A few weeks ago we received a small black unassuming box. Inside was one of the most exciting products that we have tested in a long time and it isn’t even a true photography product – the PowerAdd Pilot Pro 32000mAh Battery. Will this exceptionally powerful external battery prove to be the ultimate battery pack for photographers?
As photographers we use a large verity of different electronic devices. From our cameras, flashes and lights and sound recorders, to more general purpose mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. All these devices require power and typically come with their own batteries (some use AA/AAA batteries although Li-ions are becoming more and more popular).
The main problem is that for each type of device you need a different battery or charger (some are nice and use USB which is almost universal now but USB can’t charge DSLRs, flashes or laptops or anything else which can only work with AA/AAA batteries.
The PowerAdd Pilot Pro 32000mAh Battery
Realizing this problem we set out on a quest to find the ultimate battery solution for photographers – one that can charge or power as many of our devices and accessories as possible and save us from the battery madness that we hate so much.
In this quest for a perfect solution we ran into a promising candidate, which although was not specifically designed for photographers, ticked enough of the right boxes for us – to pick our curiosity – the PowerAdd Pilot Pro 32000mAh external battery.
Build quality and design
Although the PowerAdd Pilot Pro can’t be considered rugged in any way (it is made out of plastic with a metallic looking finish on top and white plastic on the bottom) it does feel solid and pretty well made with no loose parts.
The battery is pretty heavy (we didn’t expect anything else from a 32000mAh unit) weighing over 800 grams or about 30 ounces. In terms of size – it is just a bit smaller than an iPad mini (18cm x 12 cm / 7 x 4.7 inches) but much thicker (about 3 cm / 1.1 inches). If all you need is to charge your smartphone – there are much smaller and lighter options out there.
The design is very simple – the device has a single bottom and a small display with a blue light. There is no on/off switch – when you connect something it will imminently start charging and show you how much power is left on the battery and the voltage the DC out is currently set to.
In order to change this voltage you will need to press the bottom for a few seconds and than press several times until you reach the desired voltage (9V/12V/16V/19V/20V are available – we tested only the 19V which was the resurrect one for our laptop). We would prefer a simpler solution for changing the voltage (a switch on the side of the battery maybe?).
small correction – In the video we mentioned that you need the battery to be connected to the power cable to change the voltage – apparently you don’t – making it much easier to change the voltage any time – although we feel that a switch might still be the best option for changing voltages).
2 USB connections and a DC out for laptops
The only other part of the battery are the power connections. You have DC in (for charging), two USB connections (both 5V with 1 and 2 amps) and a DC out (with the 9V-20V we mentioned before). The only drawback here is that the text (which tells you which connection is which) is on the back of the device (probably for aesthetic reasons). We think that it would have been much better if it was on the top or at least on the side so you can read it without flipping the battery over.
In the box you get a whole host of accessories with the battery, including 10 different connectors which Poweradd claims fit 99% of the laptops on the market (we didn’t test that but we did find a tip for our Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 which worked great). You also have different power connectors (we used a European one and there are a few others so you can travel with it internationally and it should be fine).
You can find a list on Poweradd website (the images of the accessories are a bit different than what we got in terms of color and the power brick we got is much smaller as you can see in our video – which is nice).
All in all we would rate the package that you get as very satisfying. What you don’t get – and should keep in mind is a tip for a Mackbook – we guess that like with many other products – this is more to do with Apple than with Poweradd (but maybe you can rig something – we didn’t try that).
Functionality and performance
The PowerAdd Pilot Pro is as east to operate as can possibly be. Plug your device and that’s about it. The only exception is when you need to set the voltage for the DC out (for laptops) – but all you really need here is to press the bottom for a few seconds and than press it again a few times until you find the right voltage for your laptop (and typically you will do this only once unless you have more than one laptop). Charging the entire battery takes between 2-3 hours.
Useful LCD but hard to read from an angle
When we used the battery for our video shooting we hooked it up to our laptop (which we use with the amazing, and free, DSLRdashboard software – which we highly recommend) and to our Tascam DR70D field recorder. This worked amazingly well for us for long hours of shooting (especially as our laptop has some power issues and tend to turn off without notice and the DR70D drains AA batteries like there is no tomorrow). The only read drawback we faced was the lack of mounting options – the battery is large and heavy and has no real way of connecting it to our tripod (we rigged something using a small camera bag but it isn’t ideal).
Performance is where the PowerAdd Pilot Pro rally shines. We did real world measurements and although they might not be as accurate as “laboratory ones” they will give you a general idea of what to expect:
- Smartphones – Our (very) old Samsung Galaxy S2 charged well over 10 times. Our newer LG G2 charged just over 10 times.
- Laptop – Our Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro charged more than a full charge using the battery (we would say around 1.2 charges or so).
- Recording device – Our Tascam DR70D field recorder with Phantom power on recorded for countless hours plugged into the battery (we stopped counting after 5 hours but it can do much, much more).
- LEDs – we have two cool Balled Pro LED lights we use for product photography. They use USB for power (no built in batteries). We were able to power two of them for 7 hours straight and they only consumed 15% of the battery – this is how powerful it really is.
- Other devices – we tried other devices including tablets (by Sony) and an external hard drive (the WD MyPassport Wireless which has a built in battery), both charged well (we didn’t do extensive testing with them so we can’t give exact numbers but the WD drive can be charged quite a few times in our experience.
What we didn’t/couldn’t test – well, there are two things that we didn’t test – devices with AA/AAA batteries (basically charging the battery charger itself) and camera batteries (again connecting the camera battery charger). The reason is simple – for both you need AC power which the PowerAdd Pilot Pro does not have. That said, if you are the sort of DIY electrical geek (who knows what you are doing!) and feel adventuresses – feel free to try and come up with a solution (we are not sure it is even possible with the voltage settings that the battery is capable of – but hey – we are not the “electrical geeks” here).
If we had to summarize our experience with the PowerAdd Pilot Pro in one word it would simply be – wow! It might sound strange to be so excited about a battery, but in our view this is simply a must have accessory for anybody who has a large number of electronic devices (photographer or otherwise) which travels a lot.
The PowerAdd Pilot Pro is super versatile – you can charge any USB device – a smartphone, tablet, USB LEDs, voice recorders (like our Tascam DR 70D), some external hard drives (like the WD MyPassport Wireless) and many others. Even more interestingly you can charge devices using DC power (with either 9V/12V/16V/19V/20V) which is great for most laptops (and you do get tips that fit a lot of common brands).
Powerful battery – can charge/power a laptop and a recorder at the same time
With a lot of batteries the actual power that you get falls far short of the advertised power. With the Pilot Pro we feel that this isn’t the case (although our testing are based on actual usage and not on exact electrical measurements). You can expect many hours of runtime with more or less any device that the PowerAdd Pilot Pro can charge (with our recorder it feels like you will almost never drain the battery on a typical use, our laptop on the other hand does take a great deal of power from the battery but that is to be expected we guess).
There is really very little not to love about the battery, but if we need to really be picky, than the LCD is hard to read in bright sunlight (especially from a slight angle) and the mechanism for changing the voltage of the DC out is not the most convenient. Other than that the the PowerAdd Pilot Pro does exactly what it claims and does it very well.
Of course despite all these advantages we still feel that there is a room for a future external battery that will be specifically designed for photographers and videographers. Here is a list of features that we think the ultimate battery for photographers should have (on top of everything that the PowerAdd Pilot Pro already does):
- Have a way of charging AA/AAA batteries and camera batteries (the only way we know of is with a built in AC socket similar to this ChargeTech unit which sadly seems to have some issues based on reading online reviews).
- A way of using dummy batteries for running common cameras directly from the battery.
- A way to use this with or as a V-mount battery – This might not be essential but could be extremely cool, especially given the size, weight and price of these type of pro solutions.
- A more rugged design (maybe similar to the LaCie Rugged RAID we reviewed last week).
- Mounting options – including 1/4 20 and 3/8 for connecting to a cage or your tripod (alternatively PowerAdd can come up with a rugged case with some mounting options).
We have shared these notes with PowerAdd and hope that they (or possibly a different manufacturer) will decide to come up with a solution that will satisfy these requirements.
Update: We talked to PowerAdd and they said that they will be looking into these suggestions. In the meantime they mentioned that people can charge AA/AAA batteries with a USB powered charger like this one, which might not be as good as our true and tested La Crosse charger, but if you are away and can’t use an AC based charger – this might be a good second option).
Getting back to the PowerAdd Pilot Pro – here is our pros/cons for the battery:
What we liked
- Fantastic performance, exceptionally powerful (10x smartphone charges, hours of LED power/recorder and more than a full charge for a laptop).
- Can charge/power two devices at once (including a laptop and a recorder).
- Simple to operate (basically just plug and play).
- Well made with many accessories (a large number of connectors – for almost any supported device except MacBooks).
- Very affordable – under $130 on Amazon.
What we liked less
- LCD is hard to read at an angle (in sunlight).
- Text for the connectors on the bottom part isn’t convenient to read (should be on the top or side of the unit).
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