The Suntactics sCharger-12 Solar Charger review (with video)
Suntactics contacted me after reading my sCharger-5 review and asked if I’d like to take a look at their more powerful sCharger-12 and write up a review because they liked how I wasn’t such a kiss-ass like some reviewers are just so they can get free stuff. Well, duh! You might want to click that review and read it for yourself. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
As I mentioned in that review, I got the sCharger-5 before I went to Afghanistan and used it several times while I was there when the power went out (which was a lot) or when I was out at a remote FOB with no power (which was more times than I really would care to ever do again). It was great. Very compact, and had enough juice to charge an iPad, which was saying a lot when I got it. I had wondered whether the sCharger-12 might be an even better choice. Maybe this review will help you decide if it is for you.
The sCharger-12 came with a decent canvas pouch with several pockets, large enough to fit it, my iPod, Apple Keyboard and a few accessories – all of which I now use as my mobile command center. I’m now keeping it in my vehicle bugout bag and bringing it into Starbucks when I’m not writing at home.
The sCharger-12 is 12″x7″ closed, and 12″x14″ open. The sCharger-5 is 7″x7″ closed and 7″x14″ open. This is a key difference. As a bugout bag item, the sCharger-5 is great. Even though the sCharger-12 will do double, the size is just a tad big for a typical bugout bag.
It’s not that it won’t fit, it’s just that the length of it means that it’s probably gonna crack if it get’s pressed too hard. Don’t get me wrong, the PCB that it’s printed on seems pretty hardy but I wouldn’t trust it without some kind of hard backing in your kit. I didn’t have any reservation with the sCharger-5, and it had no problem surviving Afghanistan in just a cargo pocket-sized tactical pouch along with an 11,000mAH USB battery and cables.
By the way, the USB battery is the way to go here. It’s much more efficient to charge it with AC and then sunlight instead of waiting to charge your phone or whatever with the solar panel directly. You might not have sunlight when you need power and after it’s fully charged, you waste the opportunity. More gear isn’t usually the way to go but in this case, it was very useful. I’ve now added a USB inputtable AA battery charger that can also put out 5 volts when charged so I have even more capability and can carry less spare batteries now.
So, how did it perform? It works about like having two sCharger-5′s. In full sunlight, and even small clouds, it had no problem charging my iPhone and iPad simultaneously or my USB battery with either one. If the clouds got a bit heavier, or the shadow from a tree covered up more than about one row of cells on either side, the iPad would kick off charging mode and give an error. The iPhone could handle a little more shade but it soon would kick off too. When back in full sunlight, the iPhone would kick back to charging mode but the iPad occasionally wouldn’t – another reason to charge a battery to charge your device instead of the device directly.
Now the problem here is technically a function of the iPad and iPhone circuits due to not having a high-enough voltage or current (I don’t really know which without doing little research on the circuitry). In a practical sense though, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re caught in a situation without electricity and you’re depending on the sCharger to charge your electronics, you’ll have to keep watching it or you’ll come back later and find that they’re not charged. This isn’t just endemic to the sCharger series; you’ll have this problem with most solar panels unless they’re well over-spec’d for your device.
One thing both of these is missing is a way to hang them. I wish the corners had holes drilled in them that I could clip on a bungee cord to hang them. It would be a simple addition to their manufacturing process. It’s not a big deal if you’re stationary but you can’t charge anything on the move.
The USB output is very handy and flexible for most applications and if you do some searching on Amazon or Google for USB devices, you could come up with a lot of interesting things like lights, fans and drink coolers to run directly from it.
I wish I could find something that was as portable that could put out 12 volts though. I know I’m asking a lot but it would be a LOT more useful. Even if they just pumped these up a couple volts and had a simple way to connect them back to back. Two 7 volt cells in series could give you 14 volts – perfect to charge a small battery for portable comms or even a car battery and you could still charge your 5 volt devices if you tapped into one of them. Of course, I’m now delving onto a different product that I don’t know exists anywhere but it would be a huge improvement. Suntactics tells me they have something in the works that’ll even put out 110vac. We’ll see what that looks like when it comes out.
The big question is, should you buy the sChager-12 as a part of your prepper bugout kit? Well, yes.
I wouldn’t put it in your EDC bag or maybe not even in your 72 hour bag unless you gave it some protection but it might still be ok. For that, I’d opt for the sCharge-5 or even two of them if you really need it. However, for your vehicle kit or at home, the sCharger-12 is the way to go. Having the ability to charge two devices would be immensely helpful if the power were out for several days and you weren’t a loner. During Katrina, there were several stories of people lining up to charge their cell phones from neighbors who had the forethought (i.e. preppers) to have a generator ready for emergencies. With this, you could keep your cell phones and other things charged without bringing so much attention to you, and it doesn’t require gas.
If you’re wanting something a bit more powerful though, check out this freaking sun-tracking solar briefcase rocks! Watch this video…
Don’t just take my word for it about the suntactics charger though. Here’s what the reviewers at Amazon have to say (updated with pageload):