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Author Topic: SunJack 14W Portable Fold-Up Solar Charger and 8000 mAh LiPo Battery Pack Review  (Read 1757 times)

Offline GunLink

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Long hiking and camping trips allow devices to die a natural death miles away from an AC plug or anywhere that a vehicle with a charger could hope to get near while even our shorter ventures frequently leave devices drained from long periods of fruitless attempts to connect with a tower from the bottom of a deep valley.  No bueno, if one hopes to be able to communicate from the field (or read your Kindle books or catch some deep-woods Pokemon).

On recent trips we have been taking a 2500mAh battery pack to revitalize drained devices if necessary, but that provides only a finite amount of power - once it has been drained, we are out of juice.  As such, we were happy when we received the 14W SunJack solar charger (and accompanying 8000mAh battery pack) to review around the beginning of July - just in time for our summer hiking trips to ramp up.

The SunJack is one of those rare success stories from KickStarter that actually met its funding goal, went to production, and delivered a quality product.  The solar panel unit consists of four monocrystalline photovoltaic panels housed in (presumably) canvas shell that folds up and stays held shut with a velcro flap. When folded, it is almost exactly the same size as an iPad 4:

That makes it a tad too big for what I would generally want to lug around on a light hiking trip, but it is just about perfect for outdoor activities with a static location like a campsite, picnic, or shooting ranges (our regular shooting range - with nearly no signal for 9 months out of the year) is hell on phone batteries, as was the test range on our recent visit to Shot Force Pro).  And, to be fair, if it is needed along the hiking trail, it is not overly cumbersome to bring along (especially when I carry the tactical man purse and my hiking buddy is the pack mule).

Over the course of about a month's use, the SunJack's case has held up well with no stitches coming loose, zippers breaking, or any other failures. On the back of the panels is a zippered mesh pouch that can hold your charging cables, devices, battery packs, etc. and this is also where the USB power tap is.  The ports deliver standard 5V USB power at 1A from one port and 2A from the second.

When there is room to lug the solar panel unit around (and space to spread it out to expose all four of the 9.5" panels to direct sunlight), it does a fine job of charging devices.  SunJack claims 19% efficiency from their cells, which is significantly higher than that of photovoltaic cells with different chemistry.  Here it is delivering over 700mA of charge (above the typical 500mA drain that my phone was using when unplugged) to charge my phone from the 2A port at the 1.2A max that the phone will draw:

With 3/6 bars of signal, my phone still only draws about 500mAh from the battery, so the SunJack has ample power to make an emergency call if needed.  On this test day, an unexpected summer storm rolled in before the phone's 3000mAh battery could finish charging so we brought the contraption back inside, but within 25 minutes, the panels had raised the level by 15%.

In less than ideal conditions, the SunJack still performs, but not nearly as well.  In a series of tests on overcast days, with the unit folded so that fewer panels were exposed, and with the unit on a car dash, it still delivered enough power to keep my phone charging.  Taking it indoors dropped the power output to zero with the CFL, incandescent, and LED lighting of GunLink HQ, which I found surprising because I thought that solar panels only needed light, not necessarily UV light from the sun.

The panels of the solar charger are necessarily dark in color, but making the case black as well was likely a design choice for aesthetic reasons.

Nice looking or otherwise, the black case absorbs a lot of heat from the sun.  With the phone underneath of the SunJack when laying flat, little to no airflow is possible.  When combined with the heat from direct sunlight, the phone temperature (and, thus, battery temperature) quickly rose.  Even with the windows down, my phone got hot enough under the panels on the dash of my car during our shooting session at the Shot Force range.  Heat is the enemy of batteries, so I wonder if choosing a lighter, more reflective color for the case would help with this and allow devices to safely charge beneath the case's flap.

The heat is much less of an issue when more airflow is available, as would be the case when hanging the SunJack, which is made easy via the five carabiner loops - one at each corner and one at the top of the flap.

Of course, the big downside of solar power is that it requires solar light.  In case you had somehow missed this small fact, the sun goes away for a while each day in nearly 100% of the places on earth.  During such times, solar panels will not work so well.  Thankfully, the SunJack came with a solution to this problem... the 8000 mAh Lithium-polymer battery pack.

This LiPo battery pack lets me carry around three times the charging capacity of my usual 2500 mAh pack.  As with my other battery pack, using the same micro-USB input as our phones, the battery can charge from a wall charger or the same USB cables as we used with the SunJack panels.

Like the panel unit, the battery bank has two 5V USB output ports - one at 1A and the other at 2A.  The 8000 mAh capacity has ample juice to charge the 3000 mAh battery of my phone (two times over, in fact).

While it has enough power to apply a charge, the 8000 mAh pack had only enough juice to take my iPad's 11500 mAh battery from 7% to 61%, as could be expected.  If you are planning on going off-grid with a thirsty tablet, one may want to take the panels in addition to the battery pack.

The battery pack has a series of five LEDs to indicate the charge level, which appear to be pretty accurate.  An additional LED is mounted on the edge of the pack to be activated via the same button that is used to check the charge level.  With only mediocre output, I would rate the LED light to be of dubious usefulness; I think my XTAR and Photon keychain LED lights have better output.  Nonetheless, the output is sufficient to find the USB port on your device, a tent zipper, or a more useful light.

Although it is lower than that of many competitors, the $150 price tag on the SunJack website (more for the 20W model, less for the 7W model) can be a little off-putting, but the utility provided can be priceless when you find yourself in a situation where you need the power and don't have it.  For the frugal shopper, the units can be found in SunJack's official Amazon store for slightly less, along with a number of other related accessories like an LED tent light, a more useful flashlight, and a AA/AAA battery charger - all powered by USB as delivered by the panels and the battery packs.

The 14W SunJack is, of course, a far cry from the large solar panels one would use to run larger devices, much less entire houses, it does what it is supposed to and it fills that need rather well.  Both the battery pack and the solar panels are welcome additions to a hiking or camping loadout, where it could be a lifesaver if your mobile runs down at a very inopportune time.  It is also great for cabin-in-the-woods getaways when you want to go mostly off-grid, but still have some devices on hand for game playing or eBook reading.  It is a shame that our bigger Creative Roar bluetooth speaker cannot charge from USB, but it's little brother, the Woof, does charge from USB.  Thus, the trio of my phone for tunes, the BT speaker, and the SunJack that can provide power for both simultaneously, are now must-haves for camping or beach trips.

While it is great for those who get out and enjoy the great outdoors, it is also a great piece of gear for preppers.  If one is only going to let the device collect dust in a bug-out bag or on a shelf, they will have to decide whether the price justifies the possible benefit.  If the SHTF, a way to charge mobile devices can be an invaluable resource for yourself and others, as we saw after Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, when people would huddle around any outlet they could find (either on-grid or attached to the generator of a friend or good Samaritan) for a chance to apply some charge to their devices so they could check on loved ones or let those outside of the affected area know that they were OK.  As such, the SunJack could be a tremendous item to have in one's bug-out-bag to grab on the way out the door as you flee from an impending disaster.   

More photos are available here on the GunLink Blog.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2016, 07:44:10 AM by GunLink »

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