A few days ago, LIPOWER sent us one of its PA300 power stations for review. Like many other power stations in its size and price range, it can put out a maximum of 300 watts, but it comes with a very different value proposition than most power stations and solar generators. There are things it’s short on, but other things that it’s ahead of the competition on. In this article, I’m going to go through the pros and the cons, compare it to the competition, and let readers decide what works best for them.
What’s Different (Neither Good Nor Bad) About The PA300
Every power station I’ve reviewed so far has had the plugs in the front of the unit. Instead, this one has all of its plugs off to the sides. The AC and DC output plugs are on one side, and the DC input plug is on the other end with an air intake for its cooling system. The front of the unit has a display and two buttons, while the rear of the display has an LED lantern.
Appearance-wise, it’s different from most other power stations. The blue or yellow-clad exterior looks like something you’d pick up at an auto parts store instead of looking more like a modern appliance of some kind. Personally, I think it looks cheap, but I can’t figure out why, because it seems rugged enough and isn’t really worse than the other stations I’ve reviewed.
One downside that contributes to this feeling is that it has a very basic display. There’s no battery percentage, no indicator of how many watts you’re using, or any other way to figure out how much longer the device would last if you were using it for something. It works kind of like an older automotive gauge cluster, where different things can light up instead of having a digital display. It gives you a rough idea of how much battery is left, and what is being used, so it’s still enough to work with if you only need basic information.
However, if you don’t need or want the advanced features that many of the other units come with, you can save $50-75 by buying this one. So, considering the price range, it’s not bad.
What’s Good About This Unit
There are a few features that this unit comes with that most 300 watt units don’t.
First off, it has a fairly nice lantern on the back side. It’s not a tiny work light or a small panel. It’s a fairly large array of well-diffused LED bulbs that gives reasonably soft light and doesn’t blind you. It wouldn’t make a good flashlight, but it would work great for lighting up a room or desk. It’s a small touch, but since many people are buying these for emergencies, efficient and useful emergency lighting is important and worth considering.
Another thing that it has going for it is that it has the power input (for solar, car, or wall-outlet power) on the opposite end of the unit from the outputs. This makes it easier to face the plugs in the right direction on a desk or at a campsite. This is a small touch that I’ve seen on a couple of other power units, but having it on the sides makes it easier to see the display (for what that’s worth).
Some Downsides to the PA300 Power Station
It has a 45-watt USB-C PD per the specifications, but when I tried to charge my Dell XPS 13, it wouldn’t charge it from the unit’s USB-C port. Other things, like tablets and smartphones did OK, as well as a Chromebook, but it doesn’t seem to like larger laptops like mine.
Another minor issue that doesn’t really hurt most buyers is that the 12-volt voltage is a little lower than other units I’ve tested. When monitoring, I was getting above 12 volts on my radio, but it would pull down below 12 volts when transmitting, which limits transmit power a bit. For most devices you’d plug into the 12-volt plug, this won’t be an issue at all, as most 12 volt electronics can go as low as 10-11 volts.
No RF Interference That I Could See
One thing I like to do with power stations is see if they’ll work as a power supply for low-power (or “QRP”) amateur radio. Using an adapter from a cigarette-lighter style plug to run my radio gear, I not only get to test the 12 volt circuit, but also make sure the unit isn’t putting off nasty RF that interferes with radio. Like every other unit I’ve tested, this one did just fine.
This doesn’t have anything to do with the power unit, but with solar activity on the rise, I was able to make some pretty decent contacts around the Americas and into Asia a bit this evening. As I’ve pointed out before, you can get a lot of good out of just a few watts of power with modern computing power. If you’re looking into using a power box like this one or the many others we’ve reviewed, definitely consider emergency communications, too.
Overall Verdict of the PA300 Power Station
At first glance, this unit lacks the features that others tend to come with, but getting it for $50-75 less makes a difference. If you’re a casual user who doesn’t need to know how much time you’ve got left or how much power the unit is putting out, it’s probably a worthwhile tradeoff. At the same time, though, you can get some pretty nice light out of the lantern, so it’s good for many people who want it for emergencies.
All images by Jennifer Sensiba.
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