Review: Compact Power Systems iRecharge for iPod and mini
Pros: Reasonably priced rechargeable batteries for the iPod or iPod mini that provide one full internal battery recharge worth of juice for any connected iPod model. Sturdy detachable belt clips.
Cons: Spartan designs lack anti-scuff internal padding, unlike competitors, and in one of our test units (said to be defective), the added run time varied dramatically - sometimes unacceptably low - based on whether connected iPod was fully discharged and turned on or off, and therefore was appropriate only for certain situations. In other test unit, run time with fully discharged iPod was stronger. Value Pack’s additional items are of questionable added value.
Updated September 8, 2005: Please see the end of this review for additional information on a second iRecharge unit we received. We have preserved our original review text unchanged.
Though many rechargeable iPod battery packs have become available over the last few years, their major distinguishing characteristics are few in number: running time, price, aesthetic design, and safety for use with your iPod. Battery Technology Incorporated still makes the best of the batteries we’ve seen on run time for the dollar (The iPod Battery (iLounge rating: A) and Battery ii (iLounge rating: A-)), but competitors have sought to offer cheaper, smaller, lower-capacity rechargers as alternatives.
Compact Power Systems has two such low-capacity rechargers called iRecharge, one for the iPod and one for the iPod mini ($49.99). They’re both designed to provide the same type of charge - a single replentishment of the internal battery, when connected to a discharged, powered-off iPod. And they’re both sold either separately or in “Value Packs” that include one iRecharge, one Cellboost disposable iPod battery (iLounge rating: B+), and a leather carrying case that holds the iPod and the iRecharger together.
Our photographs show both iRecharge units as parts of the Value Packs, as that’s how we received them, but our separate ratings take their different price points and offerings into consideration.
Each iRecharge unit is an iPod-fitting harness made from the now obligatory glossy white plastic you’d expect, with an extended bottom and a sturdy, detachable iRecharge-branded belt clip at the rear. The iPod version includes three numbered plastic sizer plates for various thicknesses of full-sized iPods, while the iPod mini version does not.
Unlike competing chargers, the sizer plates and interiors of the chargers are unpadded, so your iPod makes surface-on-surface contact on insertion with each version. A plastic Dock Connector plug at the bottom is a micrometer off for precision insertion, but you can make a proper connection with a little gentle pushing. Belt clip detachment similarly requires a bit of inverse pressure, and isn’t too hard to accomplish.
The iPod and mini versions operate in the same way: there’s a Dock Connector port at the bottom so that you can replentish the internal lithium-ion battery, which indicates recharging status through a series of four front-mounted lights: three yellow and one red. There’s a small on/off switch to the right of the lights and an iRecharge logo to the left; a soft V-groove in the center helps you push your iPod out. When connected to your iPod’s wall charger, iRecharge will continue to fill its battery regardless of the switch’s position, and generally also the attached iPod’s, as well - 4G iPods and iPod minis will simultaneously recharge, but 3G iPods won’t.
You’ll know either iRecharge is ready for use when all four of its lights are on, and at this point, the performance becomes a bit trickier to describe. Many of the iPod batteries we’ve tested in the past provide solid additional run time for the connected iPod regardless of whether it’s fully discharged or partially operative. iRecharge does best when the iPod’s fully discharged, turned off, and given a chance to transfer all of its juice to the iPod. Under this scenario, the iPod or iPod mini’s internal battery will fully recharge once, leaving iRecharge empty in the process.
For an iPod mini, this means you should expect around 8 hours of added run time for a dead and discharged first-generation model, and up to 26 hours hours for a second-generation unit - these numbers based on our actual testing of iPod internal battery life (including second tests with the iRecharge) as opposed to Apple’s estimates. Full-sized iPods vary by model, with third-generation iPods doing the worst (5-7 hours), black-and-white fourth-generation iPods doing better (12-14 hours), and color/photo iPods doing the best (15-17 hours). Our recharge test with a 4G iPod was right on the money with a 13 hour run time.
But iRecharge did significantly worse when connected to a dead, powered-on iPod. For instance, we were surprised to see that it powered an otherwise fully discharged fourth-generation (black-and-white) iPod for only 2 hours and 11 minutes when both the iPod and iRecharge were turned on, a very significant difference from its performance with the iPod turned off. This suggests that iRecharge is mostly useful under two circumstances: with an iPod that’s already partially charged, or with an iPod that’s dead and turned off - a fairly significant limitation not found in many of its competitors.
Overall, we had mixed feelings about the iRecharge units. They’re on the spartan side in aesthetic design and don’t have quite the polished, padded feel of their better competitors. Also unlike those competitors, they deliver inconsistent results when used with discharged iPods, and may offer very little added benefit if you’re looking to immediately continue using an iPod with a run-down battery. On the flip side, we saw no iPod behavior oddities (such as backlighting turning on and off) during their charging cycles, and they appeared to provide safe iPod battery recharging at a relatively low price for rechargeables.
Our limited recommendation is based on two facts: iRecharge is fine when you’ve connected it to a dead and turned-off or partially charged iPod, but it’s not great with a dead and turned-on iPod. Nyko’s iBoost and iBoost mini (iLounge ratings: B) do a better job under all circumstances, and can be found today at a similar street price of $45 and up. They also pad their insides to avoid iPod scuffing and offer other little features that are impressive.
We weren’t exceedingly impressed by the iRecharge Value Packs, which for a $20 premium include one of the aforementioned Cellboost disposable batteries (a $9.99 value) and a very inexpensive-feeling leather, vinyl, and elastic case. For the price, our feeling is that you’d be better off buying iRecharge alone and the Cellboost battery separately only if you need it - packing a disposable battery in with a rechargeable one is an iffy proposition to begin with.
The cases are modestly protective, covering your iPod’s screen with vinyl, its front and back with leather, and parts of its sides with elastic. But they leave exposed its controls, entire top, and top side corners, as well as iRecharge’s lights, on/off switch, and belt clip. While we give Compact Power Systems credit for thinking of a way around a legitimate issue - protecting iPods when attached to iRecharge - the case is a bit on the geeky side and not something we’d want to wear around. Given the parts of the iPod that are either covered by iRecharge already or equally exposed with the case on, you’d be better served to buy a set of Power Support screen and 3D Click Wheel protectors (iLounge rating: A-) for the difference in price, instead.
Second iRecharge, Different Results
Following publication of our review, Compact Power Systems insisted that our test results for iRecharge with a 4G iPod must have been incorrect, and so we conducted multiple re-tests with the sample we were sent, with the same results every time. Our original iRecharge sample was unable to provide anything close to a complete charge for a fully discharged 4G iPod, which CPS said was substantially lower than the 12 hours it repeatedly saw in its tests.
The company insisted on sending a second iRecharge battery for testing, and as promised, this battery allowed the connected iPod to run for 12 hours. In fact, it ran for 16 hours and 37 minutes when connected to a black-and-white 4G iPod.
CPS also pointed out that iRecharge is marketed only for “all iPod models (not mini) with dock connector & click wheel,” which should be read to mean “only fourth-generation iPods of either black-and-white or color variety,” and not third-generation iPods. Since iRecharge does fit and work when connected to the older iPods, we provided information on its performance with them only for those readers who might have been interested in knowing how this battery performs by comparison with competing options we have previously tested. As diminished performance is normal with 3G iPods, this was not taken into account when rating the product.
In part because we cannot say which sample of iRecharge best represents units actually in consumers’ hands, we are not adjusting our rating or otherwise updating our opinions of iRecharge. But we present this information to you in case you may be interested in trying it for the price.