Do voltage inverters always need a (noisy) fan? + review & privacy warning for Ecoflow River Max power station

Realax

New Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2021
Messages
2
Hello people,

Solar and electricity novice here. I recently bought an Ecoflow River Max power bank, mainly for use as the power hub in a car camper. (I also got myself a Beaudens 100W solar panel, which seems top-notch at first blush.)

After a day or two, I have strong mixed feelings about the Ecoflow product. What's good: charges fast, can power appliances beyond its regular wattage via a voltage-lowering trick (or so I've understood it; tested successfully with hoover and toaster), build quality looks great, pleasing design. What's not good, from minor to major: (1) the manual in non-native English is at times confusing (2) fan noise when using the inverter and (3) severe privacy issues with the mobile control app (which is pretty much required to run the thing properly). I strongly dislike noise and spying so these get two fat thumbs down. I have a few weeks to decide whether I return the thing. At the end of this post I'll sketch the privacy issues as a warning, but the main question for this forum concerns the noise.

* * *

From what I've tested, the River Max runs silently when being charged from my solar panel, and when powering devices via its USB outlets and via the 12V outlets (1 cig lighter type, 2 small round DC5521). However, its fans runs rather noisily when being charged from a 220V wall socket, or when powering any device via its 220V outlets no matter how low its wattage. In fact, to use those 220V outlets you have to push a button, and just activating that button makes the fans whir permanently, even with no devices plugged in! That seems odd. It's almost like a 'dedicated fan noise button'.

Fan noise when charging the River is not such a big deal; this is typically done at home and then you can put it somewhere you don't hear it. Fan noise when powering stuff is a downer: forget about sleeping quietly in a small camper while powering, say, a 220V electric blanket. So my question is: would you expect this with any system using this sort of inversion tech, or is it something Ecoflow could have done better? As a comparison I read/watched some reviews of the Jackery 1000 power bank: it also seems to spin its fans fairly loudly when powering high-wattage stuff, but I can't quite tell what it does with, say, a 5W light bulb.

I can see the 220V outlets still being useful to occasionally power stuff like a drill, toaster or hair blower: stuff you don't use for very long and which make noise anyway (well, not the toaster). If 'inversion fan noise' is here to stay, I'll have to look into 12V alternatives for devices I want to use in quiet, like the electric blanket and a small fridge.

* * *

One particular issue is my laptop: I don't want to use it for long from the 'noisy' 220V outlet; also that would mean a 12V->220V->19V(@3.16amps) inversion chain which seems silly. I tried plugging the laptop directly into one of the DC5521 outlets, which is actually rated at 13.6V 3A max. The laptop won't boot from that. However if it was already switched on, it will draw roughly 15W to 40W from the River Max, rising with CPU usage. Even though the laptop's battery monitor says 'Discharging' the charge shown doesn't seem to actually go down. So the questions: given that the outlet outputs 13.6V and that the laptop normally requires 19V, is it possible to basically slow down the laptop's battery discharge this way? And is this in any way unsound (e.g. bad for battery health)? Also: it wouldn't be possible and helpful to somehow use both the DC5521 outlets to power the laptop, would it? With some sort of 2-to-1 fork gadget. I kind of figure that would at best give double current but still 13.6V... but what do I know.

* * *

Finally, a warning about the privacy issues. You don't absolutely need the app (Android or Apple) to run the River Max, but really you do need it, e.g. to toggle the fast wall charge mode (handy, but noisier! and bad on the battery), or just to dim the fancy light strip (which is kinda cute, but very bright by default). I was initially happy to find that I could download the app straight from Ecoflow's website, since I don't use Google Play Store - out of privacy concerns. I usually use apps from F-Droid; the utility apps I'll mention below can be found there. Scanning the apk file for trackers (with ClassyShark3xodus) resulted in the usual Facebook and Google stuff (hardly innocent), plus Bugly and JiGuang Aurora Mobile JPush. I don't know about Bugly, but JiGuang seems very dodgy, according to the International Digital Accountability Council:

When users install an app that includes Jiguang’s Android SDK, the SDK silently runs in the background. The SDK’s presence is not typically disclosed to users, because it is embedded in the app. The investigation’s testing revealed that data collection occurs automatically and persistently; data is collected whether or not users are actively using the app in question. The SDK’s code begins to run when users unlock the screen of their device, meaning that the app does not need to be used for the collection to occur. Through this functionality, Jiguang can potentially track users by collecting persistent identifiers and information about their device activity, including exactly when new apps are installed and uninstalled on a user’s device.

Moreover, the data they steal from you are transmitted insecurely. Awful. In addition, the Ecoflow app wants an insane amount of permissions, including location info and camera, mic and bluetooth access, none of which make any sense if it's just to control the power bank. You also can't use the app without giving Ecoflow (and who else?) your e-mail address.

There may be an argument for an app over extra hardware buttons, but this particular app has a very strong spying smell about it. They don't tell you anything, neither before nor after you buy (the app requires you to consent to a Privacy Policy, but that seems to be only about Ecoflow's website). Just disgraceful.

In order to test the otherwise inaccessible functions of the unit, I tried installing the app somewhat more safely, and in the process learned how to use a temporary e-mail address from emailondeck.com, and how to 'sandbox' an app with Insular, so that it cannot access (most of?) the rest of your phone. Whether that is enough to stop the spying, I don't know. The only sure way would be to never install the app. A sure-ish way is perhaps to install the damned app, change the settings on the River to your liking, then uninstall the app again; and this every time you want to make a change. But that's bonkers. I may well send back the device because of this stupid skulduggery - especially if there are quieter alternatives.

Pardon the wall of text, I kind of wanted to be precise.

Thanks in advance for any insights into the fan noise and laptop charging issues!
 

Realax

New Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2021
Messages
2
Alright, after some more investigations I'll answer my own questions.

First, NO, voltage inverters do not always need a (noisy) fan, and yes, Ecoflow could have done better. In fact, they now have done better. I came across a video about upgrading the power station's firmware to fix the noise-for-nothing issue. Sure enough, after a few hiccups the firmware is now upgraded and the fan only comes on when powering high-wattage appliances. I can now silently power an electric blanket and my laptop from the 220V outlets (drawing about 130W in all). That's a whole different game than before!

It also renders my question regarding laptop powering moot. Although it's probably still not efficient to have that 12V->220V->19V inversion chain... or is it?

With this firmware upgrade the River Max becomes totally usable and pretty awesome as far as I can see now -- except for the privacy issue with the app. Given the JiGuang issue, I also have to wonder what is actually happening to the station and to my phone when the firmware upgrade occurs. I would strongly encourage anyone with this device to use the precautions mentioned above. Another app I've now installed from F-Droid is SuperFreezZ which makes it "possible to entirely freeze all background activities of any app. [...] Greenify can also do this, but it is not Open Source." This is relevant given the precise issues with JiGuang, in particular the background data collection. But note it may not amend all issues mentioned in the IDAC report, such as the dodgy data transfer encryption.

So, only install the EcoFlow app in an Insular sandbox, and whenever you're done running it from there, SuperFreezZ it (this can be automated). Perhaps that's enough to prevent data leaks, hard to tell.

Of course I've no idea how the product holds up over time, but in summary for first impressions: by itself a cool bit of gear after you get the sane firmware, yet with a hardly-optional friendly looking app that probably does suspicious stuff behind your back.
 
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