There are many things the UK is renowned for: The Beatles, fry-ups, making an arse of ourselves on the international stage. One thing we’re not renowned for is endless hours of sun in February. So when Jackery offered to send me the Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro power station and a couple of solar panels for review this month, it felt like the bravest decision since Glenn Hoddle told Gazza he wasn’t coming to the World Cup in a hotel room containing lots of smashable items.
The Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro portable power station has just been brought to the UK, and we have one of the first review units in the country. It’s a mobile power bank stuffed with enormous batteries, capable of powering anything from the mini-fridge and mobile phones on a camping trip, to your office equipment during a power cut.
It can be bought as a standalone unit for £1,499 or with a SolarSaga 200W solar panel, in a package called the Jackery Solar Generator 1500 Pro, for £2,099. I’m going to review them separately here, not least because I have my doubts over solar charging in cloud-strewn Britain.
Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro review
Let’s start with the Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro, a portable power unit containing around 1,500 Watt hours of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
The first thing to say is you don’t have to recharge this device from the solar panels. The Explorer 1500 Pro can also be fully charged from the mains in around two hours, and that’s definitely the quickest way to get those batteries topped up. (We’ll come to solar charge times in the SolarSaga 200W review below).
The other thing to mention right out of the gate is this thing is chunky and heavy. It’s about the size of a cool box you’d take on a family picnic and it weighs a portly 17kg. If you consider the luggage allowance on most airlines is around 20kg, you’re talking about a device that weighs about as much as a fully packed suitcase. This is not something you want to be lugging around on foot for any length of time.
The front of the Explorer 1500 Pro contains all of the output sockets for charging various devices. There are two three-point plug sockets, with a maximum output of 1,800W – powerful enough for devices such as power tools or portable heaters. There are two USB-C sockets that can output 100W, enough for power-hungry laptops such as the 16in MacBook Pro, as well as two USB-A sockets that churn out up to 18W – plenty for most phones, tablets etc.
Also on the front, there’s a “car port”, which allows you to charge the batteries from a cigarette lighter socket. Jackery recommends you only do this when the engine is running to prevent cratering your car battery. It also takes 16.5 hours to fully recharge the batteries from the car port, so I’d consider this an emergency-only option.
Finally, there’s a searingly bright light on the front that could come in handy if you’re fumbling around in the dark on location.
Actually, there’s one last thing on the front and that’s the super-useful LCD screen. This tells you the current level of battery charge, as well as how long you’ve got left in the cells at the current rate of output, and how long it will take to fully recharge the batteries at the current rate of input.
The whole thing is brilliantly designed. Whether you’re planning to take it out for remote power on camping trips or outdoor work jaunts, or to use it as home as an emergency backup for power failure, it’s got what you need. I’ve been running all my office equipment from it – MacBook Pro laptop, 28in monitor, desk lamps, various peripherals – during testing and it’s worked flawlessly. Although there are fans fitted inside the Explorer 1500 Pro to prevent the batteries overheating, they’ve never risen above a gentle whirr in my tests, albeit in chilly February,
The Explorer 1500 Pro could keep all those items powered for more than 24 hours, which should be plenty enough to see through all but the most severe of power cuts. If you’re in a region where the power frequently goes out, it would be a superb fallback option, which is easy to store away when not in use.
Jackery SolarSaga 200W review
Of course, we’re bang in the middle of a power crisis and keeping the Explorer 1500 Pro fully charged is going to inflict more damage on the electricity bill. But for £600 extra, you can add a SolarSaga 200W solar panel to the package, giving you a free source of energy. Is it worth it?
First, let’s explore the practicalities. In perfect conditions, that single 200W panel would take 9.5 hours to fully recharge the Explorer 1500 Pro. Of course, during a British winter, you’ve got more chance of seeing Michael Jackson moonwalking down your high street than you have 9.5 hours of sun, so how realistic is it to rely on solar power?
The first thing to note here is that it’s critical to angle the solar panels correctly. The first couple of times I used the panels, I laid them flat on the floor, and that resulted in only around 50-70W of input in bright sunlight. However, when I used the legs on the back of the panel to angle them at around 45 degrees, output shot up to around 150W. That’s around three times the power I need for my office equipment, for perspective, and would fully recharge the battery in around 12 hours.
When the clouds come over, input drops considerably. You’re looking at no more than 20 or 30W, and that means you can start counting full recharge times in days, rather than hours.
The solar panels are superbly built. They fold down easily, and come in a smart zip-up carry case that includes a pouch for the cable. They weigh 8kg each, though, and even when folded down they’re not small (540 x 615 x 40mm). You can combine multiple solar panels – Jackery actually sent me two for testing – but of course that comes at added cost, and you’ll need a fair bit of space to fan them out. With two panels, it took up around half the space on my modestly-sized garden patio.
Overall, I love the idea of the solar panels, but with the unpredictably of the British weather, I find it hard to make a strong economic or practical case for them. On sun-filled summer days, you may well find they can fully replenish the battery. In typical British weather, however, the input is going to be limited, and having to rotate panels to keep them in/facing the sun adds to the hassle factor.
Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro verdict: solar or no solar?
There’s no doubt the Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro is an expensive piece of kit, and unless you’re regularly camping or working outdoors and in need of power, it’s hard to justify the expense. If you do fit into those categories, however, I would strongly recommend it. It’s well built, easy to use, can power even demanding appliances for several hours, and removes one of the great inconveniences of life outdoors. It even makes a great backup power solution for the home/home office, but unless you’re regularly suffering from power outages, it’s well into luxury territory.
As for the SolarSaga 200W panels… I really wish I could recommend them. Alas, they just fail the practicality test in the UK. Even accounting for the fact I’m testing in the back end of winter, a single panel takes the best part of a day to fully recharge the unit in perfect conditions. Even in the height of British summer, I think you’d do well to rely on them as the sole means of charging the Explorer 1500. At £600 extra per panel, there’s no real economic case for buying them either. (Even at today’s prices, it costs less than £1 to fully charge the Explorer Pro.)
If you’re out in the wilderness with no other power options, they might fit the bill, but otherwise they’re agonisingly hard to endorse.
Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro
Build quality and design
Value for money
Jackery Explorer 1500 Pro verdict
A superbly equipped portable power bank that’s as well equipped for a camping trip as it is providing home office power backups
- Huge 1,500Wh capacity
- Good selection of ports/sockets
- LCD display provides accurate guidance on how long batteries will last
- It’s an expensive piece of kit unless you’re often outdoors
- Optional solar panels fall just short for practicality