Review: Powerbag Instant Messenger
We've reviewed plenty of external battery packs for Apple's portable devices in the past, but Powerbag's Instant Messenger ($180) -- just one product in the company's large lineup -- is among the first Dock Connector cable-equipped batteries to be integrated into a bag. The nylon messenger-style bag is quite large, offering plenty of storage for pretty much any accessories you have. In addition, it can charge your iPad, iPhone, iPod, and other gadgets while you're on the go. For those who travel frequently on rely on their mobile devices, this may be a dream come true, though it does have a couple of caveats that you might want to be aware of going into the purchase.
The sheer number of storage compartments is impressive, and very much befitting a bag this size. Most importantly to Apple users, there are dedicated pockets for an iPad or iPad 2, iPhone, and a MacBook of any size up to 17”. In addition, there are zip-up pockets at either end, a water bottle pocket on the front, and two large compartments behind the handle; that’s all just before you open the flap. Inside, there are two more zippered pockets—one with a Dock Connector cable, the other with a dual-headed Mini and Micro USB plug—a mesh holder, two pen or stylus holders, plus the large cavity and assorted smaller pockets. We can’t see many people needing much more space than this, and for some it’ll certainly be overkill.
All of the materials used in the bag look and feel nice. It’s almost entirely black nylon, although there are a few patches of green nylon, as well as some padded green fabric. The zippers feel solid and the plastic clips work well. While the company could have used more premium materials such as ballistic nylon or heavier duty clips, which would have made Instant Messenger compatible with the best non-battery bags we’ve seen from other companies, these weren’t bad choices. One of our favorite parts of the whole design is the power button and battery indicator setup. Under the main flap is a rubberized Powerbag logo; pressing it once lights up four battery indicator LEDs that glow through the material, and holding it for two seconds turns the charger on or off.
For the most part, we really like how Powerbag integrated the battery into Instant Messenger. It’s devised a pretty great system that makes it simple to plug in your devices and recharge the battery when necessary. At the heart is a removable 6000mAh battery, which fits inside a mount within the main cavity of the bag, a sliding clip holding it in place so that it doesn’t come loose. Next to that is an extra USB port, and the whole block can be zipped up so that it’s protected, while leaving the port exposed for easy access.
The USB and Dock Connector cables mentioned above branch out from this unit as part of the “PowerVine” system, and allow for direct charging of various devices at 1A—suitable for an iPhone or iPod, as well as devices like the Kindle. Oddly, iPad charging is another story. While the battery does support full 2.1A output, you’ll need to provide your own Dock Connector cable for this purpose, and hook it up to the female USB port. This isn’t terrible, but for the price it would have been nice to have that functionality included.
We do like how Powerbag handles recharging the battery pack. A wall adapter is included with Instant Messenger and it can plug directly into the battery when it’s out of the bag. But conveniently, there’s a passthrough built into the satchel itself, under the flap in the bottom right corner. A rubber plug keeps it closed when not in use, and when you do need to recharge, you simply plug the adapter in. The solution is implemented very well.
Our battery test results were just about on par with our expectations. Both Choiix’s Power Fort 5600mAh Rechargeable Battery Pack and Scosche’s goBat II earned general recommendations when we tested them over the past few months: the former was able to provide a 49% charge, while the latter charged a depleted iPad 2 to 56% with a slightly smaller 5000mAh battery; performance-wise, it’s an outlier. In our testing of Instant Messenger’s 6000mAh battery, we used a fully discharged iPad 2 with Wi-Fi connected, Notifications and Location Services turned on, the screen off, and no media playing. After two and a half hours the pack was empty and the tablet’s battery was at 55%. This is about right in the middle between the other units in terms of charging time, and a little slow but not terrible. iPhone users should be able to get two full charges out of the battery regardless of the model they’re using.
The best way to look at Instant Messenger is as the sum of its parts—that is, the value it holds as a bag and as a battery pack—and determine if the whole is greater than that. While prices vary depending on the company and design, nicely designed, similarly sized bags often retail for about $100. The Choiix and Scosche battery packs we used for comparison are $70 and $80 respectively. This means that Instant Messenger falls into just the right range for what it provides as an integrated solution. The fact that it can charge multiple devices at one time definitely scores it some bonus points, as does the top-notch integration of all of the components. The only real downsides are the lack of a supplied 2.1A charging cable—something that Apple’s users already have, most likely—and the materials, which are a step shy of the best we’ve seen. Overall, Instant Messenger is worthy of a strong general recommendation and a B+ rating. Even higher quality materials would push it into the A- range.