Review: MyCharge Sojourn, Trek, Summit + Peak Rechargeable Power Banks
myCharge -- the same company behind PowerBag products, including Instant Messenger -- recently introduced a new line of battery packs for iOS devices. Just ahead of Apple's expected replacement of the classic 30-pin Dock Connector, we received four for review: Sojourn 1000 ($40), Trek 2000 ($60), Summit 3000 ($80), and Peak 6000 ($100). All are self-contained and require no extra cords; Dock Connector plugs and USB cables are built right in, as is a novel feature -- audio status indications.
The larger Peak and Summit batteries both support full-speed, 2.1-Amp iPad charging, while the smaller two units are better suited for iPhones and iPods because of their slower 1-Amp charge speeds; designed as a family, the packs increase in power capacity as their sizes and prices go up. Beyond support for Apple’s current devices, Peak and Summit both sport Micro-USB cables for charging additional accessories; Trek goes even further, as it both includes Micro-USB, and has a Dock Connector plug that doubles as an iPod/iPhone stand, a nifty feature. On the other hand, despite the fact that all of the batteries’ packages indicated that they ship precharged and ready to go, none arrived with full power. Each was above 50% charged—a decent starting amount if you arrive at an accessory store or airport vending machine in need of immediate fuel—but they had to be topped off.
Of the bunch, Sojourn 1000 is the smallest in both size and battery capacity. The 3.25” x 2.5” plastic block is only 3/8” thick, and feels the cheapest of the bunch, but not unacceptably so. It comes packaged with a fabric wrist strap, which can be wrapped around a metal post at one end for carrying purposes. The top is bare except for a myCharge logo, power/battery indicator button, and four LEDs.
Two aspects of this pack and the rest of the line stick out from other batteries we’ve reviewed in the past. First the USB and Dock Connector cables are built-in, located on the underside of Sojourn. They settle into nooks that leave just enough room to lift the connectors out for use. The Dock Connector cable is stubby, extending only 3/8” past the body, and the USB cord is a few times longer but still pretty short. What really struck us as novel is the speaker myCharge packed in. It simply makes one tone when the battery is plugged in and another when it’s disconnected, but even this basic form of audio feedback is pretty cool.
Trek 2000 is similarly styled at first glance, but has some significant differences beyond its double-sized battery size, which is both wider and thicker to accommodate the larger cell. Underneath is the same green USB cable nested in its home. There are also four rubber feet, though, and a grey strip of plastic labeled “Lift to Dock;” follow the directions and the Dock Connector pivots into stand position. Instead of having to lay the iPhone or iPod down, you can simply slide it on the dock for a single, nice viewing angle. We were also glad to see that the Dock Connector was molded to accommodate some cases, which isn’t as common as users would prefer in docking accessories. And as contrasted with Sojourn, Trek also adds a Micro-USB cable along one of the edges, which is to say that the extra $20 gets you quite a few additional features—dock, extra power, and broader device compatibility.
Moving on up, Summit 3000 and Peak 6000 are almost identical save for their length, height, and capacities. They’re much larger than than the other two, while packing extra features: Summit is roughly 3” x 4.75” x 0.75” and Peak measures around 3” x 5.25” x 0.9”. Compared to Sojourn and Trek, these batteries feel more solid, but they’re still a bit too plasticky. Both have the same inputs and outputs: a full USB plug along one edge, Micro-USB out on the other, a USB port for hooking up additional accessories, and flip-out wall outlet prongs. Consequently, you can simply plug either of these cells into an open wall outlet for recharging, rather than depending on a USB port or separate wall adapter. Both list full 2.1A output capabilities.
The power button on these units feels more solid, and there are five battery life indicator lights as opposed to the four on the smaller packs. But what wowed us was myCharge’s significantly more advanced audio status system: instead of just playing tones, this one actually speaks. Press the button and it’ll give you an approximation of the remaining battery life—“battery is full” or “battery is above 50%,” for example. When you connect it to charge a device, it’ll go so far as to say that it’s “charging Apple device.” myCharge’s speech system even supports Spanish, French, and Portuguese in addition to English, with a pen tip-activated button allowing you to switch between languages. Though not strictly necessary, and capable of being disabled if you prefer silence, this is one of the coolest innovations we’ve seen in external batteries in the past few years.
In terms of charging performance, all of the myCharge batteries came in right around where we’d expected based on past averages. We tested the 1-Amp Sojourn and Trek using an iPhone 4, while Summit and Peak were used to charge a third-generation iPad because of their 2.1A outputs. Both devices were connected to Wi-Fi and had their screens turned off; the iPhone was also connected to the cellular network. Sojourn’s 1000mAh cell was able to juice up the iPhone 4 by 43% in a little over half an hour, and Trek’s 2000mAh battery provided an 83% boost. Both results were a little below the averages for their respective cells, but not much. Summit gave a 15% charge to the iPad while the double-sized Peak delivered 32%, which would yield roughly 30% and 60% charges with first-generation iPad and iPad 2 models. These numbers were right on target.
myCharge’s new family of batteries have pretty much everything going for them: they’re well-designed, fully functional, and have cool features that go above and beyond the rest of the field. The built-in cables and plugs may be limiting in some scenarios, but will more likely be helpful for users in most situations. And we really liked the audio cues, especially the verbal ones that came from the larger units, an innovative and actually useful feature for those who don’t like squinting at little lights. Moreover, the prices for the smaller two models are just right—competitive with similar rivals—though comparable alternatives can be had for lower prices than Summit or Peak. While they deliver the charge we’d expect from batteries of their capacity, they’re not going to thrill iPad owners, particularly users of the power-hungry third-generation model.
Considered individually, Trek is the most impressive thanks to its novel combination of features, and earns our high recommendation. Sojourn doesn’t have the Micro-USB port or stand and 1000mAh isn’t as useful for the price, but it’s good enough to be worthy of a B+ rating and strong general recommendation. Peak and Summit both sport cool features but are a bit too expensive, falling below the capacities that might justify their sizes; they both deserve a flat B rating and our general recommendation. That said, if you’re looking for a battery with audio status indications, even the B+ and B-rated options here are unique in the marketplace, and should be near the top of your list of possible Apple batteries. myCharge did a good job with each of these models, but delivered the best overall package with Trek.