the BigBlue is the best-suited panel for this job because of its large capacity. The RavPower 24 has three USB ports, but struggled to deliver a charge to three devices at once. The BigBlue was able to charge our devices (iPhones) a small amount (1%) over the course of a half hour.
The BigBlue received high scores in our durability metric, comparable to our other award-winning panels from previous test cycles. We had no issues with this panel performing in semi-wet conditions, and there were no signs of wear after a few months of use. Because it has a few more features than other panels (the ammeter and the auto-restart function), the BigBlue has a higher risk of breaking in some way, though we had nothing but success when using this panel. The canvas material that covers the outside is durable and resistant to abrasions and wear, and the PET Polymer panels showed little sign of wear, even after months of exposure to the sun. The X-Dragon and RavPower 24W offer similar levels of durability as the BigBlue.
Weight & Portability
Efficiency and ease of use are a trade-off for portability and weight. The larger the panel, the faster it will charge your devices, and the more difficult it might be to fit into your backpack; the BigBlue is no exception. As our largest-capacity panel in this review, it should be no surprise that this product is also one of the bulkier options out there. That said, it is similar in size and weight to both the X-Dragon and RavPower 24, but charges devices much more effectively. If you're after a larger, heavier panel, it makes sense to go with the BigBlue, since it will deliver the most charge to your devices in the least amount of time (and comes at an affordable price).
Both the RavPower 24 and the Wildtek 21 weigh in at 26.5 ounces. Comparatively, the BigBlue 28 weighs 23.5 ounces. This difference was significant to us, particularly when you take into account that the BigBlue is a more efficient panel overall.
For car camping or a backcountry basecamp where weight is not a huge concern, the 28W from BigBlue is a great choice. The positive features of this panel outweigh the negatives, as this panel will charge your devices quickly and effectively. It comes with a nifty auto-restart feature that comes in handy when the sun is intermittent, which occurred more often than we liked. During testing, we had multiple devices that required a charge; this panel acted as a basecamp charging station for our satellite phone, external battery, and two phones, keeping them charged for two weeks. It performed consistently well in a range of conditions. Even if you are not a gadget-obsessed adventurer, this panel is a great option if you want a quick charge for a single device (and again, it's hard to beat the price).
The other incredible aspect this panel is the cost. The BigBlue was the least-expensive panel in our update for Fall 2018. Sold online for $70, it provides plenty of solar energy and at a reasonable cost. Comparatively, the RavPower 24 costs $80, while the Wildtek 21 costs $70, and neither score as well. These panels are more expensive but have a lower capacity, which resulted in both scoring lower in our side-by-side tests. You do the math! This panel was one of our favorites because it is humbly charged our gadgets quickly, with no extra frills or features. The simplicity of the panel makes it less expensive to produce, and in turn, keeps its price tag relatively low. It costs the same as our Best Buy Award winner, the Mercury 10W, but is much more efficient, thus earning our highest award.
To sum it up, we loved the BigBlue. It provided a consistent charge to our electronics in numerous situations, whether it was a partly cloudy day or there was a tree branch interrupting the constant delivery of sunlight. Time and time again, it kept chugging along and charging our devices effectively. Though the panel has three USB ports, it performed at its best when a single port was in use. We decided to go all in and give this panel our Editors' Choice award, simply because it is the most efficient and fastest-charging panel in our fleet. Its incredible qualities trumped weight and portability, as it is one of the larger panels we reviewed, and price is just right.
— Jane Jackson