Mophie, makers of the Juice Pack line of iPhone and iPod cases and external batteries, recently introduced a higher capacity version of its Juice Pack Air case for the iPhone 4 dubbed the Juice Pack Plus ($99.99). I’ve been using it for couple weeks, putting on a lot of mileage considering how often I exhaust my iPhone’s battery. Here’s what I found.
Design and Build
The Juice Pack Air (descendant of the Juice Pack Air for iPhone 3G and 3GS) Mophie released for the iPhone 4 is a looker. It has a metallic edge running around the case reminiscent of the iPhone 4’s naked design. The Juice Pack Plus, on the other hand, does away with such frills. It’s matte black all over, except for where silver buttons for volume, device lock and checking the built-in battery’s charge are located. Additional colors are available for the outside band, though these aren’t yet shipping.
Surprisingly, the Juice Pack Plus isn’t larger than the Air, despite offering more extra battery capacity. Its dimensions and weight are listed as the same on Mophie’s official pages for each product, but the Plus packs one-third more juice, with a 2000 mAh battery, compared to just 1500 mAh on the Air.
The Plus feels really solid, which should reassure iPhone 4 owners who worry about dropping their device. The rubber band that surrounds it is supposed to be shock-absorbing, and the dual-injected hardcase should be tough enough to withstand some hits. Both the band and the back both feel very good on the fingers, too, with a slightly rubberized texture that feels less prone to slipping out of your grip than the iPhone’s glass or aluminum surfaces.
Mophie’s placement of the microUSB port, battery activation switch and charge indicator are all unobtrusive, and don’t get in the way when you’re gripping the phone normally. Access to the silent mode switch seems a little impeded because of the case’s thickness, but not critically so.
A few things might bother iPhone 4 owners about the Juice Pack Plus’ design. First, it’s bulky. It feels a bit like I’m carrying my iPhone 3GS with a standard case again, instead of a sleek current-generation device. Also, you won’t have dock connector access, although the included microUSB cable allows for iPhone charging and syncing when the phone is in the Juice Pack. Finally, it is a slide-on case. I use a couple different slide-on cases with my iPhone and haven’t noticed any serious damage, cosmetic or otherwise, but if this is a concern for you, then the Air might not be the best solution.
The main selling point of the Juice Pack Plus is its built-in rechargeable battery. The Plus, as mentioned, packs a 2000 mAh battery, which should more than double the life of your iPhone 4. In real world testing, I found that a full charge does indeed charge my iPhone 4 completely, and even leaves a little bit of emergency juice in the tank. It won’t add much, but it should be sufficient to get you an extra call or two from a completely dead phone.
For me, a battery case isn’t an all-the-time accessory, but I always love having one on hand for when I think I might need it, like when I’ll be away from home for a few days. Since my use is sporadic, I appreciate a spare battery or battery case that can hold its charge for a decent length of time. The Juice Pack Plus seems to live up to my needs in this regard. It didn’t lose much of its charge after lying neglected for even five days, the longest period it remained unused during my testing.
Unlike the iPhone 3GS Juice Pack Air, the Juice Pack Plus for iPhone 4 comes on and off the device smoothly and easily. The two parts of the Plus manage to separate with very little effort, and yet it feels snug and secure when on the phone. It’s the biggest design improvement in my opinion, which is a good thing because that used to be its only major deficiency.
Finally, the Juice Pack Plus actually operates as a speaker enhancement for the iPhone 4, and it works very well in that capacity. Simple cutouts at the bottom of the case redirect sound from the iPhone’s speakers toward the user. It’s much harder to block sound with your thumb while operating the device thanks to this unique design.
Battery cases are not for everyone. They add considerable heft to your device, even when they’re made well and designed to be as slim as possible, like the Juice Pack Plus. But if you consistently need extra power for your iPhone, then there’s nothing in the world quite as well suited to the task. And the Mophie Juice Pack Plus is a very good example of how to do a battery case right.
Highs: Actually doubles battery life; solid, ergonomic, comfortable design; pass-through sync and charge.
Lows: Adds bulk; somewhat plain looking.
If you’re looking for an iPhone 4 battery case, this is the one to get. It’s pricier and less flashy than the Juice Pack Air, but it packs much more power and doesn’t take up any more room in your pocket. Even if you’re not sure whether or not you actually need a backup battery case, the solid, smart design of the Juice Pack Plus might just convince you that you do.
Disclosure: The ZAGGmate tested was provided by the manufacturer for review purposes.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):