Here at CleanTechnica, we’ve tested a number of power stations, including almost everything Jackery has to offer. You’d think that once you’ve tested a wide variety of solar power stations, you’ve tested them all, but what I’ve found with this most recent review is that power stations and solar generators are like wrenches. Sure, a big wrench can solve a lot of problems. An even bigger wrench might even be useful for the repair of spacecraft (because, as fans of Armageddon know, all of the components are made in Taiwan). But, sometimes a big wrench isn’t the right tool for the job. This is where the real value of the Jackery Explorer 500 comes in.
The Right Tool For The Job
Before they sent me the Explorer 500, I had three Jackery power stations (they’re solar generators if you add a solar panel, so I use the term interchangeably).
On the small end, I have the Explorer 300. It’s not a powerful station by any means (maximum 300 watts output, and almost 300 watt-hours), but its main advantage is that it’s small and light. I can reasonably keep it in a backpack with a small folding solar panel to carry almost anywhere and have some electrical power. So, it’s not to big and it’s not too tough, but it’s got the right stuff if you are efficient with your electrical needs. It turns out, you can do a lot with just a little power.
On the medium end, I have the Explorer 1000. I ended up having my brother, who camps a lot, help me out with testing that one long-term. It can do a lot more than the Explorer 300, but it’s quite a big bigger and heavier. It’s great for doing more things when you’re away from the grid (or the grid is down), though. He and his wife have gotten a lot of good out of it, which I’ll share more about in future articles.
Finally, there’s the Explorer 1500. It’s big, it’s heavy, and it’s tough to move. You couldn’t hike with it unless you used a frame backpack and all you were carrying was it and a couple of solar panels, so someone else had better have things like food, water, and a tent. It’s very useful, and can power most household appliances (as long as you don’t need to use them for hours on end). I was able to use it to microwave food, run the refrigerator, and even power a small air conditioner during a power outage. So, it has strengths and weaknesses.
You’ll probably notice a big gap in capability in the above list. When you have stations good for roughly 300, 1000, and 1500 watts, there’s a big gap between 300 and 1000. For some jobs, the little 300 watt station isn’t strong or long-lasting enough. But, for some of those jobs, the 1000 is just too big and heavy.
So, the Explorer 500 was a welcome addition to the collection.
More Useful For Capacity Than Brute Strength
I usually like to test power stations with both low-power loads and things that push the unit to the limits. This proved fairly difficult for the 500, as there are few household appliances that max out in that range and the few that do demand a lot more power for the first few milliseconds. My desktop rendering and photo editing computer is definitely within the limits of the Explorer 500, but it couldn’t handle the initial load when the power button is first pressed, so it cut off. The same was true for a small air conditioner that only pulls 450 watts. Those borderline loads were just too much for it.
What the Explorer 500 is more useful for is long battery life at lower loads. I had no problem using it to charge an e-bike battery, power my laptop computers, run a compact fluorescent black light bulb I use to check animals for fungal infections, and many other small things. The extra 200 watt-hours of battery capacity means that it will run for longer on a charge, and be more useful during the day. Add a solar panel (my Explorer 500 came with one, but you can buy it with or without one), and you can get away with a lot more off-grid work.
It also does a great job for tiny loads. I did my usual testing with amateur radio gear. At no point did it ever put out less than 12 volts, and it didn’t produce any nasty RF emissions like some cheap electronics manufactured overseas do. I did my usual “how far can I get on 4 watts” test, and managed to get all around North America (to be clear: the radio’s range was not affected by what power station I use — it’s based mostly on space weather). I had a good time, and the Explorer 500 could have done this for days.
The only thing I found myself missing was USB-C PD. Having a good USB-C port that can power laptops and tablets means there’s one thing fewer to pack. It also helps to have fewer loss losses, as keeping the power DC means less loss to waste heat. But, it did just fine powering my laptops with their normal AC cords.
What It Came With
Like all Jackery power stations, the Explorer 500 comes with an AC charging cord, as well as a car charging cord for adventures and work away from home. It also comes with a pouch for these cords. If you purchase one with a solar panel, you get the SolarSaga 100, which we’ve reviewed in our other Jackery solar generator reviews. It has a built-in cable to charge the power station, and its own in-built storage pouch.
If you don’t need a lot of juice, but you need a good bit of battery life, the Explorer 500 is the ticket. It’s not as small and light as the Explorer 300, of course. But, we don’t always need the most power or the smallest size. This power unit is a good compromise between size and capability for people whose needs it covers.
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