Review: dreamGEAR i.Sound Portable Power Max 16,000 mAh Backup Battery
Battery packs for iPods and iPhones have waxed and waned in popularity every time Apple has released a new model with lower or longer run times -- demand is highest when a new device can't last for a full day of typical use before requiring a recharge. The iPad's a different story: Apple built the first version to run for 10 hours of continuous use, and modestly improved the run time of the iPad 2. So the need for an external battery isn't as great, but frequent travelers may have the need for extra power on the road, regardless. dreamGear's new i.Sound Portable Power Max 16,000 mAh Backup Battery ($130) and PhoneSuit's new 8,200mAh Primo Power Core ($100) are being targeted directly at such users, and we've tested them both for overlapping but similar reviews today.
The very idea of an 8,200mAh or 16,000mAh battery pack would have seemed like total overkill only a year ago—that’s nearly two to four times the power of the largest iPhone and iPod batteries we previously tested. But the iPad’s huge screen demands considerably more power than Apple’s smaller devices, and thus an 8,200mAh battery isn’t even enough to fully refill an iPad one time. In that context, it’s worth noting that while dreamGear and PhoneSuit’s batteries are targeted at iPad users, they’ve both been designed to work with other Apple and USB devices as well; iPhone users can expect roughly 5 full recharges from Primo Power Core, or 10 full recharges from Portable Power Max. iPods typically require even less power and can recharge even more times.
Overly long though its name may be, the i.Sound Portable Power Max 16,000 mAh Backup Battery delivers a lot more bang for its higher price. (dreamGEAR sells an 8,000mAh version that’s nearly identical, but with half the power, for $80.) Physically larger in each dimension than the Primo Power Core, it’s roughly 5.6” long by 3.2” wide and 1” tall, mimicking the look of an iPhone 4 with a matte silver core paired with a glossy black plastic top and bottom. In addition to including a green power light and four battery charge indicators on one thin side, it also has a bright LED flashlight built in for some odd reason, plus separate power and flashlight power switches. The other side has an array of five full-sized USB ports for simultaneous multi-device recharging, and dreamGEAR pitches it for two alternative uses: charging five USB devices at once, or an iPad plus something much smaller.
dreamGEAR supplies a mini-USB/micro-USB to USB cable, carrying case, and wall power adapter to refuel the Portable Power Max. Unlike PhoneSuit’s battery, you need to supply the Dock Connector to iPod/iPhone/iPad cables on your own. Fully recharging Portable Power Max takes roughly 8 hours, and though that’s a long time to wait, you’re thankfully provided with a clear indication that it’s done: all four of the included lights stay solid. Ideally, dreamGEAR would have engineered it to recharge as quickly as it discharges power.
But the sheer quantity of power inside this battery is amazing. In our testing, Portable Power Max was able to deliver 162% of an iPad battery charge, which is to say that it can fully recharge an iPad or iPad 2 once, with more than 60% of a full charge left to spare for a second charge—or other devices. Notably, dreamGEAR’s hardware is capable of putting out 2.5 Amps of total power, with up to 2.1 Amps on any single port at a time. This gives you full-speed iPad charging on one point while other has nearly enough to quickly recharge an iPod, or slowly recharge a second iPad.
The only hiccup we experienced with Portable Power Max was one that might have been anticipated: it balked in a less than great way when we tried to connect two iPads and an iPod touch at the same time. Too much power was being demanded by the three devices, so the battery responded by turning power on and off to all three as a signal that it wasn’t able to handle them all. This isn’t great for their batteries if continued—and a less elegant solution than merely refusing to supply power to a third port—but then, most competing batteries don’t have three ports to manage at once, and virtually none have five. This won’t be a problem if you’re recharging five low-power devices at a time, or even a couple of iPhones and an iPod, but it can be expected for more power-hungry devices.
Are either of these new batteries really mainstream, given their high asking prices, relatively large footprints, and crazy power capacities? The answer’s “not yet, but we’ll see.” Given that Just Mobile sells the 4400mAh Gum Pro for $60, PhoneSuit’s decision to nearly double that capacity for $100 isn’t totally out of the ballpark, and the only disappointment in the otherwise well-conceived package is that Primo Power Core falls short of delivering the full iPad recharge that some users might expect from the company’s marketing. It’s worthy of our general recommendation and B rating on the merits of what it does do, though. Portable Power Max is obviously more expensive and larger, but it nearly quadruples Gum Pro’s capacity for only a little more than twice the price—while including a carrying case and wall charger, besides. There’s more than enough power inside for a full iPad recharge, plus more to go around for a partial second recharge, or use by additional, smaller devices. While it takes too long to refuel, it’s a bit better in execution, and delivers a lot more value for the same price than Kensington’s PowerBack, and way more juice than NeoSonic’s far more expensive LifePower. It’s worthy of our strong general recommendation and B+ rating.