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).
SunTactics sCharger-5 Portable USB Charger Review
Cons: Features not streamlined for easy use, single USB charging port
Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Lyra Pierotti