The Jackery Solar Generator 500 promises to keep all your gadgets and devices juiced up at all times, using just the power of the sun. Solar chargers for the outdoors used to be a miserable business; heavy, poor power output and useless, tiny solar panels coupled with UK weather made the whole affair relatively pointless. Luckily, times have changed, and today's best solar chargers boast vastly improved lightweight battery packs, enormously better-performing solar panels, and convenient, all-in-one setups. Can this Jackery model compete? I put one to the test to see. Here's my Jackery Solar Generator 500 review.
Jackery Solar Generator 500 review: design and build
The Jackery Solar Generator 500 consists of two key parts: a solar panel and a shoebox-sized battery pack unit. My review model also came with a natty insulated carry case and a beefy mains-DC adaptor to charge the battery pack from the wall. The build quality is very good throughout, the only minor gripe a slight hollow plastic-iness to the handle area of the 518Wh (21.6V, 24Ah) Li-ion NMC cell battery pack.
Aside from the inbuilt handle, the Jackery has a DC input, a display, and three blocks of output plugs: a trio of DC outputs, one like a car cigarette lighter socket, a trio of USB A ports, and a single UK 240V wall socket plug. A slightly incongruous addition is the small torch built into the end, which is fine, but not particularly useful in most situations as it’s part of a 6KG lump (really, if you want light on your trip, it's not going to replace your handheld torch or camping lantern).
The second major part of the package is the solar panel, in this case a 100W number, 24 x 21 x 1.4 in (610 x 535 x 35 mm) folded. The panel is entirely stiff, hinging in the middle when you pull the handles apart. Magnets keep the two parts latched together when not in use. On the back of the panels are a zipped pocket and two folding legs, which prop the opened panels up at a roughly 45 degree angle.
The panels are quick to set up; just pull apart, flip out the legs and connect the charge cable to the main battery body, while the zip pocket holds a dc output cable, and also contains the direct ports (one USB a, one USB C), which can be used to charge devices directly from the sun. Weirdly, the manual avoids mentioning this, but rest assured, you can (I did, anyway).
Jackery Solar Generator 500 review: performance
Even in the murky depths of the UK spring, when I did my testing, performance from the Jackery Solar Generator 500 is pretty impressive. The 100W panels kick out a decent charge, to the point that during initial testing with a smartphone and an action camera, all batteries hit 100% and we had to go off and find other devices to charge. In overcast conditions we got 10-15 Watts from the panels, and in actual sunlight considerably more, although never the full 100W, unsurprisingly.
As the above photo shows, even without the main Jackery battery pack, the solar panel alone is enough to charge a smartphone – not at PD speeds, but perfectly competently, pulling around 1.5amps, and just under 8 Watts into a venerable Google Pixel 5. A Macbook managed to easily max out the USB C port, pulling 2.96A of a possible 3, winding up to 13 Watts – not enough for a fast charge, but plenty to trickle-charge in a predicted 7 hours from 50%. Admittedly, the orange port on the rear of the panel did get quite hot thanks to this abuse, but not hot enough to cause damage.
Obviously if you want fast, the main battery pack comes into play, kicking out way more juice than most portable devices need. A 500W capacity with a 1000W surge peak is enough to run a huge range of appliances, from fridges to TVs, amps and speakers, to fans on hot days. It’s not quite enough to run DIY tools direct, or super-high demand things like fan heaters, but smaller home devices should be fine. The display on the main pack is simple, but easy to understand, and the pack retains the charge well too, not dropping after a couple of weeks of storage.
Jackery Solar Generator 500 review: verdict
Now to the important bit of my Jackery Solar Generator 500 review: is it any good? The first obvious thing to point out is that this isn’t a very portable setup; the battery pack weighs just over 6KG, and the panel a shade under 5KG. It's certainly possible to carry, but not very far, so perfect for car-camping or van-life adventures, especially more irregular ones, or where you’re using a trailer rather than a dedicated campervan, which would probably have solar panels anyway. (If you can sacrifice the solar part, you'll find plenty more portable options, in T3's best power bank guide.)
As a super-cheap solar system for a van there’s real value here (formal panels and inverters add up fast), and for basecamp or off-grid devotees this is a usable amount of power that could be carried into a remote location – albeit not casually. For all those home workers who couldn’t be bothered to run power to their writing shed, the Jackery Solar Generator 500 would be a perfect, low hassle solution. The only major problem with all this is that the solar panel isn’t really waterproof, so it needs rescuing when rain arrives (which is pretty often in the UK).
Overall, as long as you’re happy to stash it when rain comes, this is a top-notch product and a bit of an outdoor power game changer, but only in the right circumstances.