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Lifewire / Gannon Burgett
Three USB-A ports
17W max output, not 28W
No built-in power bank
The BigBlue is a portable solar charger that can keep your devices topped up for camping and travel—that said, its specs are misleading and there’s no power bank included.
Battery chargers and even portable generators are great to have on-hand, but what do you do when the battery bank runs out of power and the portable generator runs dry on fuel when you don’t have an outlet or gas station nearby? You use a portable solar charger, like the BigBlue 28W Solar Charger. Sure, this notebook-sized charger won’t power a fridge or toaster, but for times when you need a little extra juice in your phone in emergency situations or while out camping, folding solar panel chargers are a great solution.
That said, BigBlue is a bit misleading with its maximum output, the charger is only capable of 17W, not 28W. However, it charges devices reliably, is water-resistant, and is small enough to fit on the inside or outside of a camping backpack or emergency kit. I spent more than 40 hours testing it in rain and shine.
The BigBlue Solar Charger features a fairly standard design as far as folding solar chargers go. Folded up, the unit measures in at roughly the size of a standard one-subject notebook. When unfolded, it expands to four times its original width, with four of the five sections dedicated to the solar panels. The remaining section houses a little pocket that not only acts as a means to store the devices being charged but also the location of the plugs (two 2A and one 2.4A USB-A ports).
BigBlue also added dedicated grommets on each of the corners, which pair perfectly with the included carabiners to offer a means of attaching the unit to a hiking backpack, a tent, or a car.
According to the product listing, the BigBlue Solar Charger is waterproof, however, no specific waterproof rating is given, which made testing this detail a little challenging. Determined to figure out just how far I could push it to the limits though, I started with small spritzes of water from a spray bottle and worked my way up to completely submerging the solar panel section into a bathtub full of water.
Sure enough, from the spritzes to the submersion, the solar charger held up. You won’t want to get the USB port section of the unit wet, as it could cause issues down the road, but even if a little water gets in there when you don’t have a device in, it should be protected, as BigBlue added a rubber gasket to cover the USB ports.
As a whole, the setup is quite nice. The panel showed it could withstand the elements (at least what I could throw at it) and the pocket to store your mobile device while it’s charging is a nice touch, especially if you’re using the charger in direct sunlight, where your device would otherwise overheat.
I wouldn’t count on charging my devices on the daily, but I’ll definitely be taking it with me on my next camping trip and keeping it in my emergency road kit in the meantime.
As unfortunately tends to be the case with many products, the specifications listed within the headline of the BigBlue Solar Charger product page is a bit misleading. BigBlue states the solar charger is 28 watts, and while technically true, that’s not the output it delivers.
As explained by BigBlue in the fine print of the product description, the unit features four seven-watt panels, which makes for a total of 28W. However, the actual power output is dramatically lower, due to the conversion process from solar energy to actual deliverable energy over USB. BigBlue clarifies that ‘under ideal conditions’ the solar charger can output a maximum of 17W (5V*3.4A).
With this more nuanced (and accurate) information taken into account, I went about testing the unit under various lighting conditions to see if it would perform as detailed in the product description. In my testing across various sky conditions, the unit performed right on par, maxing out at just under 17W in direct sunlight on a perfectly sunny day (when using the two 2.4A ports). Even in less-than-ideal lighting situations, such as a cloudy day with snow on the ground, I was able to achieve 10W output (when using both 2.4A ports).
Precisely how fast your device charges will vary depending on a number of variables: ambient temperature, device temperature, location of the sun in the sky, clouds, and, of course, the battery capacity of the device you’re charging. That said, output proved consistent when taking into account the variables I (and Mother Nature) threw the solar charger’s way.
With a suggested retail price of $70, the BigBlue Solar Charger is right on target with similarly-specced units. Yes, it’s not the 28W charger as somewhat deceivingly advertised, but it still packs a punch in the right conditions and its ability to withstand the elements makes it a great choice for hikers, campers, and survivalists alike.
I also enjoyed knowing the device could take on the elements while continuing to charge my devices. When my smartphone was secured inside the included pocket and plugged in, it had no problem taking on the moisture and charging (albeit slowly) in snowy and rainy environments. I wouldn’t count on charging my devices on the daily, but I’ll definitely be taking it with me on my next camping trip and keeping it in my emergency road kit in the meantime.
Even in less-than-ideal lighting situations, such as a cloudy day with snow on the ground, I was able to achieve 10W output (when using both 2.4A ports).
At $70, it’s a small price to pay for that extra level of comfort knowing I’ll be able to keep my devices at least somewhat charged during the day if my phone’s battery runs out and I don’t have access to any power port.
One of the most direct comparisons to the BigBlue Solar Charger is the Ryno Tuff Solar Charger (see on Amazon) With a suggested retail price of $75-80, it’s nearly the same price as the BigBlue Solar Charger. On top of that, the Ryno Tuff Solar Charger is also waterproof, has a higher maximum output of 21W, and features a built-in 6,000mAh power bank, so you can save up power for a time when light is a little more scarce. Overall, the Ryno Tuff may be the better option for most people, especially due to its built-in power bank.
A solid, budget-friendly portable solar charger.
When all was said and done, I was impressed with the performance of the BigBlue Solar Charger. Calling it 28W in the product listing’s headline is incredibly disingenuous, but if you read carefully and understand it will max out at only 17W, it’s easier to recognize the solar charger actually lives up to its specifications. It’s a bit heavy for ultra-light hikers, but at roughly a pound, it’s still light enough to justify in situations where you need to power a few mobile devices, be they smartphones or GPS units.