How can you get the latest updates on the world’s news if your smartphone’s battery is dead and the closest wall-socket is a bridge too far, or you are lost in the woods, or at Walmart or wherever? Joke aside, don’t worry, as the free market already found a cure “on-the-go” for depleted batteries, hence today’s article is about how to choose the best solar charger money can buy.
Since we live in a technological utopia, choosing the best solar charger for your gadget(s) may prove to be a complicated task, as there are hundreds (if not thousands) of models available, there is no shortage of available options at affordable prices. Be advised though: there’s a small difference between power banks and solar chargers, and the difference is mostly in their size and capacity. A power bank is smaller, the size of a regular smartphone give or take, which means it uses a very small solar panel and has limited charging capacity.
On the other hand, a solar charger is bigger in size, but don’t expect glass-house big, but something that can be carried around in a backpack with relative ease. However, a high-quality solar charger is more effective than a power bank, and it’s capable of fast-charging any battery-powered gadget with ease, ranging from a banal smartphone to a weather radio, a stand-alone camera, a flashlight, or all of the above at the same time.
How to choose the best solar charger
Which brings us to the meat of the problem: how to pick the best solar charger? Don’t worry, we got this: first, there’s the power issue, as in look for a solar charger that’s powerful enough to juice up the device(s) you want in the shortest amount of time. For example, if you want to charge a power-hungry device (like an iPad) quickly, look for a solar charger with at least 15 watts output (or higher).
Don’t skimp on wattage, just go for the highest-rated solar charger you can afford, it will prove worth your while in the long run (faster charging/multiple device charging, etc.).
Next, there’s the portability thing, and here folded solar panels come into play: if you want the best solar charger, go for a model with folded solar panels, even if it’s bulkier. The more solar panels there are, the more power you get, and that means faster charging.
However, if you want more power output, you’ll sacrifice portability in the process, and here you must think about what you need most and what your trade-off limit is. Single panel solar chargers are cheaper, more compact and easier to carry around, but if you’re looking for fast-charging or to charge multiple devices at the same time, you’ll have to look for something else.
The next problem is with sun exposure: what happens during the night, right? Well, some solar chargers have a backup battery that stores power for later use. But obviously, they’re more expensive and heavier, so everything revolves around one’s budget/needs after all’s said and done.
Finally, there’s the connectivity issue: make sure your solar charger has enough ports to juice-up more than one device, and the ports are rated correctly as per your needs. For example, small USB powered devices require a 5V output rating, while larger ones may need a 12V-24V output rating.
Everything can be summed up by: what devices you need to charge? How many watts do you need? How long do they take to charge? Here are our top picks from Amazon in no particular order:
Best Solar Chargers
Anker 21W USB Solar Charger
The Best Solar-Powered Phone Charger
We’ll begin today’s round-up with the Anker PowerPort 21W, a very popular solar charger due to its extremely lightweight and compact design, as well as its excellent charging and efficiency capabilities. Speaking of portability, the Anker 21W measures 11 × 6.3 in. folded / 18.1 × 11 in. opened; this relatively affordable solar charger has 3 panels (Sun Power) and is compatible with most Android and Apple devices, but there’s a caveat: it doesn’t work with the iPod nano, iPod Classic, iPod Shuffle, HP TouchPad, and Asus tablets.
Also, you won’t get a back-up battery, it’s just charging in direct sunlight, so buyers beware. As per tech specs, don’t expect miracles from this device, as the Anker Powerport 21W is rated at 5V/2.4A per port, and has a maximum output of 3 amps. To make it simple, if you’re looking for a 3-panel solar charger that features 21.5-23.5% efficiency rating, 13-14W output (max) and relatively fast charging speeds provided it’s a sunny day, this Anker may fit the bill.
To give you an idea about its charging speed, the Anker will top-up a 6,000 mAh battery in approximately four hours on a sunny day (from 0 to 100%), which is not bad for its class. Also, you can simultaneously charge two smartphones at once in ideal conditions (no clouds), and the built quality is solid all things considered, though we wouldn’t recommend you to expose it to rain or excessive humidity.
- Compact lightweight design
- Can charge 2 (light) devices at once
- 13-14W total output in real life, great for travelers
- Relatively fast charging, good value for money
- Features PowerIQ (fast-charging)
- Not suited for heavy-duty charging
- Doesn’t come with a battery pack
BigBlue 28W Solar Charger
A Fast and Affordable Solar Charger
Despite its grandiose name, the BigBlue 3 is a compact (as in highly portable) 5V foldable solar charger, which comes with waterproofing and an attractive price tag to “lure” customers looking for a no-nonsense backup for their gadgets while camping outdoors. Measuring 11.1 × 6.3× 1.3in folded or 33.1 × 11.1× 0.2in opened, and weighing 20.6 oz, the BigBlue 3 can be easily carried around in your backpack or even in an emergency kit and comes with 3 USB charging ports rated at 5V/2.4A Max each, featuring smart technology for delivering the optimal charging speed for your gear.
With a total output of 28 watts and 4 amps in ideal conditions (no clouds), and boasting 4 SunPower solar panels, which are highly efficient, the BigBlue is one of the fastest solar chargers on the market in its niche. The three USB ports can provide 5V/2.4A Max with safe charging technology, short circuit protection and protection from overheating while being perfectly capable of recognizing a particular device (smartphone, tablet, what have you) and then providing the ideal charging speed.
If you’re looking for max-efficiency, you should charge one device at a time, even if the BigBlue 3 has a multi-device function; truth be told, this is more like a marketing gimmick than an efficient way to charge electronic gadgets. Durability wise, the BigBlue 3 looks pretty tough and well built, and given the fact that it’s waterproof, it would make for a great addition to your bug-out bag. The bottom line, if you’re looking for a reliable, fast and efficient solar charger, BigBlue 3 comes highly recommended.
- Dustproof, waterproof and kind-of shockproof (IPX4 level)
- Delivers a lot of juice for a portable solar charger
- Lighter and smaller compared to others (similar output)
- Features digital ammeter dual USB port with smart-charging technology
- Great for outdoor aficionados (4 panels, 3 USB ports, loops for carabiners)
- No backup battery
Nekteck 21W Solar Panel Charger
The Best Solar Phone Charger
The Nekteck 21W is a very affordable solar-powered charger, and a smart solution if you’re looking to rapidly charge your smartphone while camping or whatever outdoor activity you’re into. The Neckteck 21 comes with 2 USB ports to charge 2 devices simultaneously, though if you want to do it quickly, forget about multiple-device charging.
This smart solar charger comes with 3 high-efficiency panels from SunPower Maxeon, and they reach up to 24 percent conversion efficiency; the power is delivered via dual-USB ports rated at 5V power output, up to 2.0A max per port or 3.0 A max overall. As you can see from the specs, this is not a high-powered solar panel charger, but it’s good enough to keep your smartphone (s) running forever in an outdoor scenario. In regard to safety issues, the Neckteck 21W features smart IC chip technology, which means your gear is safe from any kind of charge-related damage (short circuit, overheating, etc.).
This solar charger is also waterproof, which makes it ideal for packing one of these bad boys in your emergency kit, and it’s powerful enough to charge a modern iPhone, tablet, camera or GPS via USB in 3 to 4 hours. In terms of versatility and portability, the Nekteck 21 measures 6.3x 11.1x 1.06 inch when folded and weighs 17.3 oz; according to some users, this solar panel charger works best when paired with a power bank, and it’s capable of delivering 2.3A at almost 4V in a sunny day, which is more than its spec amps.
Remember this though: for best results, you should pair the Nekteck 21W with a USB power meter tester to test charging rate (especially useful when the sun gets obscured by clouds) plus a power-bank.
- Compact and lightweight
- 21W power output with 24 percent conversion efficiency
- Smart IC technology
- Comes with a zippered pouch, Velcro, and tie-down grommets
- Lacks charging interruption recovery technology
Foxelli USB Solar Charger 10W
The Best Solar Charger for iPhone
With the Foxelli Dual USB, we’re going back to simple and dirt-cheap gadgets. This baby retails for under $30 currently on Amazon and it makes for a no-nonsense compact solar charger with foldable panels and sans power banks, specifically designed to be easy to carry around for outdoors and camping endeavors.
This Foxelli device is compatible with Android and iPhones alike, and it features a folding polyester design with 3 solar panels that boast 16% efficiency, which means you will benefit from decent charging speeds even if you’re using the dual charging feature, though, for best results, we would advise against this practice, i.e. charge one device at a time for optimal results. The Foxelli solar charger comes with a charging dock and features eleven loops which allow you to affix it to your backpack for convenience.
In sunny weather, you can fully charge a regular smartphone in a couple of hours, via smart charging technology that delivers up to 1.85A over the two USB ports.
- Highly portable and lightweight at 1.10 lbs, 1.2’’ folded
- Comes with 2 carabiners and 11 built-in loops
- Ideal for hikers, campers, kayakers, etc.
- Durable and weatherproof
- Compatible with most smartphones and tablets
- None really at this price
X-DRAGON Solar Charger
The Best Portable Solar Charger
The X-Dragon is yet another “industrial-strength” (just kidding) solar charger, having some of the largest panels we ever tested, and by that we mean both in terms of output capacity (40W) and physical dimensions. Unlike the Kingsolar reviewed previously, which is pretty far from delivering 40W in real life (more like 26-30, which is still respectable), the X-Dragon is perfectly capable of delivering as per its spec promises, as the solar charger does a great job with charging a large battery, say like the one in your laptop.
This bad boy comes with a charging port for a 5V smartphone/whatever gadget and an 18V DC output (18V/2A) which is excellent for charging power-hungry gear like an iPad or laptop, or any other 18V device for that matter. However, despite its big power output, the X-Dragon still maintains a slim profile, which means it’s totally portable and easy to carry around due to its folding design. For example, you can put in or outside your backpack, as it comes with included carabiners which allow it to get hooked directly to your bag.
Also, the X-Dragon comes with SolarIQ technology and a 10-in-1 (as in universal) connector cable, i.e. you’ll be able to optimally charge virtually any type of device that runs on electricity in the shortest amount of time and with the appropriate current.
- 40 watts, 2.8 amps per port (2 ports), 23 percent efficiency
- Weighs 2 lbs, compact folding design, waterproof/dustproof
- Durable PET solar panels, short circuit/surge protection
- One of the most powerful solar chargers out there
- Dual USB for charging a laptop/tablet and a smartphone at the same time
- No integrated battery
ECEEN Solar Charger
The Best Cheap Solar Phone Charger
Finally, we have a “petite” solar charger from ECEEN, a “lightweight” device compared to the X-Dragon, yet strong enough at 13W to charge smartphones, GPS units, speakers and what have you. This ECEEN gizmo is actually impressive due to its highly portable lightweight design and fast charging speeds, not to mention its affordability.
To make it real easy for our readers, if you’re looking for a no-nonsense solar charger to juice up simple devices while keeping your expenses on the down low, the ECEEN is the ideal portable charging set-up, with its modest foldable panel that’s powerful enough and gets the job done for everyday electronics, like tablets and smartphones.
- Ultra-compact and lightweight at 14 x 7 x 1.0inches and 0.85lb
- Weather-resistant high-quality polyester makes it suitable for outdoor use
- Comes with a net pocket to store your electronics and Velcro straps for easy deployment
- Features voltage regulator to protect your devices during charging
- Dual USB ports with 2A output (MAX), 22 percent efficiency solar cell
- None we can think of given the price tag