Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Recharging Kit Review
Cons: Expensive, lower wattage solar panel
Manufacturer: Goal Zero
Our Analysis and Test Results
Let's start with the disclaimers: Goal Zero products are not cheap, and they're a little bit like buying into Apple products--once you're in, there's no turning back. But life sure can be sweet when all of your devices speak the same language.
The Nomad 7 solar panel is not a powerful solar panel, but Goal Zero has very thoughtfully paired its technology in the Venture 30 Kit. The kit includes a lightweight but versatile 7 watt solar panel paired with a high capacity, powerful battery--the Venture 30.
The 1 amp USB solar output is on the slower side of the competition in this review, but it reliably charges the Venture 30--we experienced no glitches in this connection, and due to the inherent variability of charging via solar panels, we liked the low power demands of the Venture 30. It wouldn't forget to charge when the sun would play hide-and-seek behind a few clouds--it just kept chugging along.
When we watched the panel charging our devices in the sun with a USB power meter plugged in, we noticed the panel would actively reset itself to make sure the amperage output was maximized. This is the only panel that did so, and it worked brilliantly. The Anker 15W PowerPort Solar was the only other panel in this review that bounced back so easily and quickly after a cloud passed or someone walked in front of the panel (and the Anker 15W did so much more quietly and smoothly than the Nomad 7 panel).
If the Nomad 7 solar panel was carefully managed to follow the sun as it charged the Venture 30 battery, we could get it to charge up in about 8 hours, the minimum advertised charging time. Most of the time, however, expect it to take longer--but within daylight hours is a reasonable expectation with this setup. The only catch: the system does not charge up well in below-freezing temperature.
Once the Venture 30 is charged up, it will charge a smartphone 2-3 times and a tablet once. And if you run the "smart charge" sequence, it will optimize the charging speed of your device. Simply plug in your phone or tablet or device to be charged, hold the Venture 30's battery button down for 5 seconds, and let it go. In a minute or so, your iPad will be charging at 2.25A and your iPhone at about 1A. The Venture 30 will hold that setting until you clear or reset it. This battery, as a result, was the only completely reliable way to charge an iPad with the recommended 2A of current.
Ease of Use
The Venture 30 solar kit is a pleasure to use in virtually all respects. We really like the freedom to charge our expensive iDevices, tablets, and smartphones in the comfort of our tents, pockets, etc. The Venture 30 battery allowed us to charge up the battery in the sun (albeit a little slower than some panels since it only sends 1 amp of current to the solar USB output), then charge our devices from the battery wherever and whenever we wanted--rainy days and nighttime be damned.
The Venture 30 is extraordinarily rugged, rubberized, and well sealed and plugged (except for the top USB port, but the side port is protected), so no dirt, grime, rain, or snow was able to get into the charging ports.
Goal Zero also very cleverly integrated a micro-USB cable into the design, which is tough and rubberized, and also serves as those protective weatherproofing plugs. This means you don't have to bring an extra micro-USB cable if that's how your device is charged. This is also a built-in cord to plug in and charge from the Nomad 7 solar panel's USB port. No extra cords to keep track of, no twisting, knotting cable nightmares--just smooth, organized operations. Keep in mind, however, you must use this cord to charge--when we simply unplugged the micro-USB side and plugged in our own micro- to regular USB cable, it did not charge.
The Nomad 7 solar panel is also a delight to use. The mesh pocket holds the Venture 30 battery and still has room for another device or cable or accessory. The panel comes with four mini wiregate (very lightweight) carabiners that are easy to manipulate (even with gloves on), and sewn loops on every hinge and edge of the panel, making it a breeze to set up in the wind or other adverse conditions (or surfaces). Whatever you are charging sits protected (from sun, wind, snow, rain) under the panel, zipped in the mesh pouch and connected to the solar panel. If we rated these panels for quickdraw ability, the Nomad 7 and Venture 30 combo would be our Wyatt Earp.
The only design flaw is in the magnetic flap that closes the solar panel. If we didn't take extra care to secure the flap or pin it underneath, even a light breeze would flip it over, covering half of one of the panels. Not a big deal (and easy to avoid with the carabiners and sewn loops to secure the panel), but important to remember if you're going to leave the panel unattended for a while.
Otherwise, we also like the two panel design, also featured in the new Anker 15W PowerPort Solar. With just one hinge to deal with, it is as easy to open as a picture book, and much easier to set up than the 3 design, like the Instapark Mercury 10M18U with battery.
The Goal Zero Venture 30 kit was our second heaviest product reviewed, after the Anker 15W Panel. It didn't score high as a result, but considering the overall versatility of the kit and the fact that the weight includes a hefty battery, we were impressed. The solar panel by itself is a mere 12.8 oz, and the battery is 8.8 oz.
Goal Zero blows the competition away in versatility with the Venture 30 solar kit. The solar panel offers several ways to connect a (proprietary) device: the modern standard, the USB; 12 volt for the Goal Zero Sherpa; a special Goal Zero Guide 10 port; and a daisy chain port to link the Nomad 7 solar panel to other solar panels and dramatically increase your solar output. The catch? Those connectors are mostly for Goal Zero devices. Like Apple, you pay more up front, and once you buy in to Goal Zero, it's best to stick with Goal Zero, from panel to battery. But you do have lots of connection and charging options.
The Smart Charging feature of the Venture 30 allows you to optimize the charging speed for the exact device you are plugging in. Goal Zero explains that every type of device has its own sort of language, and even if a USB port may be labeled a high-speed port, it may charge slower than expected--and this is due to a sort of language barrier. With your device plugged in, simply hold the battery button for 5 seconds, and the Venture 30 will smooth talk its way to a fast charging profile for your device. With this feature, we experienced smooth, fast, and reliable charging.
This won't fit in your back pocket like the SunFerno Flintstone and similar solar chargers, but we found it to be quite portable, nonetheless. We like that we could leave the Venture 30 plugged in to the solar panel and tote it around until we got to sunlight--then we could whip the Nomad 7 panel open and start charging instantly. This ease of setup--just one fold to open in a two-panel design--made the kit feel far more portable than other panels in this review.
The Anker 15W, for example, is powerful and easy to use, but comparatively awkward and time-consuming to set up. The Nomad 7 and Venture 30, in contrast, can be set up in seconds--perfect for unpredictable adventures in the Wild West, or anywhere you can chase the sun.
The Goal Zero Venture 30 solar recharging kit is this review's only true "Jack-of-all-Trades." We can confidently recommend it for virtually all activities. It is great for backpacking, and you can choose to take just the panel for lightweight, longer trips, or just the battery for shorter trips--or take both if you really need the charging power. It's a great panel to travel with, and packs away small enough to be relatively discrete, an important consideration for all the envy you will inspire in others.
A useful way to assess the value of a solar charger is to break down the cost per watt. The Venture 30 kit costs about $180 and it includes a 7 watt panel and a 12 watt battery. This translates to about $9 per watt, which is higher than the Anker and the Instapark Mercury 10M18U with battery, but still a good price. The panel on its own, at $80 for 7 watts is a little over $11 per watt. This is almost double that of the Anker and Instapark. Looking at it this way, we must ask ourselves if the added features and purported reliability of matching all your electronics is worth the higher relative price.
Given how glitchy so many of the products were in this review, we decided that our answer is yes. Goal Zero makes products of reliable quality, and if we had our top two overall picks, we would go with Goal Zero or Anker products. Anker, in fact, also makes its own proprietary batteries.
If you felt guilty when you cut ties to the PC world and switched to Apple, this product might inspire similar emotions. Goal Zero is not far and away the best manufacturer out there, but the company has sure tapped into the importance of the user interface. Goal Zero has plenty of competition when it comes to the pure and simple specs of their products. But they make their products slick in a way that feels as sexy as an iPhone in your pocket--and their batteries and panels communicate as crisp as an Apple. Another similarity? The high price tag.
— Lyra Pierotti
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