While sleeping on a cliff face with a tin of cold beans and a spork is certainly a commendable way to soak up the great outdoors, most of us like to surround ourselves with some level of comfort at the campsite. A steady and reliable flow of electrons makes that comfort much easier to come by, which is why portable power stations are such a great piece of kit. We’ve been putting Bluetti’s latest offering – the soon to be released AC180 – to the test.
- 1152 Wh LiFePO₄ (Lithium Iron Phosphate) battery
- charges from 0-80% in 45 minutes
- output boostable to 2,700 W
- great mix of power and portability for car-based camping
The Bluetti AC180 portable power station squeezes a 1,152-Wh LiFePO₄ (Lithium Iron Phosphate) battery and a pure sine wave inverter into a 35.27-lb (17-kg) frame about the size of a couple of shoeboxes stacked on top of each other. It has a maximum output of up to 2,700 W and packs one 12-V DC and two AC outlets, 1 x USB-C and 4 x USB-A ports, plus a wireless charging pad on top. Charging is at a maximum of 1,440 W via AC wall outlet, solar, car or lead acid battery.
In terms of capacity, the AC180 comes into the Bluetti lineup between the 2,000-Wh AC200P – which has one extra wireless charger but is substantially bulkier and heavier at 60.6 lb (27.5 kg) – and the smaller 716-Wh EB70.
Straight out of the box, the AC180 definitely gives the impression of being a solidly build piece of kit. Its two built in handles (a design that reminds me of the ol’ Mac G4) are not in any danger dropping off unexpectedly and it can be confidently lugged about one-handed if you’re keen – though we always recommend being nice to your lower back by using two hands and copious knee bending when lifting anything remotely heavy.
A companion app lets you monitor charge levels and change some of the key settings over the air. Set up is straightforward using a QR code on the unit, and the layout is simple and intuitive. Energy flowing in and out is displayed on the main screen, along with the state of charge and controls for switching on AC and DC outputs remotely. Functions like access to Eco mode (more on that later) and the user manual are found under the settings cog.
Some functions can only be performed in the app and others are through the control panel on the unit, so while overall the AC180 is simple to operate, it does pay to spend a few minutes reading the user manual and getting familiar with some of the finer points of its operation.
Charging via the grid is billed at 45 minutes to 80% and this claim stacks up, with full charge in a little over an hour. These times are in the default Turbo mode, which accepts up to 1,440 W. The Standard and Silent modes, which are slower but give you a longer battery lifespan, are accessible through the app.
Standard charging mode ran at about 950 W in our tests, while Silent mode drops the input level to about 300 W and keeps noise at or below a low hum of 40 dB, so you don’t wake the baby.
The issue with having Turbo mode as the default is that have to remember to dial it back, and keeping the battery healthy for as long as possible seems like a reasonable priority. But then again, it’s pretty normal to be in a hurry these days and with the LiFePO₄ battery said to be good for 3,500+ cycles, even if using Turbo mode, I suspect this thing will still be going strong long after I’ve bent my last tent peg.
On paper the AC180 seems to tick a lot of boxes for our regular camping set up – two adults, two kids, a tent and a mid-sized wagon. The 13.39 × 9.72 × 12.48-inch (340 × 247 × 317-mm) unit is compact enough to slot nicely beside our 20-L car fridge in the back of the Subaru Forester, where every inch counts.
At the campsite the AC180 simply does the job with little fuss, which is exactly what you want from a portable power station.
Phones, refrigeration and camping lights were the main duties assigned to the AC180 in our test and it didn’t miss a beat. It can also handle kettles, coffee makers and electric blankets (the shame!) with a Power Lifting Mode that boosts the AC output up to 2,700 W.
Another great thing about using a portable power station with some grunt is that you can run a portable griller or hotplate and leave the gas bottle at home.
The color display screen is sensibly laid out and bright enough to remain readable on a sunny day. There’s plenty of detail, including some non-mission critical stuff like a fan icon (it’s pretty easy to tell when the fan is running), but the key information is most prominent so it doesn’t appear too crowded. Having the a time remaining estimate underneath the battery percentage is a handy touch, too.
Having the Bluetooth connection also comes in useful when you’re too lazy to get off your camp chair to see how charge is holding up.
If you’re running something power-hungry like an electric kettle you may need to ensure the Constant power mode is on so that the unit can output above 1,800 W. Conversely there’s an Eco mode which will automatically shut down the unit if it’s bearing little or no load for a period of one, two, three or four hours, which you can set in the app.
It’s worth noting that if you’re running a fridge overnight and the ambient temperature is cool, you’ll might need to make sure there’s something else plugged in to draw some power from the AC180. This is because, even in Eco mode, the unit will shut down after four hours of no load. We discovered that running a small fridge wrapped in an insulating cover on an autumn night is enough to cause a shut down, because the fridge stayed cool without needing to fire up. This wasn’t a problem as our perishables stayed cold, and it shouldn’t make any difference if you’re using it as an emergency backup for an appliance like a CPAP machine that draws constant power, it’s just something to be aware of.
Bluetti says the run time for a 40-W refrigerator is 17 hours, which is true if the fridge draws that power constantly. In reality we were getting more like 50 hours, and with the ability to take 500-W solar panel input, the AC180 becomes a viable option for staying off grid for days or weeks at a time if the sun is shining … and as long as your set up isn’t too power-hungry.
Incidentally, if you’re doing your own calculations of how long an appliance will run for, take into account that the AC180 has a 90% depth of discharge to conserve battery life and the inverter is around 85% efficient, so you are working with around 900 Wh, not 1,152 Wh. Also keep in mind self-consumption, or power the AC180 draws just by being turned on, is around 15 W.
The AC180 is also pretty useful to have around the home. Plug your computer in via the unit and it becomes an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) designed to keep data safe and hardware running if the power grid goes down.
You can also reach for it if you need to use an angle grinder or hammer-drill outdoors or in the back shed where there’s no mains power available.
When not in use, the unit should be charged to 80% capacity every three to six months.
The AC180 can be beefed up with the 806-Wh B80 expansion pack, which brings its capacity to 1,958 Wh, almost matching its bigger sibling ,the AC200P. The expansion pack will be available later this month.
Bluetti will also offer the AC180 in a bundle with solar panels, and it can be used with third-party solar panels, too.
For my situation, the AC180 provides just about the ideal mix of power and portability.
It’s easy to set up and use, built to last, is a joy to camp with compared to a fume-spewing gasoline generator, and its specs stack up pretty well against competitors like the EcoFlow Delta. We didn’t feel that we lacked enough ports at any point, and while trimmings like an extra wireless charging pad might be handy sometimes, having a compact unit far outweighs such minor conveniences.
There are no doubt camping scenarios where more outlets or capacity will be required, but if you need something that’s small enough to be squeezed into a mid-sized car, van or SUV – or caravan or camper trailer – and that has enough grunt to keep all your essential gadgets plus one or two extras up and running, the AC180 is a really solid option.
The Bluetti AC180 is due for launch in Australia on May 15 and will hit US shelves in early June. Pricing won’t be available to launch – hit the link below for updates and more information.
Product page: Bluetti AC180