Review: iLuv i603 / i604 Rechargeable Lithium Polymer Batteries with Silicone Skin
Pros: A nicely designed combination of silicone rubber case and iPod battery pack, boasting around four times the bare iPod’s battery capacity, and adding more than 9 hours of video playback or around 60 hours of audio playback to a discharged iPod. Case is substantially protective. Available in white or black colors, each with matching wall charger.
Cons: No screen protection in case. Unlike prior battery packs, i603 battery is fifth-generation, 30GB iPod-specific and won’t necessarily fit any other iPod model (current or future) properly.
It’s been a long time since we’ve tested a new external battery pack for iPods, and the reason’s somewhat surprising: despite the power drain caused by video playback, companies haven’t rushed to release new batteries - Battery Technology Incorporated, Belkin, and Nyko have just re-packaged old ones for new iPods. So it was with some excitement that we received new battery packs called i603WHT and i603BLK ($70) from iLuv - the first really interesting new designs we’ve seen in a while. The i603s are specific to a single iPod model - the fifth-generation 30GB iPod - and don’t properly fit thicker 60GB iPods. (Updated November 1, 2006: We have now tested the i604 as well - as reviewed in our 2007 iPod Buyers’ Guide - and found that it surpassed its promised 55 hour run time by a similarly impressive magin.)
The basic idea behind i603 is that most iPod battery packs don’t look good, so iLuv has gone in a different direction, effectively hiding its lithium polymer pack inside of a unique housing. Each i603 looks from the outside like a silicone rubber case with a chrome bottom, with smoky black silicone for the BLK version, and frosted clear silicone for the WHT. A bit less than an iPod’s worth of thickness is added to your 30GB iPod, along with a half inch of extra height. You pop your iPod inside the case, resting its back aganst a glossy plastic battery housing, and watch your iPod’s battery double.
iLuv promises up to 42 hours of added music play time for the 30GB iPod, or around three times more battery life than what the iPod can deliver alone. In our tests, the i603 actually surpassed this, delivering around 60 hours of music time with a fully discharged iPod battery - more than four times the iPod’s normal peak. Similarly, for video playback, the i603 did really well, playing back a collection of TV shows and movies for a total of 9 hours and 22 minutes, or four and a third times that iPod’s typical 2 hour, 10 minute video runtime. Again, these numbers reflect performance with a fully discharged iPod battery; if your iPod’s charged, you can see even greater run times.
Charging the i603 is fairly easy, but time consuming. You can connect any Dock Connector cable to its bottom, then to your computer or the included, color-matched wall charger, and let the charging process commence with or without an iPod attached; both devices can charge at the same time. There’s a single red light on the unit’s left side that indicates charging is not yet complete, changing to yellow when the process is done; there is no way to tell how charged or empty the battery is at any particular time, unlike many but not all of the batteries we’ve previously tested. Since charging takes a number of hours, you’ll need to let it sit around until the light changes.
Other than more detailed power indicators, our only cosmetic gripes with i603 are small ones: the included case doesn’t include screen protection in any form, stick-on, hard, or otherwise. As a case, it would otherwise score perfectly on protectiveness - there’s a hole for your headphones, but coverage for everything else, front and back. Additionally, iLuv hasn’t incorporated any functionality to let you angle the iPod for reclined viewing when it’s inside i603, which is different from BTI’s approach with its recently re-released iPod Battery ii, and unlike a number of other video-friendly cases we’ve seen for the 5G iPod. That said, so long as you have your own screen protector, and don’t need a belt clip or more sophisticated video viewing functionality, i603 does a good job in the hybrid case department.
By the standards of other iPod batteries we’ve tested in the past, iLuv’s i603 is a pretty good design, value, and performer, but it does have one fairly significant limitation: it’s single iPod-specific. If you’re swapping iPods with any frequency, or don’t plan to continue using your 30GB, fifth-generation iPod for much longer, you may find that the i603 stops being useful in a way that less protective and more expensive alternatives won’t. Ideally, iLuv would offer swappable enclosures and cases for the i603 to preclude this from being an issue in the future, but doesn’t - a factor that may dissuade you from wanting to drop the otherwise reasonable $70 for extra battery power. However, judged for what it is - a single-iPod battery - we consider this a very good option for the 30GB iPod, and worth recommending if you plan to keep that model running for the foreseeable future.