CleanTechnica “Sneak Peak” Review: Portable Solar Charger Three-Way From Solpro

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We like to keep it clean over here at CleanTechnica, so when we say three-way, we mean three solar panels that fold into a portable solar charger for your smartphones and tablets. The folks at Solpro sent us one of their new Helios Smart three-panel solar chargers to try out in advance of the official release date (which was a few seconds ago), and as we always do with our solar product reviews, we put it through the acid test.

Helios Smart portable solar charger from Solpro

An Acid Test For Portable Solar Chargers

Helios Smart is the next-generation version of the Helios portable solar charger (we’ll get to the smart part in a minute). Solpro advises that the optimal condition for charging up the Helios Smart is outdoors in direct sunlight, but that doesn’t quite describe conditions in the US northeast this winter, which is where we are.

We were still in the dead of winter when our Helios Smart arrived, sunlight was in short supply, and in any case, our house doesn’t get more than a few of hours of direct sun in any one spot, indoors or out.

So, after waiting a couple of weeks to get a glimpse of the sun, one rare afternoon it actually came out and we put our Helios Smart indoors by the “best” window (about two hours of direct sun if we’re lucky). Also, we forgot to lift the window screen up and we’re not going to even tell you when was the last time that window got washed, so there’s that.

With all that working against the Helios Smart, we took a phone that had run down to red, plugged it in, and within a few minutes it charged to green.

That looked pretty good, so we went out to run some errands and returned after a couple of hours, to find that the sun had long since moved away from the window and one of the cats had knocked the Helios over so the panels were shut, but somehow the phone still got a 100% charge.

Then we wanted to test it on a tablet, so after a few more days of waiting for the sun to shine again, we gave up and put the Helios Smart back in the window. Even in sub-suboptimal conditions (cloudy day, dirty window, direct sun for only a couple of hours), the Helios picked up enough solar energy to give our tablet an extra boost when we plugged it in.

So, if you want a portable solar charger but you’re unsure of your solar conditions, go ahead and give it a whirl. We’ve tested a number of solar chargers this way and we’ve never been disappointed. Even in suboptimal conditions, you can still get enough performance to make it worth your while.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind where your day takes you. Our day job takes us to an office that gets even less sun than our house, but if your daily routine takes you to a good solar opportunity, then you don’t have to depend on solar conditions at home.

Helios incorporates a rather generously sized battery, so if you really need to charge up and the sun is temporarily doing something else, you can charge it from your wall socket, or from another USB device.

More Functions For Your Portable Solar Charger

One thing that we’ve come to appreciate about portable solar chargers is the variety you can get in looks and function, and the Helios does a great job on both counts.

The three panels fold up briskly into a compact unit around the size of a smart phone, which makes the Helios easy to pack along with your other devices.

Since the Helios is designed to pack a big punch, they’ve also incorporated two USB output ports, one of which is for smartphones and other small devices such as headsets and fitness trackers. The other is for tablets.

Here’s where the smart part comes in. You can use both ports at once, and Helios will still recognize and charge the smaller device (apparently that doesn’t always happen with not-so-smart multi-port chargers). Solpro also wants you to know that, when charging from an electrical outlet, if the current is too small for efficient dual charging, Helios will adjust itself to charge your two devices one at a time.

You can get the Helios on Amazon starting March 15. Let us know how you like it.

Meanwhile, let’s note that the age of portable solar chargers is just beginning. Aside from numerous hand-sized portable solar devices on the market (solar flashlights are one of our faves), the US Marines are pushing the envelope on suitcase-sized transportable solar arrays, and you can even get a “portable” solar charger for your electric vehicle.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3150 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

6 thoughts on “CleanTechnica “Sneak Peak” Review: Portable Solar Charger Three-Way From Solpro

  • Does it have a built in battery? Was that already charged up when you plugged in the phone? I’m curious what the actual “hours of sunlight to charge the onboard battery” is. Is it durable? I wouldn’t mind giving it a spin in the california sunshine and really putting it to the test (hint, hint :D)

    • This is a rather curious and uninformative “review” . . . nothing in the way of electronic and physical specifications or price. No photos of the unit unfolded to show the PV panels, just one of it folded up for travel. Fortunately, there’s a couple of links to the manufacturer’s web site in the first sentence of the second paragraph.

      Yes, according to the manufacturer’s web site, the Helios Solpro has a built in 4500mAh battery pack and it’s got 3 panels that are electronically tied together in a folding portfolio to yield a total of 4.86W. This alone will probably tell you more about potential performance than the “test” described in this article. Here’s a picture I found online showing the unit unfolded . . .×620.jpg

      Street price of the Helios Solpro appears to be around $150.

      My concern about some of these portable PV/battery units is that many have lithium ion batteries enclosed directly underneath the panel or one of the panels, as the Solpro does, and what can happen to it under many real world scenarios.

      There’s probably nothing to worry about in the snowy northeast US on
      a freezing cold day, behind a filthy windowpane that gets two hours of sunlight with the shade pulled down. You know . . . Tina’s “acid test.”
      I’m surprised she didn’t simply put it inside an unlit closet and declare
      the panel “miraculous,” forgetting that it was the charged battery that
      did all the charging on her phone.

      No, what’s going to be the potential downfall of a unit like this is putting it outside in real heat and sunlight, only to watch both the panel’s and battery’s efficiency drop drastically and, after that, have the heated lithium batteries potentially catch fire.

      I’m putting together a small PV/battery unit around a 17W panel and a battery roughly in the 20Ah range. Battery and panel will be separated
      for both operational efficiency and safety reasons. Less portable, yes,
      but probably far more useful and certainly able to handle real heat.

      • Thank you! This is extremely helpful information as my brain was not fully functioning when I initially read through the review and your post filled in the gaps I noticed after re-reading. That feels very expensive for the panels/battery sizes included. I’m looking for a more robust solar charger/battery combo like this for a trip to guatemala in July but this doesnt feel like the best fit. Neat to see energy being poured into this segment though 🙂

        • You’re welcome, Kyle. I had my eyes on another unit like this one until recently, a Kickstarter item called the
          Solartab . . .

          Price, now $109 and down from $149, looks good, as does the styling (matches an iPad) and it has a rather generous 12000mAh battery built in (almost 3 times larger in capacity than the one built into the Solpro.)
          The Solartab’s 5W panel is said to be genuine monocrystalline and I’m guess the Solpro’s is a less efficient flexible one.

          I actually found out about the Solartab in a CleanTechnica article and felt some enthusiasm for it for a while. Perhaps it was a particularly hot summer here in Arizona, though, that had me beginning to question the logic of that big of a battery pack being placed right behind the panel and how well (or not well) it would do down here during the hottest months. Also . . . they promised to start shipping these things last October and it was only recently that I checked back to note – 5 months later – that they STILL have them on perpetual preorder status. Hmmm . . .

          So, I now have my sights set on systems made by
          Voltaic . . .

          I actually think the stuff they make built into backpacks or luggage is kind of pointless, unless you can always guarantee you’ll be hiking downhill with the sun to your back. Far more practical is their stand alone panels and battery units . . . and, yes, built as separate entities. That 6W panel with 4000kWh battery solar kit for $99 looks good. Monocrystalline panels with Voltaic as well. Beyond a $50 saving over the Solpro, what’s different is that the panel can sit in the hot sunlight and the battery in the cool shade.

          I’ve recently ordered Voltaic’s largest 17W panel for $149. Should be arriving on my doorstep early next week. If I like what I see, I will get their matching big 20000mAh battery for $129 next month. Like being able to physically separate the panel from the battery, it’s also nice to be able to separately purchase the components to spread out the financial commitment.

  • I’m curious on the efficiencies of these devices.

  • I kept waiting for an explanation of the “sneak peak” in the headline. Something about peaking power, or using the device on a mountaintop, or something, but it just never showed up. Maybe it was edited out, along with the useful photos and technical specs?

Comments are closed.