BigBlue Cellpowa500

$399.96
4.3

Features

4.0/5

Design

4.0/5

Performance

4.5/5

Ease of Use

4.5/5

Value

4.5/5

Pros

  • Safer battery technology (LiFePO4)
  • Compact, cute design
  • Bright display panel
  • Good value
  • Multiple charging options

Cons

  • Heavier than Lithium-ion equivalents
  • AC port disabled while charging
  • No APP/MC4 solar input port
  • Fan turns on during charging
  • Relatively new company
Read: 12 mins.
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LiFePO4 or Lithium-Ion?

You probably already know what a power station is for, but what you may not know about is whether the BigBlue CellPowa500 is better than Goal Zero, Jackery, Rockpals, Ecoflow, Bluetti, etc. As always, when it comes to “what’s best”, the answer will be: it depends. What all have in common, however, is that they are excellent for disasters and travel where power is needed. All have the capability to be recharged by a car’s 12V cigarette port, AC brick wall, and/or solar panels.

BigBlue with Car Freezer

BigBlue with Car Freezer

I use a small battery for grocery shopping. Groceries? Yes! Hear me out on that one. But before you write me off as some crackhead, I’d like to preface that I have extensive experience with Goal Zero, Jackery, Rockpals, and other branded Lithium-ion battery power stations that I use for extended camping trips and home emergencies.

What Will Be Covered Here

In this review, I will go over:

  • Lithium-ion (Li-ion) vs Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) battery cell differences
  • Pros and Cons of this BigBlue battery
  • Basics like Watts, Watt-hours, Continuous vs Peak rating, and more

There has been an increase in people taking emergency preparation more seriously amidst climate change, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, and so on.

Battery Technology and Safety

Goal Zero debuted with Lead-Acid batteries that were bulky and heavy. Today’s devices use Lithium-ion (Li-ion) and Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) for more power in a smaller, lighter package. Li-ion, however, is more volatile and becomes riskier as more cells are packed together. The BigBlue CellPowa500 uses LiFePO4. More on that later.

Cell Manufacturers

Battery cells made by LG and Sony are among the best in the hobbyist world as are Sanyo/Panasonic and Samsung. BigBlue stated that theirs are made by LiWeiNeng, a company I do not know much about. During my years of research, I found that use of lower-quality batteries could pose a serious risk to life and property and should become a crucial part in deciding what to buy. Do keep in mind that LiFePO4 is by far safer and less volatile than Li-ion.

Safety

The second part in a battery’s safe operation depends heavily on the design and BMS (Battery Management System). Some BMS manufacturers, unfortunately, overstate their capabilities that could lead to catastrophic failure.

  • Design should allow for proper, thermal cooling, use quality components, and obtain proper certifications
  • Batteries made by known manufacturers are less likely to fail
  • BMS should sufficiently restrict the battery from going past its capabilities

I was not able to determine what BMS the BigBlue uses. If my experience with one of their excellent solar panels is any indication, I expect the BMS to be sufficiently good and safe.

Isometric view of BigBlue Cellpowa500

BigBlue Cellpowa500

LiFePO4 vs Li-ion Cells

Lithium Iron Phosphat e (LiFePO4) batteries — which this BigBlue uses — are bulkier, heavier, and cost more than Lithium-ion. However, they excel in these areas:

  • Less volatile and thus, safer
  • Charge cycle: 1500-2000 (10+ years)
    • Li-ion: 20-25% capacity loss after every 500 cycle (6-10 years with up to 2000 cycles, but diminishing capacity over time)
  • Usable in high temperatures. Li-ion: only 140F/60C max
  • Holds 350-day charge. Li-ion: 300

My Use Case

For the very reason that this battery is made with LiFePO4 — which is safer than Lithium-ion — I am feeling sufficiently confident to keep the battery in my car’s trunk at all times. Previously, I had used a Rockpals 300Wh and Goal Zero Yeti 500x, and with Goal Zero’s blessing, the 500x was ok to be used during the hot, California summer days where ambient temperatures can reach as high as 108F (and of course a lot hotter in a car.) The BMS would and should automatically shut off the battery once its internal batteries were too hot. What the battery was used for was to power my small car freezer for grocery runs so I would not have to rush home to minimize melting. It would allow the car fridge to keep running while the car was off. The Rockpals and Goal Zero always still gave me some concern because they are Lithium-ion batteries, and so I decided to get a LiFePO4 battery to replace them with.

About Big Blue

The CellPowa500 battery caught my attention on the crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, sometime in April 2021. I had been following their progress and news coverage and was excited to see a more affordable, safe battery being developed. It finally became available on Amazon in late June, and so I grabbed one to see how it would compare to my Goal Zero and Jackery batteries.

In A Nutshell

The BigBlue CellPowa500 is a modern-looking power station with clean lines and a professional look. The 500W of energy (and peak of 1,000W) gives it a HUGE advantage over the Goal Zero Yeti 500x and is on par with the Jackery Explorer 500. This provides enough power for a small amount of electronics and small appliances, such as a laptop, television, mini fridge, medical device (like CPAP), and car freezers, but will NOT work for most rice cookers, and definitely not for a vacuum, water boiler, or circular saw. The hard, plastic material used to help shed weight (and cost) could be prone to cracking from hard falls or bumps, potentially exposing the LiFePO4 batteries to puncturing. The carry handle can be lifted up and pressed back down in a quite pleasing way, making it ideal for packing things on top. The battery can also be lifted up from the sides — a nice touch — while simultaneously providing the fans a way to circulate air for cooling its internal components. LiFePO4 batteries are infinitely SAFER, heavier, costlier, and have a longer charge cycle (battery lifetime) than Lithium-ion, but BigBlue somehow managed to keep it at 17 lbs — just a bit over 3 lbs heavier than the Yeti 500x.

The 537.6 Watt-hour capacity provides it with enough charge to power a 60W laptop for up to 7.6 hours (537.6Wh x 0.85 efficiency loss / 60W), a 40W CPAP for 11.4 hours, or a 110W Amazon Toshiba TV for 4 hours.

Functionally, this is a good, portable power station with a multitude of AC and DC outputs. BigBlue included two USB-C PD with a solid, 60W output. This makes it useful for charging supported laptops. It has the capability to simultaneously charge from the USB-C PD and AC wall charger for a combined total of 216W. What that translates to is a full charge from empty in as little as a theoretical 2.5 hours. In actuality, it took just about 3 hours.

A MPPT solar charging controller is built-in. These modules are more expensive than PWM ones and provide for more efficient, faster charging via solar panels. The display screen is impressively sharp and bright and provides sufficient information about the battery’s runtime.

Input and Output Ports

Input and Output Ports

Two things I do not like about this power station, however, is that the AC output is disabled while its battery is charging, and the fan also turns on. This is similar to a Paxcess battery I had previously looked at. Neither any of the Jackery nor Goal Zero batteries turn on their fan unless the unit gets hot. Only the DC-based outputs work (USB, 12V) while charging via wall outlet, car cigarette port, or solar. A cigarette port and car battery cable are included.

Overall, for what I have been using this battery for — storing in the car for grocery runs or light travels during the hot, summer heat — it works exceptionally well. Knowing that it runs on LiFePO4 cells gives me an additional piece of mind that a fire wouldn’t easily start the same way volatile Lithium-ion batteries are known to be the cause of.

What’s Good? What’s Bad?

Pros

  • At 537 Wh capacity, it is large enough for a weekend getaway, depending on what you use to power it with
    • Capacity to power a 30″ LCD monitor and Mini PC for 4-6 hours, a Toshiba 50″ Fire TV for almost 4 hours
  • AC Inverter capable of continuous 500W power (and 1,000W peak) – More details later
  • Very inexpensive
  • Enough continuous/peak wattage rating to power most, common electronics
    • Laptop, tablet, phones, lights, fans, CPAP medical device, projector, TV, mini refrigerator, speaker, camera, DSLR battery charger, and SOME rice cookers
  • USB-C PD ports output 60W
    • Both can be combined with the AC Wall Charger for a combined 216W of input (60W + 60W + 96W AC)
  • DC ports (USB, 12V) can be used while charging. AC port cannot
  • Faster and more efficient solar charging with MPPT controller (Maximum Power Point Tracking)
  • Informative, sharp, and bright LED display
    • Total power coming in (via solar panel or AC adapter)
    • Capacity left (as a percentage)
    • Total power (AC and DC combined) being used
      • Suaoki G500 (a battery I no longer recommend) displays the Wattage separately for DC and AC, which I prefer
  • Pure Sine Wave (I did not verify the manufacturer’s claim for this review) to help power sensitive electronics
  • BMS provides built-in overload, overcharge (automatically stops charging when the device is full), and short-circuit protection
    • Fan to keep the station’s temperature safe
  • Master power button must be long-pressed to turn on. This can prevent accidentally turning power on/off through a single press (ie. while packing away your camping gear)
    • Can prevent accidentally turning on/off the output during transport, keeping the battery from getting drained
    • I had previously criticized Rockpals, Jackery, and Goal Zero for not preventing accidental button pushes, and am happy to see that Paxcess addressed that with this battery
    • No automatic power off once no power is drawn/station has become idle
  • Multiple ways of getting charged
    • AC power brick not very large and is compact enough to stow away (outputs 96W)
    • Solar panel, like BigBlue’s own Solapowa 100W
    • USB-C PD up to 60W (can be combined with the other USB-C PD for an additional 60W, or 120W total)
  • Decently compact, though the Goal Zero Yeti 500x is still my favorite for its size and capacity
  • Fairly portable at 11.3″ x 8.2″ x 8.2″ and 17.2 lbs
  • Bottom is well-protected by raised feet
  • Cigarette socket cable included
  • Built-in LED light bar with SOS flashing mode
  • Warranty: 1.5 years

Cons

  • Anderson Power Port (APP) is NOT included for standard solar panel connection
  • AC port cannot be used while charging. Only the DC ports (USB, 12V) can
  • Fan turns on during charging
  • Carry pouch is not included to hold AC charger and cables
  • Batteries are likely not made by a globally well-known, Tier 1 manufacturer
  • Hard, plastic material makes the power station lighter, but could be prone to cracking from hard falls or bumps
  • Although the exterior looks modern and clean, once I saw the Goal Zero Yeti 500x, I fell in love with the Yeti’s design
  • Battery cannot be replaced. This can lead to unnecessary landfill waste
  • Cannot be daisy-chained to other BigBlue to extend battery capacity, though you may be able to do so through plugging one of them into the 12V cigarette port
    • Some Goal Zero stations can be hooked up to other ones so power can be provided for an even longer time without needing to switch
  • Not waterproof. Keep it away from water splashes, rain, and pool!

Usage

  • To turn ON or OFF the entire unit, long-press the master Power button
  • To turn ON or OFF the Car/USB (DC) or AC outputs, press the corresponding button
  • Li-ion batteries have 500 charge cycles before capacity drops to about 80% from when they were new
    • Li-ion could, in theory, be charged up to 2,000 cycles — about 1/4 of total capacity is lost every 500 cycle
  • LiFePO4 batteries, however, can 1,500 – 2,000 cycles without losing any capacity in the meantime

Continuous vs Peak Output

It is important to understand the difference between Watts and Watt-Hours. How much power is used or produced is measured in Watts, and how much energy a battery can store is calculated in Watt-Hours. See the “Calculations” section below for more details.

How much energy a battery can store is measured in Wh (Watt-hours), and how much power is used or produced in W (Watts).

  • AC Inverter: Converts battery (DC) power into AC
    • CellPowa500 provides 500W continuous output with a 1,000W peak
  • Peak/Surge (Starting): Nearly every device initially draws extra power to turn on. The highest amount it pulls is the Peak. As long as that number is below 1,000W, it can be STARTED. Examples…
    • Turns on OK (PEAK under 1,000W):
      • Freezer starts at 400W (peak), runs at 150W once on
    • Will NOT turn on (PEAK over 1,000W):
      • Home AC starts at 4,000W (peak), runs at 1,000W once on
      • Coffee maker starts at 1,400W (peak), runs at 800W once on

Most devices power on at a higher (Peak) wattage than when they are already on (Continuous). Therefore, if its peak exceeds the power station’s max, it may not be able to start

Continuous Output (Running): Once devices are on, as long as they keep drawing less than 500W total, they will stay ON until the battery runs out

  • CONTINUES running (under 500W)
    • 100W TV + 60W laptop = 160W
  • COULD STOP running (over 500W)
    • Temporary overdrawing beyond 500W for a few seconds is okay. A quality BMS will protectively shut down the battery if the surge does not end after a while. Regularly going over for a prolonged time can ruin the battery in the long run
    • 300W appliance (500W peak) + 220W appliance (400W peak) = 520W. Probably will stay on for a short period
      • Add 200W TV (400W peak) = 720W. Battery will definitely shut down
Flexible Carry Handle

Flexible Carry Handle

Calculations – Size & Time

What size battery should you get? How long will it power your fridge for? How long will it take to recharge? The below calculations can help answer those questions and are rough ESTIMATES as conditions, battery quality, and age can vary.

Time to Charge Battery

  • Calc: Hours to charge battery = Battery capacity (Wh) / Input Wattage
    • Note: As battery approaches 75% full, the input charge will increasingly be slowed down to prevent overcharging
  • AC Wall: 96W @ 5.6 hrs [537 Wh / 96W]
  • AC Wall + both USB-C PD 60W ports: 96W + 120W = 216W @ 2.49 hours [537 Wh/ 215W]

Charge Time with Solar

  • Calc: Hours to charge battery = Battery capacity (Wh) / (Panel Wattage x [0.5 or 0.75])
    • In a perfect lab environment, solar panels charge at the listed wattage
    • Expect to only receive 50-75% on a good, sunny day (ie. 75W – 113W for a 150W panel), depending on panel’s age, component quality, and weather
  • 100W solar panel: as fast as 6.1 hours [537Wh / (100W x 0.75)]
  • Tips
    • Keep charging even when overcast as the panels will STILL collect energy
    • Underproduction: If a 100W panel is not making enough (ie. only 50W) due to bad conditions, adding an extra one can generate a higher, combined output (ie. 50W + 50W from the two panels = 100W total)
    • Overproduction: If the panels make more (ie. 200W) than the maximum the power station charge port can take, only the max the power station can take will go through

Watts Used/Produced

  • Calc: Watts used or produced by device = Voltage x Amperage
  • Vacuum with 120V @ 9.5A uses 1,140W
  • Solar panel with 12V @ 10A can produce up to 120W

Ideal Battery Size

  • Calc: Battery capacity (Wh) = Watts used by device x Hours needed for / 0.85
    • 10-15% of power is lost during power conversion
  • 45W car fridge needed for 8 hours: Minimum 424Wh power station (45W x 8 / 0.85)

How much energy a battery can store is measured in Wh (Watt-hours), and how much power is used or produced in W (Watts).

Time Before Battery is Empty

  • Calc: Hours available for device = Battery capacity (Wh) x 0.85 / Watts used by device
    • 10-15% of power is lost during power conversion
  • 60W laptop with 505Wh battery: Up to 7.2 hours (505Wh x 0.85 / 60W)

Time to Charge Device

  • Calc: Hours to charge device = Device’s battery capacity (Wh) / Input Wattage
  • 60W laptop with 200Wh battery: Up to 3.4 hrs (200 Wh / 60W)

Conversion to mAh

  • Calc: Powerbank-equivalent capacity (mAh) = Battery capacity (Wh) / Voltage x 1000
    • 1 Ah = 1000 mAh
  • Yeti 983Wh @ 3.7V = 265,675 mAh power bank (983 Wh / 3.7V x 1000) or 91,018 mAh @ 10.8V

Tips

  • Always test your devices with the power station before you depend on it on the go
  • You cannot jump start a car with this type of battery. Look into the NOCO Genius products for that instead
    • To minimize fire damage to your belongings or loved ones, store the power station in the garage and not inside the house. Best storage is a dry, cool place, however
    • You cannot bring a battery of this capacity on a plane
  • With the right BMS, quality batteries, and other factors, the power station can be stored in the car while camping during a hot, California summer
    • Keep the battery out of direct sunlight. I usually store it on the floor of the car and crack open the windows a tiny bit
    • Do not USE in the car if temperatures fall below or exceed the battery’s rated, operating temperature
  • If using a car charger, make SURE you only charge this station while the car is RUNNING. Otherwise, you’ll deplete your car’s battery and leave you stranded
  • If charging with a solar panel, be sure to keep the station out of direct sunlight as it could overheat
    • A solar panel is NOT required to use the battery
  • Turn off any output ports (AC/DC) that are not being used in order to conserve power
  • Do not use any power station in a tightly enclosed area as it can overheat
  • To prolong the battery lifetime while in storage, keep the battery fully charged every 3-6 months
    • Or, keep it plugged in when not in use and discharge it to 50% every 3-4 months
    • NOT using the battery for a very long time can actually hurt its lifetime
    • There is no “memory effect” in this station’s battery. It is better to NOT let it completely drain

Jump Start Car?

Genius Boost GB40 in Use /NOCO

Genius Boost GB40 in Use /NOCO

A battery power station like this one cannot be used to jump start a car. Instead, I suggest getting a small, portable one specifically made for that, such as my favorite: NOCO Genius Boost Car Jump Starter (Lithium Battery).

Final Thoughts

The BigBlue CellPowa500 is a decent battery. The 500W of energy (and peak of 1,000W) provides enough power for a small amount of electronics and small appliances, and is the perfect size for a quick trip or to charge something for a few hours (like my car freezer). Its LiFePO4 batteries are safer to operate than the Lithium-ion ones used in Jackery and Goal Zero’s products. It pairs perfectly with the Solarpowa 100 Solar Panel.

The hard, plastic material commonly used by power stations to help shed weight and cost could be prone to cracking from hard falls or bumps, and as such, this product should be handled with care – a puncture of the batteries could cause severe harm. I wish the battery’s AC port could be used while charging. It has a significant price advantage over the industry leaders.

So, is this BigBlue better than Jackery or Goal Zero? If you want something safe that won’t easily burst into flames, has a longer overall lifetime, and is relatively inexpensive, the BigBlue is a good choice. If you want something lighter from companies with proven track records, then BigBlue may not be something you want to get at this time. For me, I am happy with the CellPowa500 and is my go-to battery to leave in the car for grocery runs.

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