The iPhone is a wonderful, addictive, and mind-enhancing device. People joke about the social cachet or the hubris of iPhone users, noting that they sit them on the table, or seem to always have a reason to bring them out when in public. Well, for some it may be social status, but for most of the iPhone users I know, it’s just that there is so much to do with it, and the apps are so varied and interesting, that you just don’t want to put it down.
(Reality check: I owned several Palms for most of the decade before getting an iPhone, and had loads of applications on them. They managed eBooks, calendar, brought in information when I’d sync and, with the last device, the Tungsten|C, would surf the Internet over WiFi. I’m not new to cell phones or handheld computers, but the iPhone broke the mold.) The difference in the iPhone and many of the devices that came before is that the internet – full and unvarnished, is not only available, but paid for. Every plan (at least in the US) includes all-you-can-eat data. If you also opt into the unlimited texting package, you can do a lot of communicating, searching, and writing on these devices, without ever once placing a phone call or increasing your monthly service charge.
The problem with all these capabilities is that it takes quite a bit of energy to power everything. The iPhone has four, count-em, four, radios: Cellular, GPS, BlueTooth, and WiFi. In contrast, my Tungsten|C had only WiFi. My Sony-Ericsson phone only had Cellular and Bluetooth. So not only did I use these devices less, but their batteries seemed to last forever. Sure, they could charge quickly, and would last for days, but anything lasts for days if you don’t use it. A few weeks back, I was in Victoria, British Columbia for two days, and left data and text off, due to Rodger’s onerous roaming pricing. (Last time I spent two days in Canada (Nova Scotia) and allowed my iPhone to roam, it cost $60 for the data use, on top of my regular phone bill. Yeowch!) On those days, I noticed that the battery on my iPhone seemed to be lasting longer, even though I’d use it in and around the hotel, where there was free WiFi. So, as many pundits and commentators have written, it’s not that the iPhone battery is so bad or can’t be replaced. The issue is that it runs down because it’s in almost constant use.
So, given that we need to use the iPhone, what are we to do? Some folks outfit their cars with 12-volt USB connectors or charging cables, others make sure they have a charging cable in their home, their office and in their bag, so they can top off at coffee shops, airports, libraries or where ever they stop to use their laptop. I’ve done both of those, but recently have found a third and, in many ways, easier solution: I’ve been using a Mophie Juice Pack.
There are several similar devices on the market, all doing the same thing: it attaches to the iPhone and recharges the battery, so that you don’t have to find a power plug or USB charger. So, how does it function? Let’s take a look and find out.
In the Box – another box?
The Juice Pack and a 30″ USB cable are held in a cardboard filler in a cardboard shelf hanger box with a clear plastic window. There’s a short instruction booklet wrapped in a cardboard iPhone prop inserted in the Juice Pack. It’s an attractive package, very well done, but it’s quite a bit of paper to toss out, once you get the actual unit out.
The claims on the back flap of the box seem quite extravagant:
up to additional 6 hours (3G network)
up to additional 12 hours (2G Network)
up to additional 6 hours (3G)
up to additional 7 hours (WiFi)
Standby time: up to additional 350 hours
Audio Playback: up to additional 28 hours
Video playback: up to additional 8 hours
The device itself is a custom-molded sled for a single iPhone model. On the bottom, there is a USB mini jack; on the back, four blue diode power indicators for amount of charge left. (It comes at least partially charged. You can see the diodes through a window in the back of the display box.) Inside is a full iPhone/Touch dock-type connector which enables pass-through syncing and concurrent charging. The sled covers the back of the iPhone up to about halfway through the camera lens. There’s a notch for the lens to “see” fully.
Since it’s a solid, single piece, there are no joints to creak or give. The inner plastic is a bright, day-glo green, with the outside a flat black. The fit is so tight that no case or skin that I have seen can be on the iPhone when it’s inserted. It’s actually a bit difficult to pull the iPhone out of the sled once it’s charged, at least when it’s new. After a few days of charging with it, the fit is relaxed, but still very secure. To each side of the iPhone connector, there are small indentations that focus the speaker sound out of the case and toward the front.
When the iPhone is in the sled, it’s just slightly wider and thicker, and a little heavier than the bare unit. The texture is a bit less slick and easier for my dry skin to hold onto than the smooth, shiny bare phone. That’s the reason I usually use a silicone case: with the skin, the phone has enough surface texture to stay in my hand or shirt pocket without sliding. One drawback of putting your iPhone in the Juice Pack is that you’ll have to find a place to store any case or skin you may be using. You may be tempted to leave your iPhone in the battery pack all the time, but that’s not recommended. Neither the internal battery or the ones in the Juice Pack are designed to constantly be under charge.
When you slide the phone into the sled’s dock, the charging screen with the green battery icon appears briefly, just as it does when you plug it into a charge cable. Depending on how low your battery is, it should charge up almost as quickly as your computer would charge it. I was able to get a full charge within an hour or less from a very low state. Once it had fully charged the iPhone, the Juice Pack’s LED status display had moved from 4 dots (full) to two solid. You’d think that would mean you could fully change your iPhone fully again, but you’d be wrong. Once the Juice Pack gets low, it is not as fast to supply power to a phone that’s almost charged back. I thought about doing a little more testing, starting with 75% change on the phone and 50% in the Juice Pack, but with only graphics and no real numbers, these measurements are so subjective as to be worthless. All in all, the battery life seemed in keeping with the claims mentioned above. Suffice it to say that you can get well over 250% of your usual battery life if you carry one of these packs. (The full internal battery, then a full recharge, and then close to another half-charge, all without being near power or a USB charger.) I’ve also left it unused in my bag for the better part of a week, and still get 4 full dots of power available on the meter. That’s quite a security blanket.
Recharging the Juice Pack is a breeze. You plug it in to a mini USB cable, with or without your iPhone connected. The beauty of this is that you can sync and charge your iPhone while it’s connected with this cable, so you don’t even have to have a regular sync cable.
If you’re constantly on the move, this is a great thing to have in your bag. Since you can use the iPhone fully while it’s being charged in the Juice Pack, it’s actually better than having a replacement battery: you can talk for a few hours, realize you’re getting low, slide the phone into the sled while still talking, and it will charge up – while you’re still talking. With a battery swap, you have to disconnect, open the unit, change the battery out, put the cover back on, restart, then reconnect to your party.
I had absolutely no issues with the Mophie in the field. I’ve used a lot of gadgets over the years, and it’s quite rare to find one that so cleanly and fully meets the expectations it sets. For $99.95 (that’s $100 to normal people), it’s a box full of worry-free usage. Five stars.