Tackling the challenge of designing a user-friendly, solar laptop charging system is no small task. Though it still needs some refining, the Voltaic System Arc 20 is a step in the right direction. Many of the systems on the market are designed for PC's rather than Macs, so trying to get a system that works with a Mac is an added challenge. That said, Voltaic does make adapters that work with Macs, which is helpful. The panel itself works well, though the battery had some major issues and actually struggled to charge a laptop successfully throughout the testing period.
Here is the Voltaic set up in its entirety. The unit is sleek and well designed, but had some issues in terms of overall performance.
Charge Interruption Recovery
When charging in partly cloudy conditions, the Voltaic 20W actually performed quite well in comparison to smaller panels in this review. The larger surface area of the panels allows for more charging capacity when the device is not in full sun. The battery also manages to reestablish a connection to the panel after an interruption, which is significant, especially compared to smaller panels that will disconnect entirely when an interruption occurs. In terms of a complete system, the Voltaic takes the cake, but the Anker 21W does a decent job as a smaller capacity panel regarding charge interruption recovery.
The battery that comes with the Voltaic panel struggled to charge our laptop effectively.
This is a metric where we ran into some issues with the Voltaic system. The V72 battery struggled to charge fully when plugged into the panel. At one point, we left the panel in direct sun for over 8 hours, and when we returned, the battery still was not fully charged. On another occasion, we charged the battery to full, according to the LED lights, but when we plugged a MacBook into the battery, the battery died almost instantly. This is more of a battery issue than a panel issue though, and when the Voltaic battery was plugged into another battery of a similar size, it performed as well as the X-Dragon 40W.
The problem with the Voltaic system is that the panel is only compatible with the Voltaic battery. This means that if the battery has issues, the whole system is out of commission.
Multiple Device Charging Speed
Unfortunately, this panel only allows for one option in terms of device charging. The panel is only compatible with the Voltaic battery, which means there is no option for charging multiple devices. This is fine when the battery works, but we actually preferred the versatility that the X-Dragon 40W or our award winning smaller panel, the Anker 21W because there is an option to charge more than one device. The X-Dragon 40 is especially versatile because it has the option to charge a large battery, or a smaller battery using a USB cord.
Attempting to charge the Voltaic battery through the dash on a sunny day. The battery got incredibly hot.
The Voltaic charging system is, overall, very durable. The panel is one of the more durable panels we tested. Comparable panels of smaller capacities are the Renogy E Flex 5W and the Renogy E Flex 10W. Both of these panels scored highly in our durability rating. The only downside to the Voltaic is the fact that the cord that connects to the battery cannot be removed from the panel. This means that it is always exposed to the elements and the eventual wear and tear at the port on the panel. To protect cords in the long term, we preferred models like the X-Dragon 20W or the Anker panels, which have a storage pocket for extra cables.
It was difficult to orient the Voltaic to the sun continuously throughout the day without monitoring it closely. This meant that our battery had a hard time charging fully.
Weight & Portability
Regarding portability, the Voltaic system is one of the most well-thought-out set-ups we tested. You can tell that a lot of thought went into creating a portable, easy-to-use product. The battery is sleek and small. The panel is also small for having a relatively large capacity. Compared to the other option for charging laptops (the X-Dragon 40 with an external battery), the Voltaic is much more portable, since its panel is half the size of the X-Dragon. For large-scale charging, the Voltaic is our top pick. We weighed the panel alone (separate from its battery pack and extra cords) and found that the Voltaic 20W weighed 26oz. This is fairly heavy compared to other panels in this review. Lighter options for a similar capacity are the Anker 21 or the Sokoo 22.
This setup is best for those who use a laptop off the grid frequently. The Voltaic Arc 20 is designed specifically to charge laptops and is compatible with Apple products, with the purchase of an additional cord. It is easy to use, and the battery can charge a laptop fairly quickly if it is fully charged. The main problem we found was charging the battery off the solar panel, which seemed to take a lot of time and often did not work at all. We learned it is difficult to get enough power from the sun with such a small panel unless it is being tended all day (making sure it's out of the shade, oriented toward the sun, etc.).
We used rocks to prop up the Voltaic on a windy desert day.
One of the biggest hold-ups with the Voltaic Arc 20 is its price. This is by far the most expensive product we reviewed, mostly because it comes with such a large battery. With a price tag of $265, most of that is going toward the battery that is compatible with a laptop computer. For a cheaper setup, we tried out the combination of the X-Dragon 40 with an Aceyoon external battery. The price for this set up was $107 for the panel and $120 for the battery, for a total of $227. This is only slightly cheaper than the Voltaic setup and a bit more complicated in terms of cords and compatibility, so we felt that the Voltaic is a better option due to the overall convenience.
In terms of portability, the Voltaic is much more compact and small than the bulky X-Dragon 40.
Though the Voltaic system has a few issues, the overall consensus was that this product is on the right track. It is easy to use, compatible with Apple products, and compact. On the negative side, we had a few issues with the battery itself and the price for this setup is a real investment.