Whether we are just having a stroll around the garden or endeavouring to camp as wildly as possible in the Scottish Highlands, we all know how good it can feel to be outside. The only problem is that, because we are living in this impressively technological contemporary era, a lot of our stuff requires electricity to…well, do its thing.
Our smartphones and smartwatches, cameras, tablets and laptops, are all reliant on electricity. By extension and association, we all are as well. That’s where portable power stations like the Anker 521 PowerHouse Power Station come in.
While a small external powerpack might keep your gadgets topped up on a hike or end-of-work commute, these pocketable power sources do little for anyone with multiple items or families on the move. Power stations answer this issue, and then some.
The Anker 521 power station is an entry-level portable power carrying five outlets: one car socket, one three-pin UK socket, one fast-charging USB-C and two fast-charging USB-A. The 521 also has a lamp bar on its front and boasts a Power Saving mode which automatically cuts power to a device once fully charged, preventing the station from needlessly pumping out power.
The feature list of the 521 is promising, but as an entry-level item that sits at the budget end of the market, can it deliver?
Home, away, and then home again
There are two things that a portable power station needs to be: the first is portable. On this, the Anker 521 certainly delivers. At around 4.3kg in weight and measuring roughly 21cm tall and long, it's comparable to a small car battery or leisure battery.
The test for the portability of the 521 was on a car journey from Cambridgeshire to Scotland. The car I travelled in was far from well equipped with power outlets, and we needed to keep an iPhone and an Android topped with juice – they were our sat nav and jukebox, respectively. I’d also forgotten to charge my camera batteries, so they were charged via the UK three-pin plug.
The Anker 521 sat unobtrusively in the passenger footwell. It left plenty of space for comfort on the six-hour bank holiday drive. Not only did it not get in the way of passengers' feet, but its small size, light weight and handle also meant that it could be shifted around easily. It could be passed with one hand from the front to the back of the vehicle, and vice versa.
The second thing a power station needs to do is deliver power. Again, the Scotland trip provided plenty of opportunities.
From one full charge of the Anker 521, I was able to; keep two smartphones topped up in the car (both ways); recharge two 1200mAh camera batteries; maintain the charge of an Apple MacBook Air for three days (used for streaming and editing photographs with Lightroom - a battery-hungry task). By the time I returned home, the Anker 521 displayed around 30% charge remaining. Impressive.
There’s no doubt that the Power Saving mode of the Anker 521 provided the station with excellent efficiency. Whenever an item is plugged into the 521, the remaining hours of power are displayed. This figure is based on the current consumption of power, so will dip considerably when an empty device is attached. As soon as capacity is reached with Power Saving activated, the number shoots back up, with the Anker 521 only dripping charge in now and again to keep a connected device at 100%. This ensures that the 521 doesn’t waste any of its resources.
In short, it’s a big tick next to both portability and power.
Desk? The world is my desk
From my testing, I have no reason to doubt the claims made by Anker as to the 521’s capacity to power certain items for a certain number of times, whether it’s a smartphone 20 times, a camera 15 times, a laptop four times or a mini-fridge for five hours. The LiFePO4 batteries that Anker has packed into its shell are wonderful.
After I realised that yes, it really does have the capacity Anker says, my main worry turned to use. When would someone like me use a thing like this? I like to camp, but only get away maybe two or three times a year. I often take long car journeys, but mostly the single plug in the car does the trick and an Air BnB is usually waiting at the other end. How can a normal person like me justify spending nearly £300 on such a gadget?
Well, over my time with the Anker 521 (nearly four weeks in total), I’ve found a way to adopt it into my life. So, maybe it’s time I let you in on a secret. I’m in my garden, sitting at a patio table working on a MacBook. I’ve been here for three hours, and the 521 is sat at my feet, keeping my laptop at 100% via the USB-C output. According to the display, I’m consuming 7w, and I’ve got over 30 hours of charge remaining. If I plug my phone in to charge, it drops to 22.5 hours.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. A few days ago, my partner joined me on the patio with a weak-battered Windows laptop. We managed a full day without any hassle from low-battery warnings.
Previously, I used the 521 to help with DIY. The bright and kind-on-the-eyes lamp was perfect for lighting utility cupboards for hours at a time. The light was of such a quality that I would have no hesitation reading a book by it when camping.
I have no hesitation in adopting the Anker 521 Power Station into my holiday kit fully. I’ve already booked a campsite, saving myself a little cash by feeling free to choose pitches without electric hook-up, confident the 521 will see me through.
Of course, all uses I’ve mentioned above are geared more towards luxury and holidays, but a fully charged Anker 521 is also a valuable tool to have in case of a power cut or similar issue.
For those looking to transform the Anker 521 into a sustainable energy power station, it can be coupled with the Anker 625 Solar Panel for sun-based charging. Just note that this will set you back the best part of £300.
I do not need a car socket plug. The only item I own that requires such a connection is my dash cam and that, unsurprisingly, stays in the car. I can think of using this socket for an in-car Bluetooth-to-FM adapter or small digital inflator. Maybe it will work for others, but I would much rather see an additional UK three-pin socket, adding far more utility.
In truth, this is a downside only realised in reflection. While out using the Anker 521 in real-world practice, my partner and I never found ourselves scrambling against each other for power outlets from the Anker 521. If you are desperate for another UK plug, the larger Anker 400 or Anker 535 carries two.
I can see an issue with only one USB-C outlet, however. My iPhone comes with a USB-C compatible charging cable as standard, whereas my partner uses a relatively new Android which still requires USB-A ports. As the world moves on from this technology and USB-C takes its place as the ubiquitous connection port, users of the 521 might find themselves competing for its single outlet. Of course, a relatively cheap aftermarket cable can solve this, but it would be nice to see Anker, a well-established tech company, pre-empt the impending change.
Price and competition
At the time of writing, the Anker PowerHouse 521 is available through Amazon UK for £299.99. Though not a cheap item, this is considered a budget or entry-level power station. Its main rival is the industry-leading Jackery Explorer 240, which has an RRP of £259.99.
Though physically comparable, the Jackery has slightly less capacity and no support for USB-C or fast-charging. It’s compatible with the Jackery SOLARSAGA 100 solar panel, which can have the Explorer 240 fully charged in 5.5 hours (though it will cost £272 extra).
Resident adventurer Adam Binnie was lucky enough to review the larger Jackery Explorer 500 at the beginning of 2022, along with the compatible solar panel. It’s significantly more expensive than the Anker 521, but if you’re looking for something with extra juice, you can read the hands-on review here.
I'm very taken with the Anker 521 Portable Power Station. It fulfils its brief in full, delivering great amounts of recharging power in a very portable package.
While there are a few downsides to the device (car socket, lack of solar panel, only one USB-C) in practice, the Anker 521 operates without fault. It provides welcome flexibility when camping, working with laptops and cameras in a remote location, or just soaking up rays at the end of their garden.
• Great capacity and portable
• Power Saving function
• USB-C charging
• Expensive solar panel, but they all are
• Car socket surplus to requirements for some
• Only one USB-C port
Cell Capacity 256Wh
Lifecycle 3000 cycles to 80%+ capacity
Operating Temperature 32°F-104°F / 0°C-40°C
Ambient Temperature 32°F-104°F / 0°C-40°C
Size 21.6×21.14×14.4cm / 8.5×8.32×5.67inches
Weight 4.34kg / 9.57lbs
DC Input 11-28V⎓5.5A (65W Max)
USB-C Input 5V⎓3A / 9V⎓3A / 15V⎓3A / 20V⎓3A (60W Max)
Car Charger Output 12V⎓10A
AC Output 220-240V~, 0,9A Max, 50Hz, 200W
USB-A Output 5V⎓3.6A (2.4A Max Per Port)
USB-C Output 5V⎓3A / 9V⎓3A / 15V⎓3A / 20V⎓3A (60W Max)
More items to consider
How the product was tested:
The product was used over the course of a month. I used the Anker 521 to charge products while in a car, around the house and in the garden. Use time varied from a few minutes to entire days, both inside and out.