Product Review: SunTactics sCharger-5 USB Solar Charger

Image credit: Suntactics.com
Image credit: Suntactics.com

I was given the opportunity to review the SunTactics sCharger 5 USB solar charger. It’s by far the most lightweight portable device charger I have ever seen, which makes it ideal for backpacking and when you have to travel via air with just a carry-on bag. Read on for my impressions.

What Comes in the Box

  • sCharger-5
  • Nylon case with Velcro closure
  • Quick start guide
  • Instruction pamphlet

Note that you need to supply your own USB charging cable.

Usage

I received the sCharger-5 back in June just in time for my LONG drive between Florida and Colorado, but didn’t get a chance to truly review it until I was moved into my house and had plenty of sun available on my back porch at 6800′ elevation. I intended to try out this charger with both my iPhone and iPad.

As I said, this is a very lightweight charger, weighing in at only 8.3 oz. I love this feature! I also love that the sCharger is made in America.

Being lightweight comes at a cost. The charger is a bi-fold setup with the solar panels folding inward for storage. While the panels themselves seem substantial enough, the clear laminate hinge holding them together appears weaker than I would prefer.

There’s a blue box towards the top with the USB female connector.

I figured I could put the charger in my dashboard and fly down the interstate while charging my iPhone.

Um...no? If I had consulted the instructions *before* I took this trip, I would have read that the company does not recommend attempting to use the sCharger-5 through a windshield due to the UV filtering. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Um…no? If I had consulted the instructions *before* I took this trip, I would have read that the company does not recommend attempting to use the sCharger-5 through a windshield due to the UV filtering. However, customers have commented on Amazon that this is indeed possible for the smallest of devices, such as an iPod Nano. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

This didn’t work. My iPhone would beep upon plugging it in, but it didn’t remain charging for more than a minute or so. The iPad didn’t even last that long.

So my review would have to wait until I was settled into our new house.

Fast forward three weeks and I was ready to roll. Because the instructions clearly stated that the charger needed to be in direct sunlight, and I didn’t want to take chances with windows again, I had a great setup:

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My answer to making sure the sCharger is in direct sunlight without baking my devices in the July sun. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My answer to making sure the sCharger was in direct sunlight without baking my devices in the July sun. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

First I tested the sCharger-5 on my iPhone. With full Colorado sun, this was easy. The best I was able to accomplish was about 40% charge per hour and that was by turning off my GPS and all apps. When I left everything running, I averaged 30% charge per hour. While this isn’t as fast as my iPhone wall charger, it’s a great charging rate just the same.

Next, I tried one of my son’s Kindle Fires. In this case, I didn’t specifically turn off any of the apps, but I was able to achieve around 7% per hour this way. If you were to charge it with no apps running, it should charge faster.

The challenge was with my iPad. The first time I attempted to charge my iPad, I hadn’t made any modifications. With all the apps running, and no modifications to my settings, I could not charge it.  On the contrary, the iPad drained while it was plugged in, even in full Colorado sun. The documentation makes it clear that the sCharger-5 is meant for smaller devices:

Although the sCharger-5 is at its best with smaller USB devices like the iPhone, we have been able to charge the iPad1 and 2 at charge rates from 10%-12% per hour. For absolute best results, charge on a clear cool day when the sun is high in the sky. Like any solar panel, output power lowers as temperature rises. So charge times may vary.

Instructions:

– Aim the sCharger-5 in the sun’s general direction.
– Lower your screen brightness to 1/3 and turn auto brightness off.
– Press top button to put iPad into sleep mode.
– Set background image to a dark image (most important tip).
– Keep iPad in shade on hot days.

You will substantially increase charge efficiency when using these tips. The sCharger-5 is meant for smaller devices but will do just fine for the iPad. Our sCharger-12 is best for charging an iPad as it is a higher power unit.

I didn’t have a full sun day again for about a week, but when I did, I used the above tips and the iPad successfully charged at 10% per hour.

Frankly, I think that’s a lot of effort to get a charge. Therefore, for larger tablets, I recommend the sCharger-5 for emergencies only.

This charger is quite sensitive to the amount of insolation it receives. If it’s cloudy, expect a slower charge. Likewise when the sun is low in the sky, such as early in the morning or near twilight. Expect the fastest charging between 10am and 2pm local time, with no clouds in the sky.

Conclusions

In summary, the sCharger-5 is ideal for smaller devices, with the capability existing to charge larger tablets in emergencies. It’s incredibly lightweight, making it ideal for backpacking and athletics. If you’re interested in a more convenient tablet charger, I recommend the sCharger-12, which is Suntactics’ larger charger. Not only does it claim to easily charge tablets, but it also has two USB ports for charging two devices simultaneously.

I only tested the charger with the fullest possible sun. In the future I’d like to try strapping it to the back of my daypack for my next mountain hike.

The Suntactics sCharger-5 retails for $169.99 and is available through the company’s website, or through online retailers such as Amazon.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Patricia Vollmer is the proud mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 12 & 15. She is a meteorologist with the Air Force Reserve and is currently assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Patricia blogs about her family's nomadic military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which is currently in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hobbies include running, despite no one chasing her, sharing her love for Disney and Star Wars, and exploring the world with her boys. Ask her why the sky is blue at your own risk.