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Solartab review: A robust solar/battery combo that doesn’t scratch most itches

Glenn Fleishman | April 28, 2016
Everything about the Solartab is fine, but it's in search of a solution as a combination product.

The Solartab ($97 and available on Amazon) combines a 5.5-watt solar panel with a 13,000 mAh battery into an iPad-sized, neatly designed all-in-one package that’s robust, attractive, and well thought out. It can recharge both from a micro-USB port (at 2 amps) and via the solar panel (peaking around 1.5 A in full, cloudless sunlight), and provides power through two USB Type-A connectors at up to 2.1 A per port.

Its trouble isn’t any of the above; everything tested just as expected. Rather, it’s that it’s too expensive and too heavy for the job for which it’s designed. The Solartab seems designed for people who will be away from any source of plug-in electrical power—car charger or AC—for days at a time.

solartab stock 02
Credit: Solartab

But in nearly every circumstance I can envision, you can find a cheaper, lighter, or more flexible alternative by going solely with a higher-capacity USB battery pack, or combining two separate products from other manufacturers.

It has its day in the sun

The Solartab combines a very decent size of solar panel with what’s now a mid-range high-capacity battery. The package is nifty. It’s almost exactly the dimensions of an iPad Air and slightly thicker. It has a flexible, firm cover with a stretchable strap that doubles as a positioning stand to angle it towards the sun. The unit has a smooth aluminum finish, well-placed ports, and a lot of attention to design and build details. The Solartab weighs 2.6 pounds, and measures 9.5 x 7 x 0.75 inches.

But at 5.5 W, the solar cells can only recharge somewhere in the 1.5 A range (when converted to the internal batteries’ native voltage), and that only with full sunlight and the right angle, which changes through the day.

Because this is an integrated design, I couldn’t tease out the exact charging rate. So on an unseasonably cloudless, sunny, hot day in Seattle, I left the Solartab pointing south for about 10 hours as the sun tracked over the front yard. While I could have adjusted it several times, I didn’t think it’s reasonable to assume the target user will.

The Solartab has four green LEDs on the side that indicate charge level. However, the LEDs light up when the percentage is passed, rather than indicating a level. That is, they correspond to just above 0 percent, 25 percent, 50 percent, and 75 percent, rather than 25/50/75/100 percent. I drained the battery using a power sink as completely as I could, and after its stint in the sun, two green LEDs were lit when the button was pressed.

 

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