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Hands-on Gear Review
Levin Dual USB Port 6000mAh Panel Review
Cons: Glitchy, unpredictable, weak solar charging
The Levin integrated solar panel and battery charger was the most affordable in our lineup, but it did not stack up against the competition. We uncovered several flaws and shortcomings despite its periodic moments of glory. Though it appears similar to other products in the popular subcategory of pocket-sized integrated solar panel/battery packs, it performs behind the curve. In the end, unpredictability marred its repuation in a competitive field, and the two USB ports capped at 1 amp just didn't seem modern enough for our reviewers.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
This is a solar panel with an integrated battery but has 2 ports with not much output power for modern devices.
The Levin battery holds a little more charge than the Creative Edge Solar-5+ and the SunFerno Flintstone, but the wattage is lowest on this panel (though online Levin claims the panel is 1.2W, the math, 5V*.2A from the stamp on the back of the device, says it should be 1W). Both battery and panel differences were minute enough to be hard to notice, but it did win in our side-by-side solar testing. The Levin's battery registered 3 of 4 LEDs after 12 hours in full sun.
The information stamped on the back of the Levin charger implies that each USB port would give 1 amp of current, but online the max current of the device is reported to be 2.1 amps. We found that it was able to charge an iPad, which functions better with 2 amps of current available--but the Levin did charge the tablet very slowly. Then, when we plugged a tablet and a smartphone in at the same time, the phone charged normally while the tablet charged very, very slowly--but it did gain a few percentage points. It seemed that each port did indeed provide 1 amp of current whether or not two devices were plugged in, and the dual charging would thus simply deplete the battery sooner rather than making the two devices compete for amperage (i.e. the tablet didn't just commandeer all the amperage of the device, it remained 2 amps total, evenly split between the two ports).
When fully charged, the Levin battery would charge an iPad about 40% in under 4 hours. This was a little weaker than the very similar SunFerno Flintstone. From a wall outlet, the Levin would charge up in 7-8 hours, which is a little longer than the SunFerno or the Creative Edge Solar-5+, but it also has a slightly higher capacity battery. Our concern here is why the SunFerno, which has a lower capacity battery, would charge our iPads 10-15% more in roughly the same amount of time. One strike against the Levin. But at 1/3 (or less!) the price of other similar devices, you get what you pay for
Ease of Use
One of the flexible USB port covers fit poorly enough that it often would pop open. This meant the left port was exposed to more dirt and damage when we clipped it to our tents or backpacks to charge in the sunlight.
We also found that the device could be unpredictable. In one backpacking field test, it charged sporadically and unpredictably, and never recharged at all from the sun. In other tests, it competed well. Overall, it proved to be unpredictable and unreliable, and not user-friendly.
The Levin charger has a carabiner clipping hole centered in the top of the device, which is much easier to clip to a backpack or tent and lays flat and centered wherever you place it, a much nicer design than the off-centered hole of the SunFerno Flintstone.
The Levin solar charger is among the lightest devices in this review, and on par with the other similar chargers, the Creative Edge and the SunFerno Flintstone. It is a couple of ounces lighter than the Poweradd Apollo 3, but not as rugged, dependable, or durable.
The Levin solar charger is not a powerful solar panel or a powerful battery. It is useful as a backup power source, and will likely be able to revive your phone from the dead in order to make a quick call, we think. But the unpredictable performance of the Levin in our reviews and the weaker performance of the battery makes us hesitant to recommend it even for the narrow range of use it is intended for: emergency phone juice.
Like the Poweradd Apollo 3, the Creative Edge Solar-5+ and the SunFerno Flintstone, the Levin solar charger is highly portable. It is the size of a smartphone and easy to throw in your backpack, car, duffel, or pocket. Plus, it has a handy carabiner that attaches to a reinforced hole in the top of the charger. The setup on the Levin device is much better than the Flintstone which, in an attempt to look cooler or be unique or something, offset this carabiner hole and unfortunately made the carabiner difficult to clip through and wonky and cockeyed when you try to clip it and lay it flat on top of a pack or tent.
The emergency solar panel concept is one that amused our reviewers. What good is a solar panel that is designated for "emergency use only" if your emergency happens at night or in cloudy weather, and your battery on the Levin is already drained or wouldn't recharge?
The Levin is the most affordable in our review, however, so in the inherently frustrating subcategory of integrated solar/battery chargers, perhaps this is the one to try. At least it's not an investment! We still think most people would be better served by a folding panel and a separate external battery.
Overall, our reviewers were not impressed with the Levin charger, largely for its unpredictable behavior and glitches. Sometimes it would perform well, and other times it would not. It also feels a little antiquated with two ports limited to 1 amp of current--this limits the range of devices it can realistically charge.
Other Versions and Accessories
Micro-USB to USB cord (with iPhone 4 adapter)
— Lyra Pierotti
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Most recent review: January 30, 2016
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