Solar charger is big enough to blot out the sun [Reviews]


Solartab solar charger
Solartab will fit in your bag. But it won't leave much room for the things you might want to charge.
Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

Solartab 5.5-watt solar charger

It’s a problem when you get caught away from home with a dead phone. And it’s a bigger problem when you find yourself stranded with a dead phone and a flatlined portable charger. But one company has come up with a solution to both of those problems.

Solartab is a power source with a massive capacity and a handy ability: It draws energy from the sun like Superman. It can hold an impressive 13,000 mAh, which is enough to recharge an iPad Air 2 twice or an iPhone more than five times, depending on your model. And the best part is that all of this power is basically free.

The worst part, though, is that the Solartab is massive.

I was a little surprised when I first saw the Solartab’s box because it looked like it contained a board game. Actually, I own board games that arrived in smaller packages than this, and the feeling only deepened when I opened it up and discovered that at 6.75 inches by 9.5 inches, Solartab is only slightly smaller than my iPad Air 2.

So this is not something you can just throw in your pocket like other portable chargers. It’ll need its own place in your bag since it’s basically like lugging around a second iPad. But it’s worth the trouble it causes, I think, even if just barely.

Solartab’s case doubles as a stand, and it has an indicator on the back that lights up depending on how much sun it’s getting (brighter is better). So it’s nice to have a way to check that, but this also introduced some more problems because it was pretty hard at times to get the ‘tab what it needed.

It’s winter in Nebraska, which means that the sun is just this thing we hear about in songs. And even on overcast days, it wasn’t bright enough for the panels to pull in the juice. You need direct sunlight and plenty of it, but once you find the sweet spot, Solartab is powerful enough to charge itself and your devices simultaneously. It has two USB ports on the side, and having things plugged into both of them while it worked on its tan didn’t seem to slow things down too much.

And if you really get into a cloudy patch, Solartab also includes a wall charger that connects via a mini-USB port. It kind of defeats the purpose of owning a massive solar panel, but it’s a good option in a pinch.

We liked the Solartab a lot, although it’s definitely not for everyone. A more portable solution might appeal to some people, but if you have room in your bag, it’s hard to go wrong with the capacity and convenience it provides.

Solartab is available now for $129 at Amazon and directly from the manufacturer, and Cult of Mac readers can use code CULMAC20 for a $20 discount. The company provided us with a free charger for this review.

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  • Lee Hammond

    The size is not so bad for a 5.5W panel and a battery. There are several OEM 5W panels, that are bigger than this.

  • Russell C. Campbell

    There are even larger solar panels, but at least they’re foldable and much thinner.