Hands-on Gear Review

SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB Charger Review

SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB Charger
Price:  $130 List | $119.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Simple design, durable, good manufacturing, relatively light
Cons:  Features not streamlined for easy use, single USB charging port
Editors' Rating:   
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Panel Type:  monocrystalline
Size folded (inches):  6 x 5.6
Size opened (inches):  6 x 11.5
Manufacturer:   SunTactics

Our Verdict

We appreciate the simple design of the SunTactics sCharger-5 solar panel, but in a highly competitive field, it felt a little rudimentary overall. This panel will appeal, aesthetically, to the electronically inclined. But it did not stand out of the crowd. It is a little clunky, and not the most convenient. It also has some connectivity issues with some of our devices (mostly non-iProducts).


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Portable Solar Panels and Chargers of 2018

Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Lyra Pierotti

Last Updated:
Monday
December 15, 2014

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The SunTactics performed well overall, but in a very competitive field, we found a few drawbacks, mostly in the ease of use and power categories.

Performance Comparison


The SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB solar charger has a pocket for the panel and a pocket for your USB cable and smartphone. The pouch for the panel itself is specifically sized to fit the panel in one direction  and will not quite fit if you place it in the wrong direction--even though it looks square. This was not a deal breaker  by any means  but it was a little quirky and annoying.
The SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB solar charger has a pocket for the panel and a pocket for your USB cable and smartphone. The pouch for the panel itself is specifically sized to fit the panel in one direction, and will not quite fit if you place it in the wrong direction--even though it looks square. This was not a deal breaker, by any means, but it was a little quirky and annoying.

Output Power


At first, our reviewers liked the simple design of this solar panel. The speed of charging was on par with our other top performers--but those top performers could charge two devices at the same time, at the same speed, and with little or no consequence to weight, glitchy-ness, bulk, etc.

This panel also lost the connection to some of our smartphones when we walked in front of the panel, briefly shading it from the sun. It comes with a very clearly written and illustrated user guide, which is handy. It addresses this problem, and says to unplug your device and plug it back in, and that it should come back on by itself in a few minutes. We found that it lost the connection easily, even when jostled lightly, momentarily tilting it slightly away from the sun, and found ourselves frequently unplugging and plugging. This adds up to lost charging time and loss of faith in the panel overall.

Ease of Use


The panel features a simple and streamlined design with an excellent user guide--something often lacking from solar products. We found the structure to be a little awkward to place in the sun. It charged well laying flat in the mid-afternoon sun, but it was difficult to prop it up to better catch the sun's angle--it opens like a book, and it tended to want to close at the seam, much like a new hardcover book.

The SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB solar charger set up to charge our iPod  which is nicely stashed in the panel's storage bag.
The SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB solar charger set up to charge our iPod, which is nicely stashed in the panel's storage bag.

Weight


This panel is relatively light for its size. It is unusual in that it does not have the traditional black cloth folding frame, which makes it more clunky, but it is still relatively light at 8.4 ounces.

Portability


This panel is a relatively small and thin almost-square. It is easy to fit in most bags, backpacks, etc. However, as with many features on this panel, there was a minor disappointment: the panel only fits neatly in its bag if oriented just the right way. It is not a perfect square, so if you put it in wrong, it doesn't close quite as securely. This would be an easy thing to ignore, except for the problem of the USB port being exposed to grit, dirt, and sand without its own protective sewn pocket.

Versatility


This panel did quite well laying flat in the mid-afternoon sun. In this way, it was easy to set up in almost any situation, albeit limited to a steeply-angled midday sun.

The storage bag for the SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB solar charger is quite useful for stashing your smartphone or small device out of the sun  sand  dirt  etc. It is not attached  so if you don't weigh or pin it down  it might blow away in the wind.
The storage bag for the SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB solar charger is quite useful for stashing your smartphone or small device out of the sun, sand, dirt, etc. It is not attached, so if you don't weigh or pin it down, it might blow away in the wind.

With no cover over the USB port, however, this device was not our go-to for dirty jobs. Sand stuck to the panel and then accumulated in its bag where we are concerned it will find its way into the USB port. We much prefer a pocket or covering of some sort sewn over the USB output ports.

Best Applications


If you have this panel, it is unlikely you will be disappointed with it for as much as 90% of the time you use it. It works, it is straightforward, it is simple. It is also small, compact, and relatively light. While it did not shine in any category, and had a series of small issues which added up in our review, that is not to say we did not like it. Perhaps it is something sentimental--seeing all the wiring and circuitry on the device brings back fond memories of experimental science classes in middle school. This panel will do just fine on a backpacking or camping trip, and we would not be afraid to take it around water because there is no fabric to get wet. Keep an eye on this company's products, we are optimistic they will respond rapidly to the demands of their consumers.

Value


Compared to the other products in our review, this charger is a little pricey for its level of performance. It seems to be well manufactured and durable, however, so we would not give it a poor value rating. If you're looking for the best bang for your buck, however, this is not quite it.

Conclusion


This panel feels like it would have been a great product if it was made by your local solar shop. The user guide is friendly in tone, and the panel has an overall appeal--it feels sturdy and looks simple. However, it needs some fine tuning before we can recommend it highly as a contendor in a very competitive field.

We do feel there is great potential here, however, as SunTactics seems like a company that is concerned about the needs of its consumers (as indicated by a thoughtful user guide). As this company's manufacturing matures, we look forward to seeing updates and fine-tuning in a rapidly evolving market.

Other Versions and Accessories


sCharger-8 Portable Solar Charger
Suntactics sCharger-8 Portable Solar Charger
  • Great midsized charger
  • Features two USB Ports
  • Output 1600mA/5volts
  • $180

sCharger-14 Portable Solar Charger
Suntactics sCharger-14 Portable Solar Charger
  • Charges Tablets and phones fast
  • Features two USB Ports
  • Output 2800 mA/5Volts
  • $289

sCharger-5 Tripod
Suntactics Aiming Bracket with Flex Tripod for the sCharger-5
  • Use this to aim the sCharger-5 towards the sun for maximum power
  • Small tripod flexes and wraps around objects
  • $16
Lyra Pierotti

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: February 5, 2015
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (5.0)

100% of 2 reviewers recommend it
 
Rating Distribution
4 Total Ratings
5 star: 75%  (3)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 25%  (1)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Feb 5, 2015 - 12:28pm
Raymond · California
The sCharger-5 is an excellent product as is the current sCharger-8 which delivers 8 watts, has two USB ports, and many other updated features. If the editors used the current sCharger-8 which was released about a year ago it would have resulted in an even higher overall score.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Person Icon

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Dec 21, 2014 - 12:46am
Arc · Backpacker · Stanford, CA
I believe that the reviewers missed a key fact about this panel - it reliably charges your electronics on the move.

I took this panel with me for a 250 mile section hike of the PCT through the JMT and northwards in the high sierra. Thanks to the grommets on the corners of the panel I was able to take advantage of the ample sunlight in to charge my iPhone pre-loaded with maps. The panel was with me through multiple severe thunderstorms and while I took care to ensure the port faced down (to drain) and it kept ticking.

It's true that the panel is a bit touchy about shade and will often drop the connection in shade or if your aspect to the sun changes greatly (like on switchbacks). However, the reset will mean that soon it will be back to charging unlike many other panels. I met lots of folks on eh trail using panels and I was the only one I met who had no trouble getting an Iphone fully charged by 1pm on a sunny day.

For thru-hikers this is about as good as it gets if your trip features ample open terrain like deserts and high mountains. Infinite independent power while on the go.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.


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