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Best portable solar chargers of 2016

Using portable solar charger for cell phone
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I currently live in a share-house. In my room, the only electrical devices I have are my laptop, cell-phone, and air conditioner. My electricity bill only charges me for the electricity from my room. 

Every month, I really did not like having to pay extra money for electricity on top of the rent so I decided to try to reduce my electricity bill to zero. I stopped using my laptop, and  

I was able to charge my phone using only a solar charger!

Spoiler alert - check out the best solar portable charger here.

My landlord was quite surprised when my electricity usage was zero! Also, I enjoy traveling. Before, I always brought a backup battery charger and plug in charger for my phone, but now, I don’t need the plug in charger. I’ve also used it for portable speakers for playing music and working outside or dancing in the park. It has many uses.  After doing a lot of research on portable solar chargers and finding them extremely convenient, I wanted to share with you my experience.

Why Solar Portable Charger

Today’s cell-phone technology is amazing. The applications, the specs, the camera, GPS and other bells and whistles. But! All of this takes a toll on your battery life. With today’s selection of solar charging options, this doesn’t have to be a problem. You can always charge your phone as long as you have sunshine. (And if you have a battery pack, you can charge at anytime)

However, it can be quite difficult determining which solar charger is the best. For example,

Battery Pack with Solar Charging

Battery Pack with Solar Charging

I thought this charger looked great. I liked the price, the size; I read all the specs and didn’t see anything wrong with it until towards the bottom of the page it says
“The efficiency of energy transformation from solar to electric energy is really low,even in a perfect laboratory condition, the transformation efficiency just 30%. When it used in outdoor, it also affected by the weather, the location or others factors. So the solar panel is not good as first choose to recharging. We suggest you recharge it via wall charger at the beginning to make the power battery fully activated.”

30% efficiency is actually quite good for solar conversion of sunlight into energy (in fact, it is too good and I don't believe the efficiency is 30%) but...in the comments it said it took 30-40 hours to fully charge.

It’s just a regular back-up battery!

I already have one of those. If you need a back-up battery, this might be worth buying, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted something to charge my phone for free…

With the low surface area, not much energy can be absorbed from the solar panels. Most products with a similar small surface area have the same problem in that, they take 30-40 hours in the sun to fully charge your cell phone. A larger surface area is required to capture the sun’s energy and charger using less time.

External Battery Pack vs. Solar Charger

Honestly, some of you may be better just getting an external battery. The external battery can be charged at home through an outlet and supply your phone with energy for 3-4 days. The battery pack is not dependent upon the sun. Many portable solar panels do not come with a battery pack attached and so the phone can only be charged in the sun.

In my case, I already had a battery pack and so I use the portable solar charger to charge the battery pack during the day, and then I can use the energy at any time. This is probably the best option but can be costly if you don’t already have an external battery pack. It ultimately comes down to what you want and need. I wanted to decrease my electricity costs, even if just by a little. For that I needed the portable solar charger. You can read more about external battery packs here.


Portable Solar Charger 15 Watts

So, I looked at the best sellers and found the Anker series.The Anker 15W 2-Port USB Solar Charger shown below.

Product Name: Anker 15W Dual Ports USB Solar Charger PowerPort Solar Lite for iPhone 6/6 Plus, iPad Air 2/mini 3, Galaxy S7/S6/S6 Edge and More

Anker 15W Dual Ports USB Solar Charger

Look at that surface area! And the pictures on amazon show a cell phone being charged! This looks great! It should be perfect for what I need. But before continuing, I want to discuss Watts with you.

What are Watts and why are they important

Watts are essentially a measurement of electrical power. If you are only charging a older cell phone or mp3 player, then you would probably only need 4-5 watts of solar power. Cell-phones need about 7-8 watts of power. If you are charging an iPad or other tablets, then you would probably need at least 15 watts of power.

For my purposes, I am only charging the cell phone so 15 watts should be enough? Even though the solar panels are rated at 15W, the actual wattage that you will be able to obtain is lower. Particularly if it is slightly cloudy. If you want to do direct charging to your devices, I would recommend oversizing the solar panels and purchasing one with more wattage such as 20 or even 25 watts.

For me, the 15 watts would probably work, but it will be slower than a larger portable solar device such as 20 watts. Also, at the time I purchased the portable charger, the 15 watt and 20 watt was nearly the same price. So I figured, I would purchase the one that has higher wattage at a slightly higher price. The only downside is that it is a little bigger.

Caution: Be careful about purchasing a low wattage portable charger even if it is cheaper. You will probably be frustrated at the long charge times. Alternatively, a battery pack can be purchased with the low watt panel. Once the battery pack collects energy from the solar panel, it can be used to charge your phone.

Portable Solar Charger 21 Watts

Product Name: Anker 21W 2-Port USB Solar Charger PowerPort Solar for iPhone 6/6 Plus, iPad Air 2/mini 3, Galaxy S6/S6 Edge and More

I decided to purchase this one because it has 21 W. After using it, on a sunny day in my room, it can charge my Samsung Galaxy S4 phone (I know, it's an old phone...) in about 3 hours. Usually I will leave in the morning to charge my back-up battery. And then I can charge my phone whenever I want. While it is not enough to directly charge my laptop, it is sufficient for traveling, hiking, my speakers, my cell phone, and my back-up battery. Also, the price is reasonable.

Portable Solar Charger 20 Watts

Product Name: AUKEY 20W 2-Port Solar Charger with SunPower High Efficiency Solar Panel & AiPower Adaptive Charging Technology for iPhone 6S Plus, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and more.

AUKEY 20W 2-Port Solar Charger with SunPower High Efficiency

The Aukey 20 W charger is nearly identical to the Anker 21 W charger. I bought the Anker 21 W solar charger, but according to a comparison video I watched, “Despite being rated at 21 versus 20 watts, both chargers supplied about the same power to the Smart phone.”

However, the Anker 21 W came with a charging cable, and the Aukey 20 W solar charger does not come with a USB charging cable. I recommend that you look at both and see which one is cheaper.

Some comments on this product from amazon.

By Jeffrey E. Frankhouser on April 23, 2016

    “Very good quality construction. Durable. Verified output using the Drok USB. With decent sun it put out 5.29v and was able to charge my Samsung phone no sweat. Nice built in pocket big enough for a battery, cables, etc. Has sewn in loops of light shock cord for hanging it from a branch or whatever. Top flap grommet plus the loops makes it easy to secure over a decent sized day pack for walkabout.”

By Amazon Customer on May 5, 2016

    “keeps my cell and tablet charged when i'm off grid. i charge one or two 14000 mah lithium power packs during the day, then use them to charge the phone and tablet overnight. works well.”

Note: This is how I use my portable solar charger as well!

If you look on amazon or ebay long enough, you will realize that the solar chargers range from 0W all the way to hundreds of Watts. If you want to directly charge your laptop, then you can look into a higher wattage solar charger.

Portable Solar Charger 39 Watts

Product Name: SUNKINGDOM™ 39W 2-Port DC USB Solar Charger with Portable Foldable Solar Panel PowermaxIQ Technology for iPhone, iPad, iPod, Samsung, Camera, and More

SUNKINGDOM™ 39W 2-Port DC USB Solar Charger

This is  a little TOO big for my room or for travel. But if you are looking to charge your laptop as shown in the picture, a larger portable solar charger might be good for you.

I went with the smaller, more portable 21 watts portable solar charger because the larger one was a little too expensive for me. It would be great to charge my laptop too. But for now, I am just charging my phone.

In the end, it comes down to what you want according to your devices and budget.

To Battery or not to Battery

While some of the solar panels include a battery pack, many do not. I already had a back-up battery pack and so it was not necessary to purchase one with it included. Read more about back-up battery packs here.

Final comments

I am really happy that I decided to purchase the portable solar charger. While the 21W size is quite large, probably about 2 feet when it is open, the foldability of it makes it compact and easy for traveling. Also, it has a sturdy design, long warranty, and quickly charges my devices.

The 39 W would also be nice but, it was a little too expensive for me and seems quite larger. My room is small….But I am considering getting it for the laptop.

When using any charger, please be careful! The panels can get extremely hot when sitting in the sun. Especially on a hot day outside.

Things to consider before buying

  • Do you live in a sunny area? If you live in an area that is often cloudy, this may not be worth purchasing.
  • Should you purchase a portable battery to go with the solar charger? For me this is important because I am usually not at home during the day.
  • According to what I have read, the portable solar charger is expected to last 10-15 years. I haven’t had mine this long so don’t know if it is true or not. But assuming that it is true, after 2-3 years the money that I have saved from electricity bills should have paid for the solar charger. After that, I am essentially getting free money every month by reducing my electricity bill, even if only by a couple of dollars per month. Using solar energy is a good habit to create.

How I use my solar charger

  •     Everyday charging my back-up battery.
  •     Multiple day backpacking trip.
  •     Bluetooth to portable speakers outside.
  •     Traveling.

My top recommendation is the 21 W portable solar charger