Flexible Off-Grid Power – Geek Review

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Classification:
7/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Trash
  • 2 – Sort warm garbage
  • 3 – Very flawed design
  • 4 – Some advantages, many disadvantages
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good enough to buy on sale
  • 7 – Excellent, but not best in class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with some footnotes
  • 9 – Shut up and take my money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $80

Mr Hero Heater
Mr Hero Heater
Cory Gunther / Geek Review

Portable chargers are a great way to keep all your devices powered up when you’re enjoying the outdoors or on the go. But once it runs out of battery or you get disconnected from the network, you’re out of luck. That’s where the new Anker 515 Portable Solar Panel Charger comes in to save the day.

This is what we like

  • relatively affordable
  • Portable folding design
  • Can charge 3 devices at the same time
  • Light

And what we don’t do

  • No built-in battery
  • No USB-C port
  • Not waterproof

Phones and batteries eventually run out of power. And if your friends and family are like mine and constantly steal your battery bank when you go camping or on vacation, you’ll need a way to recharge everything. Who needs a wall outlet when I can recharge my phone from the sun, right?

And while Anker’s 757 Battery Station is great, sometimes you don’t want to pack a massive portable battery. If you want to travel light, use Anker’s $80 portable solar panel to recharge your phone, tablet, or drone, or charge a portable battery throughout the day. Then use that battery to recharge your devices at night or when the sun goes down.

Anker’s latest 24W solar panels are perfect for off-grid outdoor adventures and weekend camping trips, not to mention great to have in an emergency. Here is everything you need to know.

Design and build quality

Solar panel charger Anker 515 (24W)
Cory Gunther / Geek Review
  • Dimensions (closed): 9.64 × 12.1 × 1.97 inches
  • Dimensions (unfolded): 38.8 × 12.1 × 0.16 inches
  • Weight: 2.5 pounds

The Anker 515 Solar Panel is about the size of a small laptop when fully folded, which means it fits easily inside a backpack. It has a durable fabric and plastic design and feels well made. Several metal buttons keep it closed and more buttons keep the brackets in place.

Once you unzip everything, it unfolds into a four-panel design with three flexible solar panels. Each panel is made from a CIGS material, a type of thin film solar material that is flexible yet durable.

The fourth panel has the circuit box with three USB-A ports and a large zippered pocket to store cables or a portable charging pad. Unfortunately, there are no USB-C ports, so you’ll need to use an older, larger USB-A cable.

Anker 515 Solar Panel Ports
Cory Gunther / Geek Review

Some of Anker’s product images show a person placing the panels on a backpack while walking, so you can charge while walking. And while I love that idea, Anker didn’t add a strap to attach it to your bag. There are reinforced holes in the ends so I guess you could use some carabiners.

There’s not much to the design, and that’s fine. I don’t need or want anything fancy here as you will just be sitting in the sun. That said, the collapsible design is great and ensures you can take in plenty of sunshine without being big and bulky, then easily store away when you’re done.

Configuration and use

Solar panel Anker 515 (24W) open
Cory Gunther / Geek Review

In terms of setup, it will be charging in about 30 seconds. Unfasten some metal buttons, unfold the panels, open the brackets, and find a sunny spot. Then plug in your phone or charger and let it do its thing. There is no on or off switch. Just plug in and wait for the circuit to draw some power from the sun.

Two built-in kickstands unzip and unfold. This makes installation quick and easy and offers the perfect angle for maximum sun exposure. Or, if the sun is up, close the stands and place the Anker 515 on the ground.

However, it does not have a built-in battery and cannot store power. Instead, you’ll need to directly charge a phone or plug in a power bank and charge it with the panels.

Anker 24w solar panels charging on the back of a truck
Cory Gunther / Geek Review

You will find a small circle LED indicator on the circuit box that will turn blue when it is working properly and receiving power. The light turns red if the unit is overheating or has a problem with its cable or device. However, that LED is extremely dim and hard to see, especially in direct sunlight, making it virtually useless. In the image below, it’s blue, but it’s barely noticeable.

Anker 515 Solar Panel Circuit Box
The blue LED indicator is hard to see and is behind the panels. Cory Gunther / Geek Review

However, I did experience the red LED when using the solar panel on a 112 degree day. It overheated and stopped working for a few minutes. Most people don’t live in the deadly heat of Vegas, so you should be fine. I never saw the red light again, but I never tried it on such hot days either.

I really like that the circuit box and charging ports are on the back, not the front. That way you can easily store a phone or device behind the solar panels and out of direct sunlight, hiding the cables. Also, that should help keep it from getting too hot and shutting down.

While I love the lightweight, foldable design, you have to keep that in mind during use. If it is a windy day, it will easily tip over and stop charging. Laying it flat helps, but kickstands can be a bit heavier when you need an angle. Instead, I put some stones in the kickstand straps, keeping it firmly in place, even against strong winds.

Power generation and charging

Anker 515 solar panel charging a phone
Cory Gunther / Geek Review
  • Solar input: 24W
  • Load output: 12W max by port (for cargo)
  • USB-A: 5V 2.4amp

Now to what everyone has been waiting for. How well does it generate power and really recharge my phone and power bank? More importantly, how fast is it? Well, with a product like this, there are too many variables, so your mileage may vary.

The first time I used the Anker 515 flexible solar panel was on a mostly sunny 95 degree day here in Las Vegas. I placed the panels on the ground and plugged in my Pixel 6 phone with 29% battery. After a little over 40 minutes, I went and checked things out, and it got to 64%.

Anker 515 solar panels charging a phone
Cory Gunther / Geek Review

The Anker Solar Charger gave my phone 35% more battery life after 40 minutes. That’s pretty impressive. On the second try, I got mixed results due to the weather, but it was still better than expected. I plugged in my backup Pixel 3 with 61% battery life and after 45 minutes it hit 89%. A little later, I was sitting at 100% with a full battery. Again, it’s not the fastest, but that’s not a bad thing either. Especially if you are in nature without a wall outlet.

The next day I had similar weather conditions but a bit more cloudiness. I plugged in my Anker 20,000 mAh portable battery, which was completely drained. After an hour and 30 minutes, I had a four bar, which means 25% or about 5,000 mAh of charge. That means it would take almost five hours to fully charge, but that’s 20,000mAh of battery that I can use overnight to charge my phone and tablet. That’s enough to charge at least four smartphones.

Anker’s portable solar panel system only maxes out at 12W of charging output power under ideal conditions, so you can’t expect blazingly fast charging speeds like a wall plug. Still, I was quite surprised at how well it worked, considering multiple clouds probably slowed down loading speeds. The solar panel’s three USB ports share a total power output of 21W, so while it can charge three devices simultaneously, it will be quite slow.

Remember, this is not a set it and forget it like your home wall charger. You’ll want to check it from time to time and make sure it’s still working, keep trees or objects from getting in the way of the sun, and keep it out of the shade. Depending on your space, this should be easy or it will be a bit challenging.

you will want one

Anker 515 solar panel fits in a backpack
Cory Gunther / Geek Review

Ten years ago, portable solar chargers were something of a gimmick and not that useful. I had a bad experience several years ago where after 8 hours my phone only had 16% battery. That is no longer the case. The latest solar panel technology, coupled with improved charging speeds, means a portable solar panel charger is a viable option.

With the Anker 515, you know you’ll get a relatively stable charge as long as the sun shines. And sure, it may not be as fast as your home charger, but it’s literally converting the sun into battery power on the fly.

If you’re an avid camper who likes to go off the grid or just want to add some tech to your survival kit, you’ll want the Anker 515 Solar Panel Charger.

This is what we like

  • relatively affordable
  • Portable folding design
  • Can charge 3 devices at the same time
  • Light

And what we don’t do

  • No built-in battery
  • No USB-C port
  • Not waterproof