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Cool Idea with little Usefulness
on September 2, 2007
This cooler runs on free piston Stirling cycle technology. It is, I believe, the very first consumer product available using this 43 year old technology. So, I just had to have one. Stirling cycle engines have themselves been around for about a hundred years, without coming to market! Stirling engines and Stirling coolers are completely different from the ubiquitous internal combustion engine and Rankine (think common refrigerator) cooler. In theory they are far more efficient. Stirling coolers have been used for years in the warheads of ICBM's to keep cool the avionics necessary for reliable missile guidance systems.
The Coleman product works exactly as advertised, sort of. You see the great advantage of Stirling technology is its efficiency. So, combining that feature with Coleman's claims that it is "Completely Portable" and has a "low battery LED" I foolishly thought that I could take this cooler to the beach or camping, and its Stirling engine would run ultra-efficiently off of its small battery. I imagined that the extra weight of the Stirling engine and battery, and the modest size of the food holding area were in large part a tradeoff, because I wouldn't have the bulk or weight of carrying 15-20 lb of ice. Thus justifying the roughly thirty pound weight of the empty cooler.
Well, I was wrong. It does not come with any battery, and therefore it must be plugged-in to a wall outlet, or to a cigarette lighter of a vehicle in order to run. So, my question is: If it has to be plugged-in to run, why does it need to be so ultra-efficient? Coleman has taken the chief advantage of its product and made it irrelevant.
I called Coleman and spoke with a nice woman in Wichita. She saw my point. She said that the low battery indicator is so that if you run the cooler off of your car battery and you don't have your car running, you'll be warned before you run the battery too far down. Ok, but there are only two problems with this: First, the instructions say to always keep the car running while the cooler is plugged-in and running. Second, car batteries are not deep cycle batteries, they are designed to provide a burst of energy (cold cranking power) to start the vehicle. So, the instruction manual makes sense, though for an hour or two in a parked car one should be okay. Of course, if the car is parked and not running, you are not likely around to see the low battery LED light, are you?
My opinion is that someone in product development really screwed-up. But, I think I am going to keep my Cooler anyhow, for its historical significance, if nothing else. I am also researching getting a 12 volt, 18 amp, deep cycle, AGM sealed battery (about 12 lb) and an alligator clip connector to carry separately in a tote-bag. Of course, I'll need a battery charger, too. But, then I would have a truly portable cooler. I still have to crunch the numbers though and make sure I would get a full day at the beach, or out fishing in my row boat. Bigger batteries are available, but they jump to about 25 lb, and that gets to be too much to lug around.
Let's hope someone at Coleman is paying attention and they get this right in the next generation of this machine loaded with potential, but with very limited usefulness as currently configured. My vote would be for an internal (possibly optional and definitely removable) battery with a charger, two big wheels on one end, and a telescoping handle like airline luggage so you can wheel the sucker around without bending down.