In a perfect world, me getting away from it all would mean just that — no agendas, no schedules, no responsibilities, no phones, no need to make images or take notes. Heck, in my idea of a perfect world there wouldn’t be anything to get away from. Because everything would be perfect.
But I don’t live in a perfect world so concessions must be made. And because I make the bulk of my income by selling images and words about my varying degrees of “getting away from it all,” making images and taking notes is part of the deal. In order to play for a living I must carefully document my play. But then is it really play? The philosophical knots of my existence are never ending and insolvable.
Back to the images and notes bit, though, one of the bigger issues I’ve had with these responsibilities is the need for power to manufacture my images and words while I’m out there. This is 2022 and I’m no Luddite. I’m not sketching and scribbling with a No. 2 on a notepad. I’m creating those images with a digital camera and typing those words with fingers on a laptop and thumbs on my phone so I can easily copy and paste them into a digital document and (hopefully) sell them somewhere.
The problem is that unlike paper and pencils, cameras and laptops and phones always seem to run dry at the most inopportune times. I’ve also got to ration the power in case something comes up that I don’t want to miss. And it’s a well-known law of the universe that conserving your whatever for the possibility of something better down the road is exactly what greases up those golden opportunities that slip through your fingers.
Modern solutions for modern problems abound, though, and I may have found the fix for my particular problem in the Shell Portable Power Station.
WHAT IT IS
Let’s start with some clarification. Shell does not manufacture this 500-watt/583-watt-hour portable power station (SPS500). It’s actually a product of Ten Pao International, an official Shell Licensee. The SPS500 is a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery with 10 ports for recharging all of your other various rechargeable electric doodads such as phones, cameras, and laptops as well as continuously powering appliances like small refrigerators, CPAP machines, TVs, or what have you. The SPS 500 package comes with one 110-volt adaptor, one 12-volt car charging cable, and a waterproof storage bag.
Power for everything
So far, the little 15-pound cuboid has done everything for me that it claimed it could. It has 10 charging ports — two three-prong AC outlets (with dust covers), two DC outlets, three USB-A ports, one USB-C port, one car socket port, and a wireless charging platform sitting on top. And Ten Pao says you can use all 10 ports simultaneously. I can’t wrap my head around any circumstances that would warrant such action but, if you had to, you could.
And according to my testing, the powering output lines up accurately with product claims. Those claims are 42-hour power for a mini-fridge, 44 charges for your mobile phone, 10 charges for a laptop, and a little more than 10 hours of continuous TV viewing (which sounds gross). My own testing says that charging my iPhone sitting at 27 percent sucked about two percent of the battery's juice to reach full charge. My laptop charge started with a battery at 32 percent and the charger at 90. I reached a 72 percent charge in about an hour and the SPS500 still had 84 percent of its mojo left. Real-world workings tend to vary from laboratory numbers, and I can live with any small discrepancy here.
The owner's manual says that the SPS500 can be recharged from 0 to 80 percent in a little more than three hours with the AC adaptor and your own extra 65W USB-C PD together. It can also be charged on-the-go with the included car charger. In my experience, simply plugging it in the wall socket takes about eight hours for a full charge. But what riveted my attention on the SPS500 is that it can be solar charged with a compatible 100W solar panel, which you can get bundled with the SPS500 right here. My experience with solar panel charging took a little more than eight hours for a full charge over a couple of mostly bright clear days. Solar panel efficiency can vary with cloud cover, but newer-generation panels can still suck some of that sweet sun juice from the sky even under less-than-optimal conditions.
Durability on the Inside
Ten Pao claims that our S-Protech Battery Management System in the SPS500 controls each individual cell in the battery which works to mitigate cell damage and maximize efficiency.
They also say that the SPS500 comes with six-fold safety system to protect against over-charge, over-discharge, short circuit, over-voltage, over-current, and it's equipped with a smart thermal control that triggers cooling fans automatically.
I am not nearly nerdy enough to know what any of this means outside of saying that these safeguards should mean that the SPS500 can regulate and keep itself in the safety zone.
Realtime Energy info and Emergency Features on the Outside
LED readouts offer up-to-the-second, precise data on energy levels in the SPS500. It’s never a guess, and that means peace of mind while packing up for a few days of living and working out of a camper shell.
The SPS500 also features an array of LEDs across its back equipped with multiple modes — A high-intensity night torch, a flashing red triangle light for SOS situations, and a low-intensity night torch providing softer ambient light for various after-dark activities.
Tough and Portable
At 15 pounds, you wouldn’t want to pack the SPS500 over many hills and across many creeks on your back, but for truck campers this thing is perfect. It’s easily stowable, and in my short experience seems to be tough. I would not recommend dropping it from height and, of course, water and electronics are never a good mix (yeah, keep it out of the rain). But I’ve banged it around by accident and nothing has jarred loose yet.
It Holds the Charge
After charging to 100 percent, I let the SPS500 sit for four weeks untouched. When I turned it on to plug in my laptop the meter still said 100 percent. This was a big deal to me and should be to anyone else who has lost charge through phantom drainings on any rechargeable battery. I was overjoyed. Ten Pao says you should fully recharge at regular six-month intervals for maximum battery life.
Because the SPS500 uses a Lithium-ion (Li-ion) instead of a LiFePO4 (LFP) battery, users can expect a shorter total lifespan before capacity begins to degrade. Where LFP batteries will generally offer 3000 or more charge cycles before capacity degrades to 80%, Li-ion batteries hit that same point after approximately 500 charge cycles.
Via either plug-in or solar recharging, the SPS500 offers recharge times that are practical for my use cases and that are in line with many of its competitors. That said, there are a handful of similarly priced, similarly powered (in terms of both W and Wh) units on the market these days which advertise charge times as much as 3x faster than the SPS500 offers.
With only a 1 year warranty, the SPS500 lags behind competing models that guarantee their products for as long as 5 years.
It Weighs 15 Pounds
At 15 pounds, the SPS500 is heavier (albeit only by a couple of pounds) than most competing power stations that offer similar wattage and ports/connections.
There’s certainly no better deal to be found in the world of gas-powered generators. A 500-watt gas generator will set you back $200-$500. And then you gotta buy gas. And haul gas. And buy more gas. And figure out a way to get the smell of gas off of your hands and clothes. I’ll take the lithium battery.
For the most part, the SPS500 is priced in line or a bit more attractively than many popular competitors—from which obtaining a comparable power station + solar panel combo will run you $800 or more. But, for those willing to shop around, there are ostensibly better values to be had.
I don’t like working remotely (I don’t like working at all, actually) but it’s the nature of the beast. And here in the modern age of digital communication, electricity is a vital component of my ability to do that work. I do, however, like the idea of a quiet, safe, stink-free power source gently soaking in the solar rays and making the necessities of my job a bit less problematic.
The Shell SPS500 Power Station charges quickly, is light enough to be portable, offers wireless charging and tons of ports/connections, as well as all the safety and other features you’d expect in a current generation power station. The SPS500 offers a great combination of features, has proven itself in the field, and is priced more attractively than much (but not all) of its competition.
Still, there are faster-charging units, lighter ones, ones with batteries with longer lifespans, and ones with better warranties available at a similar price.