Review: iTechWorld ITECH500 portable power pack
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
I picked up the ITECH500 power pack a few weeks ago. Here's what I think so far...
What is it?
It's a 500Wh lithium (NMC) portable battery pack, with 12V and USB outlets and a built in 500W pure sine wave inverter (with two standard Australian three-pin outlets). It can be recharged from AC, DC or solar.
The key specs are:
518Wh (50Ah) battery (recommended max 80% discharge)
Integrated 5A MPPT solar/DC charge regulator
Integrated LCD display with state of charge
Included charging cables for mains power and car cigarette socket
Integrated 500W pure sine wave inverter
2x USB-A outlets
1x USB-A QC outlet
1x USB-C input/output
2x DC 5mm female outlets
1x cigarette outlet
Full details here in the iTechWorld website.
What did it cost?
I paid $999, plus $39 for an Anderson-to-5mm DC converter plug, plus $61 shipping to regional NSW. Total price $1,099.
The ITECH500 model is currently on sale (March 2021), and looks as though it's being replaced by the ITECH500P model with a newer case design and some tweaks to the specifications. The 500P retails for $300 more.
How is it?
In the last couple of weeks, I've used it to run a 12V fridge, charge my phone from USB, and charge my laptop and Mavic Pro drone from AC.
Running a fridge
The ITECH sits perfectly behind my Dometic 40L fridge in the car, so on a recent weekend away I hooked them together and off we went. We plugged it in at 4:30pm on a Friday set to 4C, and at 6:00pm on Saturday there was still 61% battery remaining, so it should be able to run the fridge for two full days and nights.
We did run into an issue at first with the ITECH turning itself off; this happens when no DC load is detected for 15 minutes (such as when the compressor is off). There is an easy fix to this - hold down the DC button for three seconds, and it will override the ITECH's auto-shutdown feature. You would also need to do this if charging very low draw items like a smartwatch.
Recharging is not a strong point for these kinds of power packs, and this is where you need to pay close attention if you're planning to use one on the road. Some of my criticisms of the ITECH are common, and shouldn't be taken as specific criticism of this product. I mention them here to highlight them to potential buyers: check the specs of what you're planning to buy, and work out what's important to you.
240V AC charging. Something I didn't realise when I bought the ITECH is that the AC charger is simply a 19V DC power pack that plugs into the DC input. There is no separate AC charger inside the unit. The fact that the AC and DC charging watts and times are identical on the spec sheet should have tipped me off, but it's still a surprise. Plugged into a household wall socket, I see around 80W on the 500's display - higher than the advertised 72W, and consistent with the seven-ish hours it takes to charge from empty.
Charging from AC power at 83.8W
12V DC charging. The ITECH claims to accept input voltages of 11-24V, but when I connected the Anderson-5mm converter to the Anderson plug on my camper, the ITECH did absolutely nothing. There was still 34% battery remaining, so it's not a case of the BMS shutting the lithium battery down. Thinking there was some issue with the trailer, I tried the same thing on the car with the same result. I checked the outputs from both Anderson plugs at 12.7V. Then I plugged the trailer's AC charger in on 'power supply' mode to get a constant 13.8V at the plug, and tried again. Still nothing. I have contacted iTechWorld for advice.
I am yet to try the cigarette socket, as none of my vehicles have a cigarette outlet that is permanently live. I do have some Merrit sockets though, so I'll try using a converter.
12V AC charging. I don't currently have an one, but an option for in-vehicle charging could be an inverter. At an AC input of less than 90W, the inverter will draw about 9A from a 12V system, and this is perfectly feasible for a little 150W 'soda can' inverter plugged into a 10A cigarette socket.
I'll try this method out and post the results later.
USB-C PD charging. The USB-C PD port allows power transfer in both directions. It will allegedly charge the ITECH at up to 45W. I haven't tried USB charging and I'm not really sure in what context I would ever do so.
Solar charging. I discharged the ITECH down to 20% and then let it spend the day (10am-6pm) out in the sun connected to my 200W solar blanket. This was... disappointing, raising the unit up to only 42% (+22%) in 8 hours. Despite reasonable solar conditions (a thin layer of scattered cloud and ambient temps around 25), the ITECH's MPPT seemed to settle on input of 40W in full sun dropping to 30W under cloud. By late afternoon this had dropped further to 20W in full sun and 10W in cloud. The ITECH should be capable of much better performance than that - the spec sheet claims 120W max through the Anderson adapter.
200W solar blanket - not a perfect setup, but good enough
Sky conditions - about 50% cloud cover and 25C
I'm not familiar with how the ITECH's MPPT works and it has no display to tell me, but my Baintech power analyser was showing a constant 17.69V from the panels. This is below their normal operating voltage of 18V. Something isn't right.
I think I will repeat this experiment using different panels, to see if that low voltage is a because my solar blanket is somehow faulty or because that's all the MPPT regulator is demanding. If that doesn't fix it, I might try putting my old solar regulator into the mix to see if I can 'trick' the ITECH into accepting regulated solar power.
This power pack is quite well-specified, and not just for the price. For example the pure sine wave inverter has a 1000W peak, whereas many in this class only offer 750W peak and/or modified waves. The solar regulator uses MPPT instead of PWM - not that it makes much difference here, but it's a nice touch.
Having two AC outlets is also nice - that lets me charge a computer and my drone at the same time. Lots of competitor products offer two AC outlets in their US versions, but only one in Australia - possibly due to the 110 vs 240V issue, or maybe because our three pin plug layout takes more room than the US standard two pin.
The fit and finish is very nice, with a cool-to-the-touch metal housing. Most competitors are plastic, as is the newer 500P model.
The LCD screen is simple and it tells you everything you need to know and nothing you do not - what's on, what's off, rate of input and output, battery percentage, and time to empty.
Obviously the difficulty charging from 12V DC is a big problem. It can be worked around with a small inverter, but it should be working as advertised and it isn't.
Besides that, a few small things bug me.
I don't like that you can't fold down the handle - this is really irritating when trying to pack it, but I note they've fixed that on the 500P model. I does look like a few minutes with a screwdriver could solve this problem permanently, but then it would be awkward to carry.
I think it's a bit cheeky charging $39 for the Anderson-to-5mm cable for solar charging, and I'd much prefer an Anderson plug permanently built into the unit for charge input - this is rapidly becoming an industry standard.
I'd like to see a separate input port for AC charging and a higher rate of charge from AC. I'd gladly pay a small size and weight penalty to have a dedicated AC charger integrated into the unit, or even provided separately, to speed up charge times.
It would also be nice if the LCD display gave you time to full as well as time to empty. I'd also like the option to leave the screen backlighting on, or have the first press of a button do nothing except 'wake' the screen when it's off. Sometimes I want to see the state of charge when it's dark and I have to turn the whole unit off and quickly on again to turn on the screen.
Dealing with iTechWorld
I gather iTechWorld are reasonably well-known in Perth, but I hadn't heard from them before. Buying from their website was as easy as any online purchase, and shipping was very quick.
But I contacted iTechWorld by email without response and have been unable to raise them on the phone, possibly due to the time difference, to discuss my trouble charging from 12V and I have yet to actually speak to anyone.
When I bought the ITECH, I had checked out and paid when I saw the Anderson converter plug, so I checked out and paid for that separately. Both purchases included a shipping fee. Although someone at iTechWorld was quick enough to pack the cable into the ITECH's box, they didn't think to refund my second shipping fee. While this is 100% my bad, it would have been a nice customer service touch to refund that second lot of shipping charges that weren't used.
The ITECH500 does what I ask of it, and it's good value compared with competitors like the GoalZero Yeti or the Jackery. However, a couple of small issues let it down (especially recharging), and I cannot recommend iTechWorld for their failure to respond to tech queries - what if this was a warranty claim?
It's a good idea, but this one is not recommended.