Review: Essential TPE The Icon Battery Pack for iPhone
iPod and iPhone battery packs generally look a lot alike these days, either taking the form of extra-thick cases or big packs with cables that can run to one of your pockets. Today, we're looking at three recent and unconventional batteries that sell for $50 to $60: DigiPower's JumpStart Flip ($60), Essential TPE's The Icon Battery Pack for iPhone ($50), and Kensington's PowerLift ($50). Each has a seriously intriguing design that makes it stand out from the pack, though whether any is right for your personal needs will depend on your tolerance for little oddities.
When we first saw images of Essential TPE’s The Icon, we couldn’t quite believe what the Taiwanese developer was doing: the roughly iPhone-thick black plastic accessory roughly replicates the look of the iPhone’s on-screen battery charging icon using a unique electroluminescent front screen that glows green and moves through four stages as it replenishes the device’s power. The Icon occupies even less space than Kensington’s PowerLift, and it’s so distinctive visually that every person we’ve shown it to has expressed interest in its performance. During weeks of testing, its glossy body has proved surprisingly resilient to scratches, and we’ve enjoyed pulling it out from time to time just to watch it glow. It’s Apple eye candy, wrapped in an accessory wrapper.
Essential TPE hasn’t skimped on the pack-ins, either. Despite The Icon’s resilience, the battery is packaged with a soft carrying case, and has a plastic cover for the integrated Dock Connector on top. It also includes a mini-USB cable for recharging, though the cable notably doesn’t fit in the carrying case at the same time as the battery—one’s designed to be left at home while the other’s taken on the road. Missing is a power switch; it’s auto-on when it’s connected to something, even if that something’s 100% charged, and auto-off after a couple of seconds of inactivity. Form has taken priority over function here.
Apart from The Icon’s obvious issues—the fact that it hangs off of an iPhone as a glowing 2.75”-long block of plastic, and that the flush top Dock Connector won’t be compatible with many iPhone cases—there are a couple of problems that prevent it from being truly iconic. First is its battery power, which is limited to only 1000mAh—well below fully recharging any iPhone, and drawn down somewhat by the integrated screen. Essential TPE clocks the battery at offering three additional hours of talk time on an iPhone 3G/3GS, and practically speaking, you can expect to add roughly half of a charge to an iPhone 4 when The Icon is completely filled. As The Icon only charges at a maximum of 0.5 Amps, iPhones will take longer to refuel than with the other options mentioned above. The other issue is one that will bug users with sensitive ears or eyes: The Icon emits a high-pitched sound that’s audible when you’re a foot or two away, changing in pitch as the integrated screen cycles from 0 to 4 filled bars, and the bars dim every time another one is illuminated. If only the screen was a little bit nicer, this would have fulfilled all of its potential.
Overall, The Icon is a cute novelty, but not a battery we’d recommend to most iPhone users. The glowing green screen falls a little short of what we would have expected from pictures, and between the high-pitched noise it emits and the low capacity battery, it wouldn’t be the first battery we’d toss into a bag for use on the road. Similar dollars can buy either of the other batteries mentioned above, each with a more practical design. But if you’re looking for a conversation starter, it’s hard to think of any $50 iPhone or iPod accessory more likely to attract attention. It’s worthy of a limited recommendation because of the amusement factor it provides, but most people will be better served with more powerful and versatile alternatives.