Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger

These types of solar panels have been around for a while now. But I never settled on one because they all had qualities that I didn't like. Some looked fragile with glass panes on them, most looked bulky and some had a proprietary battery pack attached. I already have my own battery packs and they are probably much better than the ones that come with these solar panels since I know that the cells inside are very high quality. And if my battery pack fails, I don't have to throw away the solar panel with it.

This model seemed to have none of those flaws, so I purchased it from Amazon. I really like the idea of charging my devices like smart phones and tablets directly from the unit instead of charging the internal battery and then charging your phone from that.

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Product Link
Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Product Link


Product Description


This is a folding solar panel with a simple USB output. It can charge pretty much any 5V USB device, which includes cell phones, tablets, headphones battery packs and all manner of gadgets and electronic thingamajigs. The manufacturer claims a 13 watt output, which at 5 volts would give it a charging current of over 2 amps! This is equivalent to the most powerful USB wall chargers, and gives you the ability to charge your devices as fast as you would from a wall charger anywhere there is direct sunlight.

Official Specs (From Amazon)

  • The thinnest, lightest but most efficient solar panel charger on the planet. Comparing with other 13W solar panel charger, our panels possess 29% higher convertion rate but 40% lighter in weight. We use only the Sunpower company's best, premium, monocrystalline silicon with a patented treatment to optimize energy conversion, ensure solar panels capture more sunlight and convert light into energy more efficiently than any other solar panel pack in the market.
  • With 22% ultrahigh conversion rate, 13W high-efficiency mono-crystalline solar panel will offer you amazing charging speed, it won't be broken even bent up to 90 degree, ideal for emergency , backpacking, camping and other outdoor activities. The backside pouch hold your mobile phone or other accessories inside perfectly.
  • More portable than any other 13W solar panel pack, total weight is only 0.94lb, folding down into a 12.12*7.16*0.59 inches dimension, eyeholes design makes it convenient to attach on backpack for use on the go.
  • Compatible with all 5V USB-charged devices, including but not limited to GPS units, iPhones, iPads, windows phones,Android phones and Android tablets.
  • Package includes: Levin™ solar charger, instruction manual.
Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Product View 1

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Device Pocket

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Attached to SwissGear Backpack
Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Attached to SwissGear Backpack: Side View

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger With Phone and Meter in Device Pocket


Initial Impressions


The Sol-Wing came in a plain brown box with a warning sticker about it containing lithium-ion batteries, which this model doesn't. They probably use the same box for other models. I just thought the warning was a little odd.

As soon as it came out, the missus put her hand out and wanted to look at it first. She looked it over and announced that the solar panels seem to have some small flaws, which as far as I can tell is only in the plastic casing. Looking closely, it looks like little flecks of glue or plastic stuck to the front of the panel when it's opened, giving it a kind of unappealing look. 

Looking at the unit further, the fabric case looks really well made. The stitching is very good and the zippers look to be more robust than they need to be. The Sol-Wing contains a zippered pocket to hold your device while it's being charged. Inside the pocket in one of the corners is the USB connector. Unlike some of the cheaper looking models, the connector is mounted straight to the case without any protruding wires. It looks very sturdy in there.

Build Quality


This is a well designed an built unit. It looks like Levin went out of its way not to skimp on the technology or quality of materials. The flexible panels are much more durable than previous generations of panels that used glass, and also lighter. As a big fan of Maxpedition and their durable wallets and pouches, this unit looks right at home with it's over-sized zippers and ballistic nylon case. 

Fit and Finish


Overall, good. As with most things I review, it only takes one area of concern to detract from what would otherwise be a perfect sample. For this unit, it's the debris on the panel itself. The unit looks perpetually dirty, and I started testing it sooner than normal because I wasn't sure if I was going to return it or not.

Other than the debris on the panels, the rest of it is excellent. The way the nylon case material is cut and sewn rivals some of my more expensive gear. The zippers are perfect. The velcro and yellow nylon loops are cut, aligned and sewn perfectly. 

So it may not look as pretty as I would like, but it's good where it needs to be good.

Usability


This is a simple, basic piece of equipment to work with. Unfold it. Point it at the sun. Plug a device into it. Wait. I never underestimate the power of idiocy, but if anything is idiot proof, this Sol-Wing is. The unit has a generously-sized zippered pouch to hold your device if you so desire, or you can leave the zipper down and run whatever cable you want to wherever you want. It's a nice setup because USB universal.

The Sol-Wing has several loops to hold the unit to a backpack or anything you want. My unit will live in my emergency bag, so that is what I am planning on attaching it to. I use these Nite Ize twist ties which are neat for tasks like this. The solar panel can be attached to my backpack in seconds. 

While I haven't used it a whole lot, it has passed all my tests with flying colors. The only issue I have encountered is that the devices being charged get really hot in the sun, and even in the zippered pouch, which is mesh but still hot.

In some of the pictures I've seen on the Internet of this model, the way I would use it is by attaching it to my backpack and then running a USB extension cable and moving my phone/tablet away from direct sunlight and heat. Either that, or charge a battery pack and let that pack charge my device when the sun goes down. Having this model use a standard USB port makes it extremely flexible in how I can use it.

I'm sure on paper that having some little debris on the panels will take away a little efficiency, it seems to have no real-world effect on the output of the panel. 

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Charging a Phone on the Deck

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Another Backpack View

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Attached to Teton Explorer 4000 Backpack

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Attached to Teton Explorer 4000 Backpack: Side View


Test #1: HTC One Smart Phone


These tests were done with a USB Power Meter which can measure the charging current and test the output of the solar panel charging the wife's HTC One smart phone. 

The test went well. I am in the northern latitudes here in Washington State, and I put the unit in direct sunlight on my deck in mid June. The current fluctuated between about .98 and 1.20 amps, which is right what I would expect an Android device to charge at. 

In 15 minutes the phone went from a 68% to 78% charge, which is about the same rate it charges from her 110 volt wall charger. 


Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Test 1: Smart Phone
Charging my wife's HTC One
Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Test 1: Charge Current
Same charging current as her wall charger!


Test #2: Kindle Fire HDX


The wife got this new model Kindle for Christmas and she loves it. This is a high end tablet so I was surprised to see it reading the exact same current as the wife's phone. 1 amp times 5 volts makes it 5 watts even, and I really thought I had more sun than that. Because it was charging at exactly one amp, I am guessing that the limitation was with the device and not the panel. But I could be wrong.

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger: Test 2: Kindle Fire HDX Tablet
Charging the wife's Kindle Fire HDX


Test #3: How About a 2 Amp Device?


It turns out all the gadgets in our house want to charge at 1 amp, even the wife's brand new Kindle Fire HDX tablet. Therefor I was unable to test with a 2 amp device like an iPad. My tablet is an Acer. So my output tests were limited by the devices and not my Sol-Wing panel, which is good and bad. It's good because all the devices in my house charge from this panel as fast as they charge from the wall. It's bad because I can't test the limitations of this model. To get 13 watts, it would have to put out 2.6 amps at 5.0 volts. At least on paper.

But I can guess at its limitations. Most manufacturers either overstate their numbers, or test it in ideal conditions that you will never see in the real world. So I can guess that in perfect conditions in perfectly direct sunlight in the desert in California, you could very well see 2 amps or at least really close. My guess is that in normal conditions you will probably see closer to 1.5 amps when it's sitting on the picnic table of your camp site.

Conclusions


This is a neat little solar charger. I've posted some photos of mine to discussion forums and people seem to universally think it's cool. But it's not just to impress my friends. This is a serious device, which turns my "72 hour" bag into a "live off the grid in an emergency" bag. If we're hit by a freak hurricane, or the zombies come, or whatever in between, I know that I'll be able to recharge all my devices including my flashlights with a USB AA/AAA charger which is also in the bag, along with a li-ion charger/power pack. 

In an emergency, this unit will charge anything I have, giving me light, communications and GPS basically indefinitely. I'll long run out of food before my 2000 cycle Eneloop AA batteries go kaput. My bag also has a much smaller, WakaWaka solar charger, which gives me the same capabilities as the Sol-Wing but would take everything 10 times longer to charge. This unit charges devices at the same rate as a wall charger.

Even if I only ever see 1 amp output from this panel in the real world, that will be plenty. 

Gallery

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger Unboxed 1
Wait, what lithium-ion battery?

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger Unboxed 2

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger Unboxed 3

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger Unboxed 4

Levin Sol-Wing 13W Solar USB Charger Unboxed 5








2 comments:

  1. The limitation is in the devices you have. Most phones allow max 1 amp charging current.

    You should have to use dual USB charger (Y cable) to charge 2 devices at the same time and show us the performance. In this case, if the multimeter still shows 1 amp for one device, it means 2 amps for both devices. It would prove that the panel is able to produce 2 amps.

    To check whether it is able to generate 2+ amps, you must use a device which allow charging above 2 amps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knew the limitation was in my devices, but I didn't think to try charging more than one 1 amp device concurrently. That's a great idea, thanks!

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