PowerFilm AA + USB Solar Charger Review

powerfilm AA+USB chargerNote: A few months after writing this review, we received reports of reliability issues with this solar panel. We currently can’t recommend any solar panels for bicycle touring. They seem too unreliable.

More and more cyclists are loading down their panniers with electronic gadgets, and all of these high-tech tools require one thing: power.

How to keep all those batteries full? Our top choice is a hub dynamo but that’s an expensive option.

For power on a budget you could also consider a solar panel. Recently we had a chance to test out the PowerFilm AA + USB folding panel (cost: about $80 U.S.).

In the interest of full transparency, we received it from a good friend. Her extended family manufactures these panels. Like always, however, we promised her – and all of you – an honest review.

With that out of the way, we can honestly say that first impressions were good. In a nutshell, this panel:

  • Seems robust
  • Weighs a modest 180 grams
  • Folds up to a fairly small size; just a bit larger than your wallet, at 14cm x 8cm (5.5″ x 3″).
  • Is water resistant, so a small drizzle won’t hurt but you will have to put it away if the rain persists for long
  • Has grommets (small holes) on each end, which make it easy to fasten the solar panel to the back of your bicycle, bags, etc…

PowerFilm USB + AA Charger Test

What Does It Promise?
The PowerFilm website says that this solar panel will fully charge 2 AA batteries in about 4 hours, in full sunlight. The batteries are included, and sit in a box at one end of the panel. You can either:

  • Use the panel to charge the included AA batteries and then use the stored power to recharge your gadgets later, via a USB port on the charging unit (when you’re in the tent at night, for example).
  • Charge your gadgets ‘on the go’ by plugging them into the panel as you’re cycling

Using one of these two methods, PowerFilm says you should be able to charge most micro USB devices, such as mobile phones (including the iPhone) and mp3 players. Even charging the iPad is possible, although PowerFilm recommend their stronger 10 watt foldable charger, the F15-600, if powering an iPad is a priority.

We decided to test it on a bright, sunny weekend.

This is the Alblasserwaard area of the Netherlands

How did it perform?
With the panel strapped on the back, we hit the road around lunchtime. We didn’t cycle much on Saturday, so it was on Sunday – after just under 6 hours of cycling in total – that the indicator light changed colour and told us that the AA batteries were full.

This was a bit more time than the 4 hours promised by PowerFilm but – to be fair – we weren’t in the sun during our entire riding time. Inevitably, you cycle in the shade or stop for a break occasionally.

When we returned home, we plugged our Kindle into the solar panel. The Kindle battery was nearly dead when we plugged it in, and after draining the AA batteries, it was about 1/3 full.

After returning home, we repeated this test by simply setting the solar panel on a sunny windowsill a few times and then transferring the charge to the Kindle, and each time the results were similar: a few hours to charge the AA batteries, and a charge of about 1/3 to the Kindle.

Charging the Kindle with solar power

Normally, at this point, we would have taken the PowerFilm panel out a few times, before writing this review, but on this occasion we have to apologize. A bout of terrible weather and the arrival of baby Luke put a stop to that idea.

Was our test extensive? No. But it did give us the impression that this could be a useful gadget for touring – as long as you don’t expect too much. Don’t plan to fully power a laptop with this solar panel. You could, however, happily keep a camera battery or mobile phone charged with it (weather permitting).

Day 3 - Going solar
Going solar – the Two Wheeled Wanderers used Powerfilm chargers on their trip

Other Experiences With PowerFilm Panels
Since we couldn’t test the PowerFilm charger as much as we’d have liked, we asked a couple other cyclists using PowerFilm solar panels for their opinions.

Tom Allen took a PowerFilm charger along on his bike travels:

I found the PowerFilm 4xAA charger the lightest and quickest charging solution I’ve tried, not to mention being one of the few units that actually works in practice! I found very useful the indicator LEDs to let you know when each pair of batteries is being charged and when it meets capacity. The grommets which allow the unit to be tied down to rack-top bags and the like make it particularly suitable for the cyclist. –Tom Allen

Karen, of the Two Wheeled Wanderers, also has experience with the Powerfilm AA + USB charger. In this case, the review is less positive. At first, she found it worked very well. After a few months of solid touring, however, her panel stopped working. Karen has written to Powerfilm about this experience but hasn’t received a reply.

Have you ever tried a solar panel for touring? Leave a comment and share your experience.

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  1. Thomas
    19th March 2012 at 11:17 am #

    For the past four months I’ve been using this solarp anel and have been very pleased with it. Although a couple of days ago it suddenly stopped working.

    Still waiting for a response from PowerFilm, I’ll update here should I receive a response.

    • Thomas
      2nd May 2012 at 5:16 am #

      Got it replaced for free, thanks PowerFilm!

  2. Doug W.
    10th April 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Was just looking into the Solar Joos charger last night and it looks like a really good option. Another is the new design on the Solio Bolt. I haven’t had any experience at all with these yet, but one thing that may steer me towards the Solar Joos is its ability to directly charge a GPS or smartphone without having to first charge the internal batteries.

  3. Ken Rowan
    25th April 2012 at 12:16 am #

    Nice review thanks. It would certainly brighten up my tour.

  4. Kevin
    25th April 2012 at 7:45 am #

    Good review and the price seems reasonable.

  5. Rustum
    25th April 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    I use an iPhone with memory map for biking outings but the drain on the battery from continuing gps use can empty the battery before the day is out so a solar panel on the back of the bike sounds like a good solution.

  6. Zac
    26th April 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I have a SolarGorilla/PowerGorilla combo but after some testing I have decided not to take the SolarGorilla on my world cycle. This is partly because of weight (neither are particularly light) but mainly because the PowerGorilla (basically the battery that the SolarGorilla panels charge) is an absolute monster! I can charge it from the mains (empty to full overnight no problems) once a week and easily have enough juice to charge my GPS, iPod, phone, camera, batteries and even my laptop for an hour every night! Because I think I can almost certainly find a mains socket once a week (I may get the SolarGorilla sent to me for the Pamirs/Taklamakan where things are a bit more scarce) I’m 90% sure the PowerGorilla will do the trick. It really is something.

  7. lucio
    26th April 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Beautiful. Where i can find this accessories on web?

    5th May 2012 at 8:44 am #

    I just purchased the 10 watt version of the Powerfilm solar panel (folding). It looks like a nice product; installing it this weekend, I’ll keep you posted. Plan on powering an IPAD2, IPOD, and GARMIN 705 Edge during my small Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket trip this summer (2012).

  9. Adam Rice
    9th July 2012 at 3:13 am #

    I used one of these on a tour a couple years back. Worked fine for about 20 days, then died.

  10. Keith Spangler
    18th July 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I just completed a nine-day bicycle tour of Rhode Islan, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and used the PowerFilm 10 watt solar panel to charge my cell, Garmin GPS and Ipod. Great performance too. Charged the GPS while I road, charged the other items at rest stops. I’d just hang the panel on my bile. I’ll post pics soon.

  11. leozouch
    10th October 2012 at 7:25 am #

    Plan on powering an IPAD2, IPOD, and GARMIN 705 Edge during my small Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket trip this summer (2012).

  12. phillip
    10th October 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    I can almost certainly find a mains socket once a week (I may get the SolarGorilla sent to me for the Pamirs/Taklamakan where things are a bit more scarce) I’m 90% sure the PowerGorilla will do the trick. It really is something.

  13. Immigration Solicitor Graves end
    17th March 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one today.

  14. Ivo
    27th March 2014 at 10:53 am #

    I bought already two solar charges from Walmart from different companies. After few days neither one was working.I think is waist of money

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