They say you can never be too rich or too thin, and in the case of the average iPhone or iPad user, you can also never have enough power. Personal hotspots, FaceTime, and many games push your battery to the limits. Luckily, a myriad of products in a variety of styles exist to help the power-challenged. Which is best? It depends on what you want to use it for.
Battery power is generally measured in milliamp hours (mAh). The more of these at your disposal, the more battery reserve you’ll have. The more power, however, the bigger the battery is generally going to be. You’ve got to make some choices and compromises. There are generally two styles of external chargers: integrated case-style chargers, which thicken the phone while providing power, and dongle-style chargers which hang off the phone’s dock connector.
Case + Battery Backup
If you’re interested in an integrated case and battery pack for an iPhone 4, Dexim’s Super Juice ($69.99 retail) is the best mix of power and features. First, it has a 2000 mAh battery to give you six additional hours of talk time. What makes this battery stand out, pardon the pun, is a nice little kick stand in the back that allows you prop it horizontally for easy video viewing. Unlike the Mophie’s version (Juice Pack Plus), the top part of the Dexim case is integrated into the design, so it can’t be lost (after the first week of testing the Juice Pack Plus, I lost the top!) The Dexim also retails for about 30 percent less than the Mophie. Unfortunately, the Dexim only comes in white, while the Mophie Juice Pack Plus comes in a variety of colors — white included.
Standalone Portable Reserves
For smaller boosts of power during the day, I absolutely fell in love with the Chargeblock XL ($39.99 retail) from Miccus. With 1500 mAh of power, it will give you a significant boost, and its compact curved design makes it fit easily into your pocket or purse, then attach to any device with the standard dock charger. This was the only external dongle-style charger that I could keep using while holding the iPhone. Other dongle-style chargers are just to bulky or awkward to hold while connected.
However, a strong runner-up in this category is the Mophie Juice Pack Boost ($59.95). While not as compact as the Chargeblock (sized similar to an iPod classic), it does have a built-in carabiner keychain to attach it to just about anything and it doubles as a flashlight! I did have trouble with the retractable, 30-pin connector on the Juice Pack Boost keeping a stable connection to my iPhone, and it was impossible to use while holding the iPhone, which is why the Chargeblock remains my first choice for daily use.
For charging my iPhone 4 while on a plane (or anywhere else where you won’t use the phone for talking), I really liked two different Kensington products. My first choice was the Kensington Travel Battery Pack and Charger ($69.99 retail). It provides 1500 mAh of power, but its dock cap acted as a built-in horizontal prop stand (similar in function to the Dexim Super Juice) so I could watch video on the plane hands-free. In other situations, the dock cap was a nuisance, as it added too much bulk to the iPhone and fell off while talking on the phone. Shortly after Macworld, the Kensington PowerLift ($49.99) was released. This charger provides 1200 mAh of power and has a built-in vertical stand which is ideal for FaceTime. The stand is integrated and can completely fold out of the way. The PowerLift is my first choice for this style of battery pack, and I keep one in my office as a convenient iPhone charging station.
iPad Battery Backups
Given the iPad’s extreme power requirements, the field is somewhat narrow for iPad users. Only two devices I tested provided enough power to truly extend the iPad’s battery (and skyrocketed my iPhone power!). One was the Richard Solo 9000 mAh charger ($69.95 retail). While a great product, the design was quite bulky. I found it difficult to carry around with me, as it wouldn’t easily fit into most cases and certainly not my pocket. However, 9000 mAh made it a leader in capacity. In contrast, the Miccus ChargeBlock for iPad ($99.99 retail) provided 8200 mAh of power, but did this with a design almost identical in size and shape to the iPhone 3G, and thus is very easy to carry around with you. The convenience more than made up for the loss of capacity. Cool flashing blue lights didn’t hurt my love of this product.
Overall, my favorite charger was the Dexim BluePack S8 ($79.90 retail). Although it was small and sleek (slightly smaller than the iPhone 4), it provided 3000 mAh of power and a built-in flashlight — as well as a slew of USB adapters for not just 30-pin connectors, but also Micro and Mini USB charging. However, I skipped using those and opted to carry around with me a Scoche flipSYNC ($19.99 retail), which is an iPhone charge-and-sync cable you carry around with you on a keychain. I keep both devices in my laptop bag and use them on a daily basis.
As you can tell, I got a bit obsessive with finding just the right external iPhone and iPad charger. I’m an extremely heavy iPhone user and can’t make it to lunch without a bit of a boost. I guess my iPhone has become too much like its owner!
Disclosure: All devices were supplied by the manufacturers and, yes, Dave got a real charge out of all this research.