Mophie Juicepack Air

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's better to marry than date.

The Long Version: When I'm writing these reviews I sometimes ask myself: 'Self, if this (whatever) went away through no fault of its own, would I buy another?' That is, with the benefit of experience, and everything that's changed between my first buying decision and the time when I write about it, would I do it over again?

With the Mophie iPhone battery case this isn't a hypothetical question – I'm on my third one. The first one I bought was for my i4s, but that phone broke less than two weeks later. The second was for my brand-new i5s – in fact I had the case even before I had bought the phone. And that one was my favourite case until it developed the annoying habit of repeatedly connecting and disconnecting while charging the phone. So case #2 went back to the local big-box store, where I had to settle for a credit since they didn't have the red Mophie Juicepack Air in stock to replace it with.

I sat on that credit for quite some time, and even bought the Apple leather case for daily wear, which I really like. So eventually I decided to use that store credit for something else – I wanted to cash it in before they file for bankruptcy, not that I have any inside knowledge – and spent time researching bluetooth speakers and other trinkets that cost about the same amount as the Mophie case before heading back to the store.

Ah, but when I went to the store I took a fateful stroll down the aisle where the battery cases sit. There it was: the Mophie Juicepack Air in its metallic Product Red colour. I couldn't resist and bought it again. It's just so pretty.

The Air isn't small. Putting it on the phone isn't a trivial choice, although its smoothish surface, curved back, and extra weight keeps the phone quite solidly pocketable. There are times when I take it off in favour of keeping the phone small, but I'd say that I use the case five days out of seven in three out of four weeks.

There's a practical difficulty that comes from only using the battery case occasionally: the Mophie charges from an industry-standard Micro USB cable, rather than the Apple-standard cables, so I keep both cables at my household charging station. The restrictions Apple puts on the Lightning port also means that the Micro USB port on the case can't do data pass-through, so the bottom of the case has to be removed when the phone needs to be tethered.

The biggest day-to-day complication with the Mophie case is that the headphone port on the Air is too small to let anything larger than the little white Apple headphones plug in directly. Mophie includes a short adapter cable to allow other headphones to work, but despite fairly light use the connection on mine has failed. I happen to have a spare, since I kept the one from the case that also failed, but this is not a reassuring trend.

The other challenge with the case is that it redirects the speaker port to the front of the phone, so leaving it face-down overnight muffles the alarm quite profoundly. I was nearly late for work as part of figuring that little tidbit out.

I lack both the means and motivation to do a thorough rundown test on the phone and phone+case, but my impression is that I can pull the phone from about 30% to 80% power with a small top-up reserve left over. That's lower than the specs suggest, which is typical, but it makes it easy to get through a day with moderately heavy use. If I'm conservative I can skip an overnight charge, but that's rarely my goal.

The real benefit of the battery case is that I don't need to cushion my power use. When I'm not using the Mophie case I always have an eye on the power level, and typically plug my phone in for an extra fifteen minutes before I leave for work and then top it up after I return home for the evening. That's less trouble than walking a dog, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one with a spare charger plugged in next to the couch, but there's a reason why lower-maintenance cats and fish are also popular pets.

I was hoping that the Mophie case would be ideal for travel, but it's not quite a straightforward choice. It does add to the phone's ability to be away from a power outlet, but it also adds to its size and weight. The case and the phone charge quickly when they're together, and the case can be recharged without the phone when it needs to be plugged in where there's the risk of theft. Airport lounges or shopping mall food courts come to mind. But travelling with other iThings means that the case needs its own cable, which adds complexity in an already too-complex world.

Aside from size, weight, cost, and somewhat modest capacity, there's one other limitation on Mophie's battery case: it can't charge anything else. Not that its little battery would take my tablet or camera very far, but if being able to top up anything else is a requirement, then any dedicated battery case won't help. For that we need a power cell with an assortment of cables, including one to charge the battery itself with, adding a lot more hassle to its benefit of flexibility. I have a couple of those external batteries, and do endorse them, but never carry them without some specific purpose. The Mophie case is easy and convenient by comparison, and something that I know I'll have unless I've specifically chosen to leave it at home.

But now I have to ask myself: 'Self, if the Mophie case were to go away for some reason that wasn't its fault, would I replace it?' Honestly, I probably would buy another. 'But what if it failed again, like the first one did?' In that case, no, not a chance – and I'm saving my receipt just in case.

last updated 23 apr 2014


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