Review: iBattz Mojo Refuel Removable Battery Case + Mojo Refuel Armor Kit for iPhone 5
Most iPhone 5 battery cases mimic the iPhone 4/4S versions that preceded them, largely incorporating the same dimensional changes Apple made to the iPhone itself. So it's no surprise that iBattz' new iPhone 5 case Mojo Refuel ($90) has a lot in common with the iPhone 4/4S Mojo Armor and Mojo Vogue cases we tested last year. Once again, iBattz is selling a fairly standard hard plastic battery case that can transform into a ruggedized version, but the names and options have changed a little. This time, you get the Mojo Refuel battery case with two interchangeable bumpers for the base $90 price, with the option to add the ruggedization parts (the "Mojo Refuel Armor Kit") for a $20 premium, or pick a $100 total set with one bumper and the Armor Kit inside. Additionally, iBattz has improved Mojo's key feature, replacing last year's twin 1700mAh replaceable batteries with two 2200mAh batteries.
The core Mojo Refuel set for iPhone 5 mirrors last year’s Mojo Vogue set for the iPhone 4/4S. You start with a matte black plastic sled that attaches to your iPhone 5’s bottom and back, holding one of two included orange batteries inside, then select between included silver or red bumpers to protect the iPhone’s top, bottom, and sides. A button on the back turns the power on and off or lets you see the current battery charge level on a line of four blue lights. Should you want to recharge Mojo Refuel, you connect an included Micro-USB cable to a port on its bottom; headphone plug access requires an included 3.5mm adapter cable.
What makes the Mojo designs different from most (but not all) iPhone battery cases is the ability to switch between the two included rechargeable cells as needed. To do this, you need to push upwards on Mojo Refuel’s rear surface to open the battery compartment, a slightly unsettling process that has been handled better in earlier iPhone 4/4S cases such as Incipio’s OffGrid Pro. Extra I9300 cell phone-style batteries can be purchased separately for $20, and can presumably be alternatively recharged using a standalone charger. iBattz isn’t yet selling a spare $20 charger for Mojo Refuel as it did for last year’s Mojo cases.
Even if Mojo Refuel didn’t do anything more than what’s described above, it would still be a seriously compelling battery case. In our testing, each of the included 2200mAh cells delivered a 104% (or 208% total) recharge for a fully discharged iPhone, a major jump up from the prior version’s 76%-per-battery (or 152% total) recharge. A full iPhone 5 recharge at 1-Amp speeds took roughly two hours, offset a little by a four-hour recharge time for each spare battery. The latter speed issue aside, this is a phenomenal level of spare power for an iPhone 5 battery case: Mojo Refuel delivers more power with just one of its included batteries than a more expensive Mophie Juice Pack Air. While Mojo Refuel is a hint thicker and its bumpers lack for the integrated button protection found on that version of the Juice Pack, these are small trade-offs given the hugely superior battery life iBattz is offering. One of our editors strongly prefers Mophie’s bumper-less assembly process, while another finds the bumpers here acceptable, though less than ideal.
Mojo Refuel’s story becomes even more compelling when you consider the Mojo Refuel Armor Kit, or the Mojo Refuel Armor case. The $20 package adds an extra hard plastic face plate and clear screen protector to replace the silver or red bumper, plus a stiffened rubber skin that wraps around the iPhone 5’s body. Together, these parts deliver full button, switch, and port protection, the latter using flip-open panels where necessary. Although the result isn’t waterproof—the speakers, microphones, and rear camera remain exposed, along with Mojo Refuel’s four-light rear power indicator—the ruggedization is otherwise considerable, all but guaranteeing your iPhone 5’s safety from common accidental drops and other damage. iBattz’ button protection works really well, without reducing tactility. And while the integrated screen protector isn’t perfect, introducing very modest prismatic distortion, it otherwise works exactly as expected. Everything is extremely easy to assemble and disassemble as needed.
What’s the catch? There aren’t any major issues, but there are a few small ones. We noticed a very small dip in cellular signal strength when the iPhone 5 was in already marginal conditions—a 1-2-bar signal tended to be in the 1-bar category inside Mojo Refuel with the bumper on. However, phone call quality was virtually identical with the iPhone inside or outside the basic case. Only when we added the Armor layer did our test caller report a very small reduction in audio fidelity, but even then, the change was very modest. Similarly, we noted that the included Micro-USB recharging cable was a little finicky making its first connection to Mojo Refuel’s bottom port, but that issue subsequently disappeared. Add to that some debatable aesthetic considerations, namely that neither of the Mojo Refuel configurations features a top-tier industrial design, and you have a handful of reasons that some users might consider other options instead.
But if we were building a “best of breed” iPhone 5 battery case list, Mojo Refuel and Mojo Refuel Armor would definitely be near the top. They’re both excellent options: Mojo Refuel is the strongest performer on raw battery life for the dollar we’ve yet tested for the iPhone 5, and Mojo Refuel Armor offers equally compelling power with the most protective battery case design available at press time. For these reasons, they’re independently worthy of our high recommendation. That said, they miss our rare flat A rating primarily because their industrial designs fall a little short of the best options we’ve tested. Our hope is that iBattz’ next-generation battery cases will be as impressive on the outside as they are on the inside, because at this point, fashion considerations are the only thing holding the Mojo cases back from unrivaled greatness.